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It’s Alumni Engagement, Stupid.

It’s Alumni Engagement, Stupid.

This blog post will relate President Clinton’s famous quote to the current state of Alumni and graduate engagement. 

A Senior Alumni Relations Director spelled it out for me as follows:

Daniel, there are only two basic rules of fundraising… firstly, make sure you have for every potential donor a working phone number to call.  Secondly, when potential donors do answer the phone, ensure that they are sufficiently engaged, before you even call, to know exactly why you are valuable to them.  That’s it.  Simple.

It sounds simple but I sometimes see schools misunderstanding these two basic rules and building their alumni strategy and graduate engagement in the wrong order as follows.

They answer the first rule of fundraising by saying: yes we are missing basic contact information on our alumni, so let’s build an expensive new database!

After a year and a lot of spent money, they have a beautiful new database but are unfortunately still missing basic and accurate contact information for much of their alumni body.

In short, a great database does not mean great data!  

Schools then answer the second rule of fundraising by saying: yes we have unresponsive alumni, so let’s build expensive new communication tools such as websites, email marketing templates and donation processing systems.

Yet great communication tools do not necessarily translate into significantly higher alumni responsiveness.

To continue our original analogy – it would be like schools investing in an expensive new phone directory and buying the latest cutting edge Apple mobile and expecting this somehow to dramatically change their fundraising outcome.

It is not how nice the phone directory looks that matters, but rather the accuracy of the information within it.

It is also not the mobile phone itself that matters, but how the call is received.

Schools seem to be investing time and money in the things that by themselves will struggle to deliver the results required.

Instead, the primary challenge in my view, should be:

How to maximize alumni engagement

  • If alumni are engaged, then you will be rewarded with up to date contact information (whether you have a great database or not).
  • If alumni are engaged, then they will response positively to your communication (whether you have the latest communication tools or not).

An effective alumni relations strategy lives and rests on alumni and graduate engagement. Without engagement, everything else feels much less relevant.

I understand that building a new database or website fits better within all of our comfort zones and that alumni engagement is not easy to achieve.  I also understand that by the time schools get around to seriously thinking about how to engage alumni, most will have not much money, time or energy left.

Yet we do not have a choice.  We need the focus and priorities of alumni departments to be radically changed.

Let’s put significantly more resources into alumni engagement.

To misquote President Clinton, ”it’s alumni engagement, stupid.”

I would welcome your thoughts.

Also worth reading The Case for Mentoring.

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