5 Steps to Locally Engage Alumni

If you’re a 2- or 4- year college in the Metro Detroit area, good news: on average, 77.7% of your alumni will stick around the local area when they graduate, which is great for centralizing engagement efforts. On the other end of the spectrum, 4- year institutions in the Metro Phoenix area can only expect a meager 18% of alumni to stay nearby. Whether your local retention rates mirror Detroit, Phoenix, or anywhere in between, it should always be a priority to reach alumni wherever they are. Here’s 5 core steps to locally engaging alumni.

1.     Understand where your alumni live.

Some tools – QuadWrangle included – will automatically allow you to segment your alumni into local buckets based on profile analysis. Regardless of what platform you use, understanding the geographical distribution of your alumni is a critical first step. You can find location data on alumni LinkedIn profiles, self-reported database collection points, or graduation exit surveys if needed. Determine the major “markets” where your alums tend to move after they graduate. If you have never done localized alumni segmentation, start by identifying the top 5 metropolitan areas where your alumni tend to congregate after graduation and scale up from there.

2.     Publicize events to a segmented audience.

Once you understand where your alumni live, you can start to build meaningfully segmented lists to ensure that the right people are hearing about the right events. For example, say you have identified New York City as a major centralized location where your alumni live. You should definitely invite all of your alumni who live in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. You may want to expand the invite list to alums living in nearby parts of New Jersey and New York State, if capacity allows. If it is a significant event, you may consider inviting alums in upstate New York or even the proximate areas of New England as a whole. But, if you plan on hosting events in nearby Boston as well – another major metropolitan area – make sure you aren’t cross inviting too much between markets, as alumni may begin to feel overwhelmed. In another example, say that your only Midwestern target city is Chicago. Some alums may be happy to drive into events or otherwise come from extended distances, but if a drive would be more than 3-4 hours for any individual, think carefully about extending excessive invitations.

3.     Divide and conquer.

As you start expanding to more and more local networks, it can be difficult to manage every event detail from the central alumni development office. Partnerships with local alumni groups can not only ease event planning, but also help engage individual alumni at a deeper level. If alumni are actively participating in planning events and feel closely connected to a local community, they will be much more eager to support fundraising efforts in the future. Event attendance is one of the biggest indicators of alumni participation, and if you’re bringing a greater breadth of events to your alumni community, each individual will have even more opportunities to connect.

4.     Maintain regularity.

It may feel like a huge accomplishment to get any level of local programming going. And don’t get us wrong – it is! That being said, hosting a one time event in a bunch of different localities will be much less impactful than an ongoing and deliberate effort in a few critical markets. People who are fully engaged with a cause (e.g. “emotionally attached to an organization and believe in its purpose) are 3.6x more likely to donate, and events are a major way to build a visibly valuable community. Programming needs to be diverse and relatively constant so that alums don’t feel that they are being “wine-and-dined.” Work to engage alums with a variety of interests and establish a presence so that your alumni are connecting with a community, not just a single event.

5.     Keep it interesting!

If every event you host is a mixer at an open bar, don’t expect people to keep coming in the long run. Try to host events that engage a variety of affinities. Maybe one month you will host a dinner at a restaurant owned by a local alum, and the next month you can host a local mentorship match that connect alumni in a variety of professional fields with students at a partner high school. Not all alumni will feel naturally comfortable in open, mixer style events, so it is important to consider a myriad of interests and conversation styles.

Planning localized events is easier said than done. If you want to learn more about understanding and reaching your alumni wherever they may be, we’re always happy to chat.

Rachael Stein