What comes first, the message or the audience?
The more engaged your audience is, the more alumni members will participate in your donation efforts. Your audience is out there but it’s up to you to make them interested in what you have to say.
Dr. Louis Diez, the VP of Community at Almabase and leader of the Donor Participation Project. He recently joined Mongoose on an episode of For Your Institution, our live event series for higher education, and shared his insight on getting more donors involved.
Build Your Alumni Community
Before you build an alumni community, it’s important to understand exactly what a community is, because people have different definitions.
A point Louis made clear in his appearance on FYI was that a community requires a gathering of people in ways that are participatory, with a dialogue that goes back and forth.
It is up to the college or university to begin purposeful communication to alumni, with messages that ignite conversation and remind people of the purpose for the messages in the first place. Communications can be weekly or monthly newsletters with relevant information. Listen to your audience, understand what they care about, and share information on those topics.
Your alumni audience may be small at first, so it can be difficult to rate your success. Louis says that a good way to gauge your progress early is by replies.
“At first, what you’re going after is for people to respond to you. That’s your success metric. Eventually, you want them to be sharing things.”
Building a community is easier if you motivate members to spread the word about your community. Louis says you can’t attract new members to your alumni community without content.
“If Your Annual Giving and most of the content you put out is solicitation-related, that’s really hard to engage with. Do not send clickbait content.”
Display Competency to Respond
If you’re successful in building an alumni community, you’ve earned the right to tackle the hard part - maintaining an open dialogue and responding to feedback. Engagement is not a one-time task, so you need to keep your audience interested in your mission.
If your audience has grown to a size that makes it hard to communicate, respond to inquiries, or keep track of interests, it’s time to split the workload. Create affinity groups that are based on more than just graduation date. Segment your communications to ensure you’re giving people information they will truly enjoy receiving.
“That’s happened to us in the Donor Participation Project, when this group got too big, we broke it up into different groups. Schools might think about interest-based affinity groups, and then you grow those. When we looked at those schools, I did the research myself, I called the VPs, that was the same story all the time, they created these new groups and they grew.”
Make Events Eventful
Any community gathering needs to be purposeful and reoccurring.
In alumni engagement, create virtual and in-person events that bring alumni together, but make sure that the purpose of the gathering isn’t only focused on asking for donations or to get everyone in the room. Just as you should do with communications, create events that your community will want to attend.
Choose speakers and leaders with a voice that resonates within your community. The goal is to elicit a positive response and get people excited about being a part of your group.
Ask When It’s Time to Ask
The balance of building a community and putting that community to task to help you reach your goals is delicate. You don’t engage when you lead by asking for donations, but you don’t accomplish goals if you never ask for help. Louis says,
“You also do have to ask. People tell me, you’re only talking about this, do you think this money is going to fall out of the sky? Definitely not, but there’s an order to things.”
When donation totals drop, many institutions only look at Annual Fund department or the Major Gifts office to pinpoint problems. The solution is thought to be just changing the way you ask for donations.
Most of the time, the disconnect with alumni happens well before Giving Day, at a higher level, beginning with the communications your school is sending. Fix your engagement to improve donation response.
Learn more with the full episode of FYI on Louis Diez's Sustainable Revenue Engine: How to Increase Donor Participation.