Why It’s Important to Not Give Up on Your Unengaged Alumni
We are fond of saying that we work with some of the best schools in the world, and the University of Chicago is no exception. Our partners in alumni relations at UChicago take alumni engagement so seriously, they’ve made it an integral piece of the school’s current $5B capital campaign. In this guest blog post, Lucie Sandel, Associate Director of Career Development at UChicago, shares lessons learned from the programming her team delivered to meet their goal of engaging 125,000 alumni.
How Can You Engage Your Unengaged Alumni?
At the University of Chicago, we are committed to engaging alumni, and as a member of the Career Development and Lifelong Learning team, I am privileged to work closely with alumni volunteers. In my office, we reach alumni, students, parents, and friends of the University, regardless of their geography, to aid them in connecting with each other and the University. We employ a number of tools, programs, and software to that end, including signing up alumni to mentor students and connect with one another on the Wisr platform, offering faculty-led MOOCs through AlumniU, and producing career-related webinars under our “Mind Your Career” brand.
I recently attended the Alumni Career Services Network (ACSN) conference in Boston this year, where I had the opportunity to present a breakout session on our webinar series entitled, “Using Innovative Online Career Programming to Increase Alumni Engagement.” This was, admittedly, a pretty awful title, since what I meant was, “How Do You Engage the Unengaged?” We have found that to engage alumni consistently, we need to provide a steady flow of useful content. Webinars allow us to offer a wide variety of topics in one hour sessions to anyone with access to the internet.
Our webinars are sorted into two categories: Job Skills and Industries. Job skills titles have included: Crafting a Competitive Résumé, Leverage Your LinkedIn Profile, and Master the Interview, for example. Webinars on industries have ranged from higher education to entrepreneurship to cybersecurity. Our alumni engage in some very interesting work, and since “job shadowing” is rarely possible once you have graduated, our series gives attendees access to insider knowledge on a variety of industries and career paths. Alumni discuss their work and attendees can participate in active Q&A, and later have the option to contact the presenter directly. We’ve found this sort of programming to have far-reaching benefits.
Giving our alumni something helpful and practical – without asking for anything in return – is a powerful tool to grow affinity. Our webinars are free, and the speakers are volunteers who give their time to the University and the alumni community.
However, providing useful content and actually engaging alumni during a presentation are two different challenges. We found that active “polling” during a webinar keeps participants engaged. Nearly all the participants who join early stay with the webinar if they are asked for their opinion or feedback during the event. A survey is also launched as soon as it concludes, which has a 40-50 percent completion rate. The survey is only three questions, and the last one asks for ideas about future speakers and topics. In addition to repeat participants, we have on average ten percent of participants as first-time engaged alumni.
Our webinar series has also been a great opportunity to “cross-pollinate” attendees with information on our other alumni resources and career tools that are available to them, but they might not know about yet. Our alumni presenters are usually glad to promote this information to listeners and encourage them to get involved.
One of our more popular webinars was “Career Blindspots You Never Knew Existed,” by Dr. Jinnie Cristerna. Afterward, an attendee submitted a feedback form to let us know how much they enjoyed the webinar, and that they had joined our Wisr mentoring platform because Dr. Cristerna promoted it. While the webinar feedback we receive isn’t always uniformly positive, it’s feedback like this that lets us know we’re on the right track.
Just as Lucie’s experienced, a key element of alumni engagement is leading with value-added engagement opportunities over time. Eventually, your unengaged alumni will have a professional pain point or a need they need to solve for. Will you be the top-of-mind solution? Don’t give up on engaging your unengaged alumni just because they haven’t attended an event recently. Focus on consistently offering something of value to them and make sure you are present when they actually do need your help.