Here are 34 cost-effective and simple ways to boost your alumni engagement.
(About a 4 minute read)
I write a lot about alumni engagement here on this blog. I’m very interested in the mechanics leading up to that moment when an alum decides to engage with their alma mater.
And like any great relationship, institutions can’t just keep asking alumni for their time, talent, and treasure without giving something in return. It’s pretty safe to say that no alumni organization has ever suffered from showing too much love for their alumni.
The great thing about engaging alumni is that it can take many forms. The ways in which an organization can make its alumni feel cared about are almost endless. So in no particular order, here are 34 simple and inexpensive ways your organization can express appreciation, promote goodwill, and engage more of your alumni:
Post pictures online from old yearbooks - On your Facebook or Instagram account, post a compelling photo from an old yearbook. Make it a contest to see which graduation year can generate the most reposts or re-shares of a photo. The winner is rewarded with a week's worth of photos from their year. It's a great way to get older generations engaged.
Remind alumni of how you’re utilizing their feedback - Honest feedback is the best way to keep the pulse of your alumni. The perception is most organizations ignore feedback, so alumni will love it when you let them know of specific changes you’ve made in response to their comments.
Handwritten letters - No list of alumni engagement suggestions would be complete without a call for handwritten letters. And for good reason - they work. Yes, they take some time but consider doing one a day. Don’t be Hemingway, no novels - just a few lines saying thanks.
Follow back - When an alum follows you on Twitter or Instagram, follow them back. It costs you nothing and shows an alum you’re interested in what they have to say.
Coupons - Besides being a great way to attract alumni, offering compelling, relevant, and deep discounts are probably the most basic, common way of showing alumni some love.
Freebies – When an alum visits your office or alumni house, give them a free cup of coffee or cookie from a local bakery.
Train staff to learn (and use) first names - A person’s first name is the most important sound in the world. Saying it to someone shows they’re more than just another, faceless alum.
Surprise and delight - pick a random volunteer or first-time giver, and delight them by giving them something with your school’s logo… just for being an alum.
Pre-event notifications (not marketing blasts) – Keep a file updated with your most active alumni. Then notify these alum before you start promoting an event to the public. If you invite them to sign up ahead of time, they’ll be more likely to attend.
Giveaways - Whether it’s placing alumni’s business cards in a bowl or an Instagram contest, contests and giveaways are a proven method of exciting alumni to action.
Randomly cover an alum’s cost - The pay it forward trend is one of the better feel-good trends over the years. As a good gesture, comp an alum at a tailgate party, or why not just randomly give someone an annual membership? It’s sure to generate some helpful buzz.
Give to charitable causes NOT related to campus – All people love businesses that do good things for others. Donating to a good cause can foster trust and goodwill. Partner with local schools, or give to a popular or meaningful GoFundMe cause. Create an emergency fund for giving small gifts to alumni in need.
Pre- or after-hours private events - Open your alumni house to your most active alumni, and them alone. Provide food and drinks and entertainment to create a memorable experience that will lead to them becoming your evangelists.
Invest in good customer service – Many people avoid customer service experiences because they expect to be disappointed. Studies show that people actually want to affiliate with brands that help them resolve issues without them having to jump through a bunch of hoops. Being an organization that quickly makes things right is one of the best ways to make your alumni feel appreciated.
Share their stories – This isn’t a new idea, but you’d be surprised by the number of alumni organizations that don’t ask for alumni success stories. Sharing alumni successes is a great way to show you value your alumni and want to celebrate their successes.
Birthday specials - While even just a basic “Happy Birthday” email has some positive benefit, add value by offering a discount or freebie - redeemable for an entire month.
Schwag - Stick your logo on some USB drives, stuffed animals, beer koozies, phone chargers, whatever. It’s a bit trite and self-promotional, but people love getting something for nothing. If that something makes them think of you, then that’s positive engagement, and worth investing in.
Push member benefits usage - Some of your alumni will engage because they like being connected and having a sense of belonging. For these few, this will be sufficient to keep them engaged. But most others will need a compelling reason to stay engaged. This is where alumni benefits can make all the difference. Introduce them early and encourage initial usage, especially your everyday benefits like discount programs.
