Life-long engagement and giving can be incentivized by offering alumni benefits that are personally relevant to each alum. The elements of a compelling alumni benefit are given, and the three highest-rated alumni benefits are identified, along with why they are effective at attracting and engaging alumni. (About a 5 minute read)

I apparently touched a nerve with my previous article The 7 Lamest Alumni Benefits.


It seems like I struck a chord with my previous article discussing the 7 Lamest Alumni Benefits.

Some alumni and advancement professionals were less than thrilled with my bold statement about the perceived lameness of certain alumni benefits they held near and dear.

So, let me quickly recap my criteria for determining the effectiveness of a member benefit.

First, I am using data submitted by other alumni and advancement professionals, found in the VAESE Alumni Benchmarking Study. (I’m not just making this up.) As in any survey, we measure a sampling of a smaller population to make broader generalizations about a larger universe. In this case, our universe is alumni relations and advancement professionals worldwide. The results reflect responses from institutions of all sizes, shapes, and flavors.

Now, let's not get carried away and start applying the data from this study to every single program out there. It's important to remember that what works for a big alumni organization might not necessarily work for a smaller institution. So, let's tread carefully and make informed decisions by utilizing all the tools available to us.

Additionally, when evaluating alumni benefits, it's crucial to consider how each benefit resonates with individual alumni. I'm looking at five key elements that make a benefit personally relevant:

  • Does it solve a difficult or frequent problem for your alumni?
  • Does it deliver compelling value?
  • Is the benefit within close proximity to where alumni live and work (physically or digitally)?
  • Will it be easy and convenient to use?
  • Is it unique or exclusive to your organization, and not available to the general public?

Of all the benefit categories we listed in the survey, here are the three highest-rated alumni benefits, based on their capacity to attract and engage alumni/ae:  


#1 Highest Rated Alumni Benefit:  Digital Communication (Blog/Social Media/e-Newsletter)

Across almost all types of alumni programs, sizes, and geographic regions, 80% of alumni professionals report they see a “significant impact” or “some impact” on alumni engagement by using these digital communication tools. Only 2% report that these programs have no impact on engagement.

Among the programs that are thriving, an intriguing trend emerges. While larger organizations with 350,000+ alumni and 20+ employees are excelling in digital communication, smaller alumni organizations with six or fewer employees and programming budgets under $250,000 are also reporting higher rates of success. In fact, 74% of these smaller organizations consider digital communication as their top engagement tool, delivering a significant impact on alumni engagement.

However, it's like a mystery wrapped in a statistical enigma or some quirky sampling quirk, but there seems to be a curious gap in success between these two mentioned segments. It's as if organizations with more than six employees but less than 20 are not quite hitting the mark on engagement, leaving us scratching our heads for answers.

Notwithstanding this apparent gap, it appears that most alumni organizations would see a boost in engagement by dedicating resources to building and maintaining a digital communication program.  I would also pay attention to the trend toward inbound marketing automation. It's how most businesses are successfully marketing these days, and if it’s not at your institution yet, it's coming to an alumni organization near you. 

When it comes to personal relevance, this benefit knocks it out of the park. It's like a secret sauce that's exclusive to your institution, super relevant, and conveniently delivered straight to each alum's digital doorstep. And let's not forget the intangible value it brings when the content is on point. But don't forget...if you focus on campus-only events or fluffy news (like the debate team winning nationals or your latest staff hire), then alumni are likely to just hit delete. The key is to serve up content that speaks directly to your alumni, offering solutions to their real-world problems. See this article here for my top ten tips for an effective e-newsletter.


#2 Highest Rated Alumni Benefit:  Clubs, Chapters and Reunions

48% of alumni professionals report that their clubs, chapters, and reunions have “significant” or “some impact” on alumni engagement. From a statistical standpoint, the institutions that are seeing the greatest success with clubs, chapters, and reunions are these two types of institutions: 

  • Smaller private institutions (under 50,000 total alumni), are more often found in the Eastern Time Zone, and usually in Northeast or Mid-Atlantic states.
  • Large public institutions (over 350,000 alumni) with a strong football/basketball tradition, and more particularly part of an NCAA Division 1 “Power 5” (football) or “Power 7” (basketball) conference.

Of course, many other institutions that don’t fall into these two categories can have great success with their clubs, chapters, and reunions. I’m merely pointing out the statistical probability of which types of institutions are seeing the most success.

As it relates to the five key elements of personal relevance, this benefit also makes sense. Clubs, reunions, and chapters are exclusive to your institution, and also help address one of the most common basic problems most all of us face:  Do we belong? Do we feel like a valued part of the community? If you subscribe to what Maslow theorizes, they fulfill a need for friendship, prestige, respect, achievement, and confidence. They also add tremendous value by helping alumni stay connected and build their personal networks.  

However these events are not always easy and convenient, nor are they typically within close proximity to most of your alumni. These and several other factors are likely contributors to their lack of success at some institutions.


#3 Highest Rated Alumni Benefit:  Career Services/Networking

Career Services, including associated events like social mixers, etc., are another program that shows significant rates of engagement. This applies to institutions of nearly all sizes, geographic regions, and regardless of whether they are public or private.

While statistically this benefit has stronger appeal among alumni in the 20-29 age group, we also see noteworthy engagement among alumni in the 30-39 age group and even the 40-49 age groups.

Those institutions that see high rates of engagement have committed to building their career services benefits. And while the survey is unclear about the overall trend, we see a growing number of institutions moving toward integration of their alumni relations and career services functions.

On the personal relevance scale, these benefits score high in the categories of solving a difficult problem and delivering compelling value for services that alumni may otherwise need to pay for. The most effective career services programs have offered these services online, making it far more convenient, and within proximity of a larger segment of their alumni.


I’d love to hear your comments about this topic.

Topics: Alumni Relations & Engagement, alumni benefits, Customer Engagement, value enhancement

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For 25+ years Gary Toyn has helped organizations large and small improve their constituent/member acquisition, retention and engagement. He's a multi-published author, writer, and researcher.

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