Increase Alumni Engagement Without Adding Staff? Yes, It Is Possible!

Imagine you’re a brand-new VP for Advancement. You arrive on the heels of the most successful campaign in the university’s history with leadership wanting to launch a new campaign in a few years as part of a 150th-anniversary celebration.

After your arrival, you discover an annual giving program in steady decline, alumni giving near an all-time low, volunteerism non-existent, donor prospect visits that are sporadic at best, and alumni events that attract the same people each year.

You have 18-24 months before the quiet phase of the next campaign begins, and no opportunity to add more staff.

What do you do?

Lest you think this is a hypothetical scenario, it’s one a Gonser Gerber client faced. As with anything in Advancement, the solution was multi-layered and comprehensive: a formal prospect management process was implemented, portfolios were re-engineered to be smaller and more focused, metrics were established to guide and evaluate visit activities, and regular staff meetings were held to discuss engagement and cultivation progress.

These changes brought more focus and discipline to prospect discovery and cultivation. But even more alumni outreach was needed given the previously low levels of engagement and the short timetable to prepare for another campaign.

How can the rate of prospect discovery be increased without adding staff? This was the challenge the new VP faced.

What was the solution? 

Identifying underutilized resources, the VP tapped into a network of bright and talented students to conduct “discovery” interviews. During these interviews, students asked alumni questions about their college experiences and professional journeys since leaving campus and explored ways alumni might prefer to personally connect and engage with the university. To spur ideas on involvement, a visual resource was created – 8.5 Ways to Engage (see graphic below) – that listed ways alumni could meaningfully engage with the university.

Students were trained by Alumni Relations staff, who shifted some of their focus away from events to also conduct discovery interviews. In doing so, Alumni Relations staff found themselves involved in more meaningful discussions with alumni than during any of their past events. The initiative was titled, “The Big Discovery,” and hundreds more alumni were engaged and qualified than through any previous process.

As most organizations enter the last few months of the current fiscal year, can you begin planning for next year by brainstorming ways your institution can meaningfully engage its constituents? Use the “8.5 Ways to Engage” example as a starting point. Do you have staff who are currently underutilized or volunteers whom you can trust in one-on-one settings to do your version of “The Big Discovery?”

For everyone who has uttered the words, “I wish I had more resources,” this example proves those resources are available — if you just get a little creative.


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