Marquette University has alumni relations down to a science. Here's how they do it.

Events? They're on top of them. Mentoring program? Enormous success. Measuring engagement? They have a 16-point model for doing just that.

In short, Marquette has it figured out.

We were fortunate enough to have the chance to catch up with Marquette's Engagement Director, Dan DeWeerdt, after he spoke at the CASE V Conference in Chicago back in December.

We asked him about facilitating mentorship, measuring engagement, and revising your strategy along the way.

Alumni relations offices have to balance their existing programs with new ones they develop and that other offices suggest. How has Marquette performed this balancing act?

Dan DeWeerdt.

Dan DeWeerdt.

At Marquette, the balancing act evolves and is incorporated on many levels. From an external standpoint, we make it a priority to be mindful of the life stage of alumni and meeting them there.

For example, we’ve found young alumni to be more interested in social gatherings with their classmates, whereas those in their 40s and 50s find value in our alumni programs through professional networking and development as well as doing business with Marquette alumni in their industry.

Learning through alumni focus groups and ongoing dialogue with university leadership, faculty, and engagement and development colleagues has also been essential.

These key findings then help us to determine alumni events for the fiscal year and where they may fit based upon the following categories:

  • Presidential priorities/campaign planning
  • Staple programs: Reunion weekend, awards, affinity groups, National Marquette Day (a spirit day in conjunction with a Marquette men’s basketball game), and a national mentor program are a few examples.
  • Regional clubs: Includes service initiatives, faith-based programs such as Mass, career and networking events, collaborations with the Office of Admissions; scholarship fundraisers, socials, and game-watching gatherings. These events are developed and implemented in collaboration with alumni clubs nationwide and attract thousands annually.
  • Fiscal year priorities to support development initiatives

Finally, we meet annually to determine which programs will continue and those that will no longer be offered. An alumni event that has been a university staple for years doesn’t mean it will continue when it’s not meeting the division’s key performance indicators.

We’ve found our alumni understand and appreciate this review process, too, especially when they’re part of the discussion. When it comes to club events, one size doesn’t fit all, either. Some clubs offer programs that aren’t available in other areas for a variety of reasons. 

With respect to recent successes, programs focused on students, young alumni, and career and professional development have netted significant results. Providing access to students for alumni and vice versa has been very well received, ranging from scholarship to professional networking events.

Mentoring programs have traditionally fallen under the purview of career services offices, but now are increasingly looked upon as opportunities to engage alumni. How does Marquette use its mentorship program both to serve students and strengthen its relationships with alumni?

Housing the local and distance mentor program through University Advancement has provided an unprecedented platform for development and alumni relations staff to work with alumni who have an interest in mentoring a Marquette student. 

The nationally recognized Marquette University Alumni Association Mentor Program is a 1:1 match for students and alumni with similar majors and career interests during the school year. Alumni in 15 states currently mentor students on campus and it’s our development and engagement teams who identify these individuals to participate. 

The program hasn’t only provided a value proposition to current alumni who are engaged and support the university, but it’s also an engagement tool for key alumni who haven’t been involved with Marquette in any capacity. Some alumni mentors who have never been involved in the university are finding real value in the program. One mentor recently shared, “It's been an honor to be engaged in the program. I have benefitted from it and hope that my mentee has grown from her experience as well.”

The bottom line is alumni want to support students through mentoring, which is why the program has a 90% retention rate annually for mentors and 100% of participants share they would recommend the program to fellow alumni and students. Overall, 98% of mentor and mentee participants have indicated the program has exceeded or met their expectations. Since the program is run through alumni relations, we’re able to also share this information with our development team, which regularly attends mentor events to meet their alumni prospects as well as other mentors who are supporting Marquette mentees.

The program has also netted other significant results for University Advancement and the university:

  • Alumni participation in the mentor program has led to new and increased gifts.
  • It’s been a valuable prospect tool for wealth discovery. 
  • Accomplished mentors in their field of work are being identified as potential university alumni award recipients. Some have already been honored, in part because of their new engagement with Marquette as mentors.

Student mentees are finding significant value in the program, too, including:

  • Secured full-time positions through their mentor following graduation
  • Secured internships with their mentor
  • Traveled nationwide to shadow their mentor
  • Continued the mentor relationship following the formal conclusion of the program in spring

In part due to its strong relationship with faculty partners across campus, other non-participating academic units have asked to participate in the program to support their students. At the same time, alumni are reaching out to University Advancement staff inquiring about how they can serve as mentors.  

At your CASE V panel, you said that making it easier for Marquette's alumni to donate experiences is one of your priorities. Why did you choose to adopt this strategy, and how does it bolster your engagement efforts?

With approximately 115,000 alumni worldwide, it’s not always possible for Marquette graduates to return to campus. However, University Advancement looks at how we can bring Marquette to them. 

Through online surveys and focus groups, Marquette’s Seven Essentials of Highly Engaged Alumni was created to allow the university to provide alumni with touch points based upon life stage, whether it’s young alumni or a company CEO.

Through this platform, we track when alumni are engaged with Marquette through several ‘essentials’ such as service, learning or connecting with students. These could be classified as donating their experiences or time to support the Marquette mission and getting engaged with their alma mater. 

In addition, Marquette’s current Alumni Engagement Model created in FY10 is considered a benchmark and cutting-edge tool by other institutions. The model tracks and measures our engagement efforts throughout Marquette University’s alumni population. 

What are our goals through this model? 

  • View each attribute as something we can count and work to improve.  
  • Enhance the effectiveness and results of our work by treating each attribute as an area that we want to strengthen (i.e. more e-mail addresses will make it easier to communicate on many levels; updated/additional business contact information will lead to more accurate qualification, matching gift information, etc.).  
  • Use this model to measure work we are all doing; in the spirit of “one team,” it is relevant to all departments across Advancement and holds all of us accountable. 
  • Keep our colleagues informed of the score on an ongoing basis, and assure our ability to look at the data in various ways, such as breakdowns by rated vs. unrated, colleges, regions, grad years, etc. 

The tool is a 16-point model with giving weighted at 50% and involvement/connectivity, such as serving as a volunteer, participating in a meeting, engaging in the online community, attending a university event, or having your business employer/title also weighted at 50%.  

The score measures the engagement level across our alumni base and we begin with a fresh score for all constituents with some continuation (such as having an email address, which carries over annually).

What impact has the alumni engagement model had on our work and within the industry?

This tool provides us with valuable insight in a variety of areas, such as working to better understand regions, segments, and niches.  

The model has also allowed us to better define the strong relationship between engagement and giving. In fact, when reviewing data over a two-year period, we found the following correlation between giving and engagement: 

  • Alumni with updated employment information: Twice as likely to give
  • Alumni with an email address on file: More than twice as likely to give
  • Alumni who attended their last reunion: Three times as likely to give
  • Alumni who volunteer with Marquette: More than three times as likely to give
  • Alumni who attend an event: Four times as likely to give
  • Alumni who are visited by a prospect manager or university representative: Six times as likely to give 

This model has continues to serve as a catalyst for engagement and giving as our work to support Marquette alumni evolves.

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