As co-founder of engagement software platform Cerkl, I’ve had the opportunity to work with over 600 organizations. Although my role is to help organizations increase engagement, many times I serve as a counselor as discussions around engaging alumni unearth fractures between departments on campus.
The hoarding email phenomenon
This is one of the biggest kept secrets we’ve uncovered. Professors and faculty are not sharing the email addresses of their former students with their own development, alumni relations, and communication departments.
A matter of trust – takers vs. givers
Why, you ask? The answer is simple. Trust. Faculty do not trust other departments with these emails because they believe you will take from their alumni, not give. They value these relationships and don’t want them tainted.
Alma Mater means nurturing mother: Are you nagging or nurturing?
For some first-generation college alumni, professors played roles their parents couldn’t play, thus that relationship is like family – sacred. The Latin definition of alma mater is nurturing mother. Post graduation, professors play that nurturing mother role, looking out for their “children” by giving them job connections, speaking opportunities, and a direct line to great internship candidates – all meaningful engagement opportunities. Professors know their children and thus keep that personal connection warm in a genuine, sincere way.
If the only connection you make with these alumni is to ask for money through impersonal calls, form letters and blanket emails, you aren’t a nurturing mother, you are a nagging mom. This is where alumni begin to feel estranged.
Audit: How many asks vs. thank you’s
Have you audited the number of touches your institution has with your alumni and the nature of those touches? This is a best practice we’ve learned through our customers.
One university discovered that there was a 20:1 ratio between number of asks and thank you messages. Yikes.
Underestimating or not keeping top-of-mind the deep connection alumni feel or felt with their alma mater could backfire through a one-message-fits-all or a 20:1 take vs. give type communication. Alumni want to keep that personal connection they felt with their nurturing mother.
3 Key best practices
Implementing the following additional best practices among your marketing/communication, development, and alumni relations departments will build trust, transforming these departments from takers to givers.
Save your alumni time through personalization
Find ways to give each alumni the stories, events, news, etc. that match their current needs or interests now. Keep in mind that although they were a history major, they might be interested in entrepreneurship or innovation today.
Provide real value
According to the 2017 VAESE study, 90% of alumni associations provide no real benefits. What can your school do to help alumni succeed? Think about offering free classes, job connections, networking opportunities and professional development to keep your alumni engaged and employed.
Offer personally meaningful engagement opportunities
Speaking, mentoring, connecting students as interns to alumni, tapping into alumni expertise with issues the campus is facing, etc. will keep that connection warm and will make them twice as likely to give financially to that particular cause or department.
Scaling that personal connection with these practices will turn nagging, taking mother back to nurturing mother everyone loves and motivate professors to trust and share their children with you.