Now, more than ever, institutions need to ensure the long-term health of the annual fund by moving donors into the pipeline early, and young alumni are often an insufficiently tapped resource. Yet this year sees not only a continuing trend of volunteerism but also growing numbers of recent graduates seeking to reconnect with their alma mater for assistance with networking and career advancement opportunities in this economy. It is critical that alumni relations and annual fund professionals take advantage of a surge in interest from young alumni through proactive and deliberate outreach.
We asked Elise M. Betz, executive director of alumni relations at the University of Pennsylvania; Linda Williams Favero, assistant director of the University of Oregon Career Center; and Ben Jarrett, assistant director of advancement at Georgetown University, for tips on cultivating young alumni engagement and fostering a higher giving rate without expending too many of your limited resources. Their advice is to:
- Engage young alumni through the services you offer them
- Adopt a peer-to-peer model for soliciting gifts
- Leverage social media and electronic communications to keep your outreach resource-efficient
Focus on Services for Young Alumni
First, Linda Williams Favero stresses the importance of starting with what alumni need, rather than what you need, when approaching young alumni. The relationship with young alumni needs to be two-way; the institution needs to be invested in providing young alumni with the services and attention they need and want. That is what encourages young alumni to invest in the institution.
"Our job is not done when they graduate, especially if we want them to stay connected for a lifetime. In the long-term if young alumni receive the support they need to be successful after college, they will want to give back financially to the institution that invested in them when they needed it most."
Linda Williams Favero, U of Oregon
In this year's uncertain job market, many young alumni are reconnecting with their alma mater to seek aid with job searching and career services. Offering these services is one of the best opportunities to engage young alumni. "More than communicating tips and opportunities electronically," Favero advises, "young alumni want face time." Offer your alumni variety in how they can connect with your services, so that each alumnus can connect in a way that matches his or her learning style and professional needs:
- One-on-one counseling
- Eight-person job search groups
- Practical workshops teaching job search skills and strategies
- Large networking events with panel discussions and receptions specifically for the first few years out; offer opportunities for young alumni to network with older alumni by industry and career field
CAREER SERVICES FOR YOUNG ALUMNI
For more tips, read our article "Connecting Young Alumni with Careers"
You can step up your outreach and solicitation significantly by leveraging the efforts of young alumni volunteers, without having to add large investments in staff and dollars. "The peer-to-peer model of soliciting is critical in managing resources," Betz advises. "And a large committee that is reflective of the YA population and segmented by affinity is very effective in reaching donors."
"Retain student involvement into young alumnihood. Student leaders become alumni leaders, so stay connected to those individuals and use them to plan events."
Elise Betz, U of Pennsylvania
Peer-to-peer outreach is both the most effective and least staff-intensive method of outreach available to you -- but it has to be a deliberate and strategic effort. Betz advises:
- Be explicit in your request for help from young alumni volunteers
- Give clear deadlines and specific tasks
- Offer incentives, such as invitations to events that are exclusive to volunteers
Ben Jarrett adds this advice:
- "When you select young alumni volunteers, be clear about what you're asking them to do"
- Express gratitude regularly for their help, and acknowledge that young alumni have limited resources of time and money; "it's important they know that whatever they give in the way of time and money is appreciated"
- Provide context and follow-up for volunteers
"If they were fundraising volunteers," Jarrett suggests, "let them know how the fiscal year closed out and compare their performance to prior years. If they were tasked to drive attendance to an event, let them know how many alumni attended." Let your volunteers see exactly how their efforts made a difference -- that will help you cultivate long-term engagement.
Leverage Social Media
"Having a Facebook group is not enough," Jarrett warns. He advises creating "mini-campaigns" throughout the year at crucial points:
- End of the calendar year
- Anniversary of their graduation
- Close of the fiscal year
Jarrett notes that these occasions are great opportunities to encourage your young alumni volunteers to "ramp up their outreach" through the social media channels they already use.
"If you ask your young alumni volunteers to "donate" their Gchat, Facebook, and Twitter statuses by putting a message about making a gift to your institution, they'll probably be happy to help because it's easy and effective."
Ben Jarrett, Georgetown U
ENGAGING YOUNG ALUMNI THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
For more information, read our article "5 Tips for Encouraging Young Alumni Engagement Through the Web & Social Media," which offers practical tips from an interview with Bob Johnson of Bob Johnson Consulting.