Five Ways To Cultivate Your Newest Alumni

5waysHughesJuly brings forth many things, but in the world of higher education annual giving, it often means a new crop of recent alumni have been added to the database.  Some of these individuals may have given during their spring graduating class gift campaign, but this will mark the first year they have been asked to give as alumni.

Don’t begin your new alumni relationship by immediately asking for money.  Instead, utilize this summer and fall as the perfect time to establish a strong emotional tie for alumni giving.  Here are five things you can do in order to specifically cultivate these new alumni:

  1. Establish annual giving as a brand
  2. Social media signups
  3. Create exclusive, online events
  4. Showcase recent impacts of grassroots giving
  5. Confirm contact information

Establish annual giving as a brand

Many institutions only utilize the alumni relations office to cultivate alumni at and immediately after graduation.  However, don’t assume that loyalty to the alma mater will equate to making a gift.  Especially with today’s younger alumni who are part of the Millennial generation.  The Millennial Impact Report is one of several publications to note Millennials “treat all of their assets (time, money, network, etc…) as having equal value.”

There are more than 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the U.S.  With all of that competition for charitable dollars, don’t create a situation where your alums solely view their loyalty as volunteerism.  Send messages to your newest alumni that specifically put annual giving at the forefront of their minds.graduationcap

Social media signups

This is the perfect time to get new alumni to follow a large number of institution-related social media sites and platforms.  They will be looking for ways to remain engaged and informed.  Aggressively push out invitations to follow as many places as you can.  Maybe even create giveaways to incentivize social media signups.

Obviously, stay focused on the platforms that are the most popular with your alumni.  Also, think ahead a few months to homecoming, reunions, calendar year-end pushes, giving days, crowdfunding campaigns and so forth.  What platforms and accounts will you use the most?  How do you cross-promote?  If you can get your newest alumni to follow the right cross-section of social media accounts now, you’ll maximize engagement opportunities later in the year.

Create exclusive, online events

With today’s technology, a few live, 30 minute sessions with a dean, faculty member, coach, or other campus administrator should not be difficult to accomplish.  At shorter lengths, these sessions can easily be done during the workday rather than at night.  You might even consider using a popular app like periscope or meerkat to enhance mobile opportunities.

Doing these online, rather than on campus, means you can engage all of your alumni and not just those who live within a handful of miles of your institution.  In fact, a recent young alumni survey we performed for a client revealed an engagement gap solely based on geography.  And don’t forget to re-enforce the annual giving program is the “sponsor” of these live sessions in order to build brand recognition.

Showcase recent impacts of grassroots giving

Young alumni will almost always be in the grassroots giving stage of the donor relationship.  You could have a handful of new alums give at annual leadership levels (especially in higher-paying industries like business, medicine, law and engineering), but the greater likelihood is these new alums will give a couple hundred dollars or so.

Once again, we turn to the Millennial Impact Report, which revealed:

  • Millennials support issues rather than organizations
  • Millennials engage with causes to help other people, not organizations
  • Millennials are influenced by their peers

Show your newest alumni the types of issues and causes that financial donations by their peers have directly impacted.  Focus on the impact of grassroots giving, not on major gifts.  Try to select areas of campus life that are most popular with students.  Helping your newest alumni to reflect upon the best parts of their student experience – and directly connecting those to grassroots alumni giving – will pay dividends throughout the new fiscal year.contactinfo

Confirm new contact information

All of your new alumni are on the move.  They’re moving to new cities and new apartments.  Encourage them to make sure the institution has their correct contact information across all channels.

  • What is their preferred email address?  Make sure your database isn’t prioritizing a dot-edu email address; get their dot-com email.
  • Cell phone number? These are very powerful for both phone calling projects and future data research.
  • New mailing address?  Make sure the active address you have on file is not their parents’ address (e.g. tuition billing address) or whatever apartment they lived in last year.

Closing thoughts

Spend as much time as possible over the next few months to cultivate new alumni from a fundraising standpoint.  There will be plenty of time to start soliciting them later in the calendar year, but don’t make the first thing they see from the annual giving office be a solicitation.  That is not a healthy start to what you hope will be a five-plus decade donor relationship.

Even if you’re focused solely on the next five months instead of five decades, some short-term focus on these five areas can make a big difference this year on your first-time alumni donor acquisition numbers.

 

Other Blog Posts in the 2015 “Five Ways” Series

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Chris Hughes

Director of Fundraising Strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Chris Hughes is a former Director of Annual Giving who has more than two decades of experience in fundraising, marketing, public relations and organizational success in higher education and nonprofit fundraising.
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