Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and a tumultuous career landscape, alumni say they are receptive to outreach from their colleges and universities, the virtual events they host and initiatives that connect them with current students, according to a new report from solutions provider Anthology.
The survey done in August and September of more than 17,000 graduates shows the potential fundraising opportunities that may be available to institutions as they seek new ways to engage with former students and bolster existing relationships.
Most graduates say they appreciate the regular communication from their institutions – 82% say the amount of emails they receive are perfect (less than one email a week but more than one a month) – and that they look most closely at “their situation on campus, news on classmates and the potential to network” with other alumni.
Nevertheless, targeted communications might need to be tailored differently depending on the audience – longtime alumni vs. those who are recent graduates (within the past 10 years), Anthology researchers say.
“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the ways that universities must engage with and support their graduates to meaningfully build relationships and support evolving fundraising strategies,” said Jim Milton, CEO of Anthology. “Based on data from the survey, institutions can deepen alumni connections by segmenting their approaches, being responsive to shifting communication preferences and offering career support and stronger links to current students.”
The report highlights the desire of alumni respondents (nearly one third) to receive information that helps support both students and their colleges during the pandemic, despite nearly 25% having lost employment. In a similar survey conducted more than a year ago, there was far less interest in fundraising initiatives.
One of the ways colleges have drawn interest from alumni is through virtual offerings, particularly academic-driven webinars. More than 40% of those who were surveyed said they were likely to attend an online event from their college or university. And nearly 67% of recent alumni expressed interest. On the flip side, 78% said they would not consider attending a live event this year.
Researchers said in the report: “It will be fascinating to see whether that interest remains after the pandemic. Still, institutions should continue to offer virtual programming, especially webinars featuring faculty members and other campus personalities.”
As for those who are giving back, only one quarter of those surveyed said they donated to institutions in the past year. A further 23% of respondents said they were less likely to contribute in the near future. Of those who are willing to contribute, more than one half said they would support giving to student emergency funds or annual funds.
“Maintaining ties to donors is even more important in this environment” the research team noted. “There are clear opportunities to do so by tailoring communications to individuals who have supported the institution over the past several years.”
Targeting recent alumni also could be a sound strategy for colleges and universities. Those respondents expressed interest in career-related information and job postings but also are seeking connections with current students. Some 70% would like to reach out to those in school for “career-related information, words of encouragement and being a mentor.”