Feeling Disconnected From Alumni? Use These Five Steps from Our Communications Experts

Feeling Disconnected From Alumni? Use These Five Steps from Our Communications Experts
Feeling Disconnected From Alumni? Use These Five Steps from Our Communications Experts

Marketing Communications

Alumni understand your mission and can be some of your most local supporters—with the right messaging and framework to keep them interested (and engaged) in your school.

It’s time to recycle the old, stale messaging that falls flat when reaching out to alumni. Here are five steps to refresh and refocus your strategic communication plan.

Step #1: Assess Your Current Practices

Ask yourself a few questions to identify your current strategic communications plan.

  • What’s working?
  • What areas can we improve?
  • Is there a specific area of communication we haven’t used?

Then dig a little deeper, asking questions to help you determine how to best re-energize your alumni connections. (It’s okay if the answers to some or many of these are “I don’t know” or “No”—it gives you a place to start.)

  • How do you decide which alumni groups to connect with?
  • How much do you know about these groups and their preferences for communicating?
  • Are your conclusions data-driven or based on brainstorming sessions with colleagues?
  • Are you using alumni demographics, focus groups, metrics, and surveys?
  • Do you have a plan to reach any specific demographic?
  • Are your communications professionals collaborating with those who make and execute your school’s strategic plan?

Step #2: Acknowledge Generational Differences

Do you know an 80-year-old and a 16-year-old who have the same interests and communications habits? Probably not—yet many school communications and alumni outreach officials are still using blanket, one-size-fits-all communications practices for all their audiences. This is a quick way to alienate different generations.

Generational demographics include some stereotyping and don’t represent every individual in that age group. But these general concepts help you distinguish each group’s interests. In turn, you can customize your communications to each group based on their values and preferences.

Traditionalists (Ages 76+)

This generation is thinking about their legacy, and how they want to be remembered. They might be taking more of an interest in their grandchildren’s education, and possibly paying tuition for their grandchildren. They may also be in the process of estate planning. They value phone calls and in-person conversations.

Baby Boomers (Ages 57–75)

This “next grandparent generation” loves to volunteer and be involved. They also are insistent about knowing the financial profile and intentions of a nonprofit organization before they will invest—they want to know their money isn’t going to waste. They also prefer phone calls and in-person conversations.

Generation X (Ages 42–56)

This group is heavily involved in giving, philanthropy, and volunteering. They also are highly motivated by religious groups and causes, which is important to know if your school is founded on specific religious beliefs. This generation is in love with their email—that’s the best way to communicate with them. While some will still field occasional phone calls, others find them intrusive and an invasion of time and privacy.

Millennials (Ages 27–41)

A unique trait of this generation is that 40% are already enrolled in a monthly giving program. They also have a high interest in child development causes, which often overlap with a school’s missions and programs. However, sometimes they are referred to as “microgivers”—they tend to earn less than their counterparts, but still value philanthropic giving. Millennials may give time and money in small amounts, but are projected to give more over their lives, and are on track to be the most generous generation in history. as they have a higher rate of dual-income households than generations before them.

Generation Z (Ages 9–26)

The first truly native digital generation doesn’t remember life before social media and text messages. They expect a digital equivalent for every communication and payment option and have little interest in opening mailed, hard-copy materials. This shouldn’t be mistaken for not caring about philanthropy, as 30% have already donated to a cause close to their heart. They want their work and contributions, however small, to make a real difference.

Each of these generations has different wants, needs, and communication styles, which should be respected and individualized for maximum impact.

Step #3: Develop Alumni Personas

Creating a marketing persona for each generation, or even just a few of them, can help you keep your target audience in mind for each specific communication.

When you are creating these personas, include identifying information such as:

  • demographics—income, education, and employment
  • challenges
  • obstacles
  • wants and needs

In addition, consider preferred communication methods, goals, solutions, and interests.

For example, let’s consider a college-aged student persona.

  • Interested in travel and sports, and in networking for the next step in their careers.
  • May not have a car, which matters when you consider what types of events you are hosting and their locations.
  • Prefers communication on Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and through text messaging
  • May prefer virtual networking and social events.
  • Events could include college campus socials, internship programs matching them with older alums, college care packages, and mini-reunions well-timed with holiday breaks.

Knowing these details helps you to create a strategic communication plan for reaching young alums in this generation.

Step #4: Consider Different Communication

Are all communications created equally? Not exactly, and it’s possible too many involve asking for money. Personalize the following three types of communication, and carefully weigh how frequently alumni are seeing each one.

Transactional Communication

Every little receipt, password reset, and thank you message is a transactional communication opportunity to connect on a personal level. Instead of a receipt for a gift saying “thank you,” be sure to address the individual by name and include a specific message about the initiative the money will be used for.

Relational Communication

This is the most important, and probably the most underutilized type of connection with alumni. It doesn’t involve a single envelope, request for a gift or donation, or any other “ask” for money or time.

Instead, relational communication builds a relationship between the school and alumni by engaging with them based on their interests. While this should be 80% of your communication, it’s probably much less than in practice.


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Promotional Communication

This is where you solicit donations and gifts. This type of communication should be only 20% of your connections to alums. (Carefully watch the timing of promotional communications—these shouldn’t overlap with a tuition bill, for example.)

Step #5: Create a Strategic Communication Calendar

Sending emails, texts, Instagram posts, and brochures shouldn’t be random, but instead, must be part of a strategic plan. Track the different types of communication carefully with a strategic communication calendar. Include the following columns or sections:

  • strategic goal
  • date
  • message
  • platforms
  • audience
  • metrics (views, likes, etc.)
  • status
  • notes

While this may seem overly analytical, it’s essential to stay organized to determine your plan’s effectiveness.

By following these five steps and creating a strategic communication plan, alumni will feel more connected to your school and less like they are always being asked for something.

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