Why Personalization Matters When Planning Alumni Events
By now, most alumni relations professionals realize that by failing to engage with alumni beyond requesting donations, the university, (and most importantly, its students) are missing out on valuable knowledge, connections, and experiences that alumni are well-positioned to share. So, if the solution to alumni engagement isn’t sending them an email or letter every few months asking them to give back to the university, how do we crack the alumni engagement case?
One popular solution has been planning in-person alumni events, either on campus or in regional hub spots. For large universities with strong sports programs, hosting a traditional event like Homecoming may seem like a no-brainer. But what about schools that can’t attract students by playing off the nostalgia of football Saturday? Personalization based on alumni interests is the key to planning alumni events that are attractive and productive for all involved parties.
At the Denver Urban Research Institution Summit in February 2018, Tom Bull, Portland State University’s Executive Director of Alumni Relations, shared a few interesting findings from a recent alumni survey:
- PSU grads are less likely to participate in “traditional” programming
21 percent would attend athletic event vs. 45 percent peer average
9 percent would attend Homecoming vs. 18 percent peer average
- PSU grads are more likely to support political and social causes
30 percent are involved in political organizations/campaigns vs. 23 percent peer average
- PSU grads are also interested in events with an academic or career-related focus
They are 42 percent more likely to attend professional seminars and 47 percent more likely to attend lectures than their peer averages
While survey data from your alumni population may reveal different results, Bull’s research suggests that not all alumni are created equal. So, while it can be incredibly helpful to look to other universities for alumni event planning best practices, this strategy underscores a need for key data points on your alumni’s interest both in programming initiatives and in general.
Make Your Alumni Events More Successful With the Data You Collect
Once you’ve gathered data to guide you in your event planning efforts, consider taking the following steps to personalize your alumni events:
- Leverage the Data to Make Customized Event Recommendations
What good is data if you don’t use it? Once you find out information about who your engaged alumni are and what they’re interested in, make personalized event recommendations. Marketing automation and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools will soon become your best friend. Use them to segment your alumni population based on location, previously attended events, hobbies or interests, industry, professional or on-campus affiliations, or other personal variables.
- Master Email Personalization
This comes down to digital marketing basics. The more you can personalize an email to an alum, the better. The easiest first step is to send the event invite from an actual person on your alumni relations team (not firstname.lastname@example.org), like your Director of Alumni Relations. Next, you can add personalization tokens within the email subject line and body. Address them by their first name, call out where they’re working now, or indicate that you think they might be interested in an upcoming event since they live in X city. Put your data to work in your emails.
- Enroll Alumni Event Attendees in a Post-Event Engagement Sequence
Engagement with alumni shouldn’t stop once they step into an event. You should always follow up with relevant content, an offer of value, or a note of gratitude. This is also the perfect time to recommend a follow-up experience. Don’t lose momentum just as the alum is engaging with you!
Alumni relations deals with an extremely high number of stakeholders both internally and externally. Conducting surveys to get a pulse on how alumni events can be personalized to meet alumni needs better will help execute your vision faster. Any time a stakeholder tries to stray from “the personalization plan,” it should be because new data has been made available to suggest that the course of action will be supported by alumni.
Long after they leave campus, alumni want to feel like they’ve made an impact on their school. Taking steps to make alumni feel valued for more than just their financial contributions is important to the growth and future of a university. If you truly respect the relationship with your alumni and want to offer them value, make sure they know it by offering alumni events tailored to their interests and personalized to their demographics.