How The Ohio State University Measures Alumni Engagement

The Ohio State University

Measuring alumni engagement is one of the best things an alumni relations shop can do to help it improve its engagement efforts. It's also one of the hardest.

Just knowing how to measure engagement is half the battle.

The Ohio State University's Director of Advancement Events Samantha Frost presented on the subject at December's CASE District V conference in Chicago. We asked Frost and Joshua Harraman, Ohio State's senior director of alumni and constituent engagement, how OSU uses the Net Promotor Score as a metric to measure engagement and improve its alumni events.

The Net Promoter Score is used widely in the private sector to gauge customer loyalty, but few use it in higher ed. Why does your team use the NPS system?

Joshua Harraman.

Joshua Harraman.

Frost and Harraman: We found that having one standardized score across our organization allowed us to have a consistent way to measure our alumni and donor experience at events. Prior to adopting NPS, we only did post-event surveys for some events and each survey varied in what they were asking. Even within a single department, we had a variety of surveys. It was difficult to really know if we met our goals when looking at events in the aggregate when we didn’t have that consistency.

An NPS survey is, at its core, a single question, but surveyors have a lot leeway to add and fine-tune additional ones. What do your surveys look like, and what do they capture?

Samantha Frost.

Samantha Frost.

Frost and Harraman: We struggled with this at Ohio State when we first started to use NPS and standardize our post-event surveys. Each event owner wanted to add questions relevant to their specific event. (How was the speaker? How was the food? Did you like your seats? etc.) Our surveys are three simple questions:

  • Based on your experience at this event, how likely are you to recommend a similar event to another Buckeye? (The primary NPS question.)
  • To help us plan for future events, please share why you chose that response. (The responses provided here allowed us to get to the details of each event that the event owners previously asked many more questions to achieve.)
  • If you would like us to contact you, please enter your contact information below. (As part of NPS, if someone wants to leave their information, we always close the communication loop and follow-up with them to address any concerns or thank them for attending an event.)

NPS data can upend traditional wisdom about why alumni feel affinity for their alma mater and choose to remain engaged. How has NPS helped your team better understand your alumni and improve engagement efforts?

Frost and Harraman: We are always learning in our work. With each event and engagement opportunity, we evaluate the feedback from our NPS surveys to better understand what our alumni want and expect from The Ohio State University. The data we’ve collected has allowed us to improve on traditional events like Homecoming and Buckeye Bashes and has empowered us to advocate for more, new engagement opportunities, which include our Young Alumni Academy, Paint and Pour, and Buckeyes and Broadway to name a few.

If you could share one piece of advice with other alumni relations and advancement professionals about measuring engagement, what would it be?

Frost and Harraman: Be patient with your work. We went from having a different survey for every event to one uniform survey across our organization, measuring over 150 events per year. In order to get staff buy-in, it took time and we all learned together, but it’s helped us to universally understand our work and improve our engagement efforts.