Every development office is responsible for connecting with graduates in hopes that they will offer their ongoing commitment and financial support.
Every development office spends their time cranking out press releases, story gathering for the annual magazine, and reaching out to alums for the once-a-year call to give back.
But news is not engagement and asking for money without a deep relationship history doesn't go very far.
Every development officer struggles with "but I already paid my tuition" battle, especially from students and recent grads. In their mind, the transaction is complete. If they've lived up to their end of the bargain, why should they give back?
That's because most alumni + University interaction is quid-pro-quo - it's modeled more like a transaction than a relationship. Students graduate, move on and never hear from their alma mater again until a development officer calls them for money - that's assuming they have updated (and primary) contact information.
However, social media has made it possible for a different kind of interaction between alumni and their institutions – one that resembles the shift from outbound marketing to inbound marketing.
If you want your audience to engage with your fundraising campaigns, you need a pre-existing relationship in place. There must be an alignment of goals and vision that is mutually beneficial and leads to long-term trust and loyalty.
However, the difficulty lies in developing long-term trust and loyalty. It isn't a one-way street. It takes listening, engaging and adding real value without expecting anything back - no agenda required. It's easy to ask for money. It's easy to request for a transaction. The majority resign themselves to the easiest road, and that's exactly why it's not working. Your alumni have been conditioned to shut out everything that's after their time, attention and money.
If you want your graduates to love you back after they leave, then you usually need to love them first.
Start early and engage students.
Social media enables you to build an online community that students can stay engaged with long after they leave campus. Create synergy in both online and offline campus communities, and do whatever it takes to empower students to collaborate and connect with other students, faculty and alums online. If you engage with them early, it will create a connective habit that will last a lifetime.
M.I.T. (@MIT_alumni) encourages current students to join a LinkedIn alumni group, which allows them to network with alumni before they even graduate. This helps students become rooted with seasoned industry professionals and gives alumni the "first pick" amongst the most ambitious students.
A strong alumni-student community supports recruitment and builds strong brand awareness, which fosters pride amongst all stakeholder groups.
Develop a culture of connectivity.
A well executed digital strategy trains students to believe that staying engaged with their peers and professors online is extremely beneficial. And when that value is realized in their lives again and again, you’ll have their attention.
Here at Verge Pipe Media, we usually recommend a blended online and offline strategy to convert more of your potential community members into "actual" community members. Leave content bread crumbs on campus, in magazines, or even above the urinals that lead students back to your online communities. Then, engage them in real-time. You can have a daily presence in their lives if you create valuable content that keeps them coming back because it benefits (and delights) them, every time.
What's valuable content? It starts with storytelling. Stories create connections and inspiration, especially if they are focused on shared experiences. This includes everything from alumni accomplishments, student profiles, and campus news to tailgate party pictures, interactive questions and trivia – each building community around the common campus experience.
Social media has enabled us to capture more of these stories than ever before, and to share these stories more quickly and creatively.
Leave lasting impressions.
Most development offices use cultivation (relationship building) as the foundation of their strategy. It involves a lot of getting to know one another, building trust, exploring interests and ultimately, reconnecting a lost alumni with their alma mater.
Alumni will be more likely to give back to a school that provides a sense of community that still feels familiar and relevant after they leave. Get them connected early and keep stoking the fire with valuable, consistent content. Again, most alumni aren’t interested in the once-a-year update. When the students graduate, the practice of staying connected to the school will continue.
And giving back is a natural extension of any healthy relationship.
- Use social media to gather and maintain updated contact information in the Alumni database.
- Move away from generic email blast and mail outs, and move toward more personal one-to-one communication.
- Get students, alumni and faculty to contribute content and stories for online blogs and social media. If you get their buy in, they’ll feel ownership is what’s going on with the school. They be more likely to share and spread the word to other outside of your network.
- Tell stories of successful students and graduates. Social media is a great place to do the detective work needed to find a really solid story.
Author: Micah Whitehead is the Social Architect and Creative Director at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.