Alumni Aren't Lost & They Don't Need Greeters.
Recently, Walmart announced it is getting rid of its venerable welcome greeters. There are multiple facets to this change, and clear implications for real people and their jobs, but what interests me is the “why,” because therein lies a lesson for education fundraising.
For many years, the alumni relations function of advancement has been more or less a “welcome greeter” for graduates, the friend-raising arm of fundraising efforts that offers a warm smile and invitation to reconnect with the campus. The problem is - just like Walmart customers - alumni don’t need to connect with anyone at the door. They’re busy living their own lives, and if they ever need anything from their alma mater, chances are they’ll figure out how to get it on their own.
Schools don’t need alumni ambassadors to build relationships with their graduates any more than Walmart needs greeters to get to know its customers.
Let me explain.
Generally speaking, colleges and universities do a poor job of recognizing who alumni are today, where they are (literally and figuratively speaking), and what they’re doing. The legacy relational databases of advancement do a great job storing former student information, but are just awful at tracking the things that really matter, like alumni employment, interests, digital interactions, and life events. Yet, these are the very types of data that consumer and retail brands rely upon to build meaningful relationships their customers. So why don’t colleges and universities leverage these same strategies to engage alumni?
To be effective at engaging alumni, schools need better data.
There’s no easy answer to that question, but there are some simple solutions to improve the quality and quantity of alumni data:
Access the wealth of alumni data on LinkedIn. Find a trusted vendor to scrape real-time alumni employment, location, and contact data from LinkedIn. For most schools, around 70-80% of alumni will already have a LinkedIn profile. That’s a lot of low-hanging-fruit. Check out a case study on the impact of importing alumni profile photos at LiveAlumni.com.
Track digital engagements with alumni. Partner with a company that can give you the names of alumni who follow, like, or comment on social media posts. Even with all the concerns around privacy, this can be done ethically and accurately, and it will pay dividends. New research in higher education philanthropy has shown that a single digital engagement can be just as powerful as event attendance in predicting giving. Read up on this empirical study on the EverTrue blog.
Find a relational database that works. You’re probably stuck with the database of record that’s used by everyone on your campus, but that doesn’t mean you can’t layer a true Customer Relations Management solution on top. Take a look at the architecture of Almabase.com (for small shops) or Salesforce.org (for big schools).
Whether you work at a growing advancement team or a larger organization, the data you need to connect with alumni is out there, you’ve just got to look in the right places. Just don’t get stuck in the old ways of thinking.
A smile and a handshake is no longer the barometer of good alumni engagement.
After all, the world’s largest employer just got rid of the job they had created to do just that.