How Incentives Can Drive Alumni Engagement

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with Scott VanDeusen from St. John's University about the new social network, tsū. I got to thinking not so much about whether tsū will live or die (I'm betting the latter), but what their unique business model and network approach can reveal for us.

tsū's basic premise is that they sell ads and rather than benefit from all the content generation of their users (read: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, et al), they actually give 90% of their ad revenues away to users. The model basically rewards great content creators with income. It's like Facebook and professional blogging had a baby.

What can we as alumni professionals take away from this?

People like the idea of benefitting from their efforts.

What an epiphany, eh?

Well, it is and it isn't. What's so profound is that we all know this already. We don't go to work every day and work for free. But, we do volunteer our time without being paid in cash. We do earn karma points and our hearts are fuller when we donate our time, of course, but neither of those pays the bills. That's why alumni professionals get paid to do their jobs.

Volunteers do not.

I'd argue that, like some fundraisers do, there's a way to turn all that hard work alumni are (and could be) doing for schools into something more tangible. I'm not saying volunteers should go on the payroll, but if an alum made 10 career introductions or promoted alumni content/events to others or made calls to classmates to increase giving participation, wouldn't it make sense to recognize them for it?

Some schools certainly do recognize donors very nicely and even volunteers. But make it more explicit to jumpstart engagement - a sweatshirt for getting 50 alumni to a networking event or early access to basketball tickets because they convinced 5 fellow alumni to make a donation.

And, please, don't think every volunteer should get something every time. Use a volunteer incentive program to engage or jumpstart first-time volunteers or new-to-world engagement. Get them in. Whatever it takes! Either way, whether tsū makes it or not, the idea that community members deserve recognition that they are excited about is enduring.

Nick Zeckets