Respond online - Half of all social media users have complained about a company or organization, but only a third of their issues are actually addressed. Respond to everything on all channels. If that’s not possible, then respond as much as you can. It’s not just about appreciation - 71% of consumers who experience a quick and effective response are likely to recommend that organization to others.
Post-event gifts – Reward alumni for taking a leading or major role at an event. Give them some schwag (see above) that acknowledges their efforts. The bigger the sacrifice they make, the more important these gifts can be to encourage ongoing engagement.
Think of the kids - The quickest way to a parent’s heart is something that can occupy or distract their young children. When alumni with young ‘uns visit the alumni house, or tow their kids along to an event, follow the lead of auto dealerships that give away some popcorn, drinks or candy.
Train your staff to improve communication skills - Not every person is a people person, but everyone can learn the basics of effective communication. Train all your staff on how to interact with any and all visitors. To an alum, there’s no person in your organization more important than the person in front of them, whether that’s the receptionist, custodian, or AVP.
Coffee and water - If alumni are required to attend lengthy events or meetings, then this is almost essential. They may not notice if you don’t have these staples, but they’ll appreciate it if you do.
Free Trials - Yes, this works for Costco and Sam’s Club, but the concept also works for alumni organizations. A free trial, test drives, and beta programs are all ways of promoting programs as well as giving something of value to alumni, and asking them for feedback. A side benefit? You’re asking them a favor, which has some benefits of its own.
Give special acknowledgment at their work – When one of your alumni makes a significant contribution or sacrifice, send something to their work. A candy basket or box of cookies. Trust us, it’ll grab their attention (and it’ll get the attention of their coworkers).
Community sponsorships - Put your organization’s name on a banner at the local high school football, soccer, or baseball field. It’s an inexpensive way to show some community support.
Invest in employee retention - As we alluded to earlier, your staff will have a chance to impact the customer experience like a few other factors. The less turnover you have, the better the experience is going to be for alumni, and the more service-oriented your employees will become.
Holiday cards - Combine this one with a handwritten note, and you’ll definitely capture some hearts and minds.
Candy at the front desk - Put a bowl of candy anywhere in your office, and people will naturally gravitate to it. Candy stimulates endorphins, and your alumni will come to associate good feelings whenever they think about your organization.
Have a specific day/week/month dedicated to alumni engagement - Having an Alumni Appreciation Week (or whatever your preferred time frame is) is basically a big, public declaration that you appreciate your alumni, and you want them to have some great deals or free stuff on your behalf.
Solicit feedback whenever possible - We can’t proclaim this enough. Give your alumni a voice anytime they come into contact with your organization. Here are 20 ideas to solicit more feedback.
Engage on-campus alumni - As a group, your on-campus alumni are probably more engaged with your institution than any other alumni, but they often get ignored. Have an annual get-together to recognize their contribution to the institution. Set up a table or two on campus and tell alumni employees to come and get some free coffee and donuts. And one of the best ways to engage them is to give them access to your alumni benefits, like your alumni discount program. Everyone likes to save money, and many institutions already have their own employee discount programs. Why not team up and let everyone on campus save?
Use your data to personalize- You’re all collecting data on alumni, so turn that Big Data into Big Delivery by getting personal (but not creepy) with your alumni. Tailor personal emails to your alumni, as studies show that people respond to personalization.
Introduce a personal point of contact - In a world where everything is moving digital, personal touches are now rare and valued. Introduce a single point of contact for new members/donors/volunteers. Give the name and contact info of an actual, live person, and encourage an ongoing, friendly relationship.
Create an advocacy program - You have alumni, engaged alumni, and highly engaged alumni. Then, you have evangelists. These are the people who buy into your institution and become defenders of the brand. They act like paid employees and will offer valuable service at no cost - things like recruiting, going to bat for the organization, or defending against online detractors. Some organizations (depending on their tax status) invite alumni to be political advocates, to help further specific causes for the institution, show up at political rallies, or contact political representatives.
Can You Feel the Love?
This list encompasses a lot of different tactics for enhancing your alumni engagement, but it isn’t comprehensive. If you have ideas, then, by all means, share them in the comments.
The other thing that needs to be noted is this: some alumni organizations do none of these. This means doing just a few things on this list can make a big difference.
Like any successful relationship, the love has to go both ways. If you’re wanting alumni to show their love for you, start by showing your love for them.