Back in the late 1990s, I worked at a large public research university. We sat through a sales presentation by a vendor of printed alumni directories, and when he left, we said to each other, “OK, but I guess this will be the last printed directory we ever do.” This was the dotcom era, the CD-ROM was the latest and greatest way to store and access large amounts of information, and we believed that before long, the digital wave would submerge the printed alumni “phone book” at last.
Alumni giving rates are down nationwide, and a majority of Americans say that colleges and universities put their own interests above their students'. Things aren't looking great for fundraising and alumni relations in higher education.
We all have our own assumptions about why it's happening. It's obvious to us, common sense, even if there isn't always the research to back it up. But in the absence of data, there's little we're empowered to do about it.
Fortunately for us, there is some research as to why alumni trust in their alma maters is failing. In this post, we'll break that that research down into five action items.
Advancement and alumni relations had a formula for engaging alumni that worked for decades. But young alumni these days are breaking that mold.
Their giving rates are lower. They attend fewer events. They give for different reasons, care about different causes, face different economic challenges, and have different perceptions of higher education and its worth than their older counterparts.
Yet for all our self awareness and new strategies, we're still only scratching the surface when it comes to solving the problems underlying the young alumni engagement deficit. The problem lies in how we define "engagement" in the first place.
We use the word engagement so often that it's lost useful meaning.
This whitepaper, a collection of our smartest writing, aims to change that. At Switchboard, we believe that advancement, alumni relations, and career services work best when they work together. A revised understanding of engagement will help us create more cross-departmental collaboration.
Mentoring programs for students and young alumni are increasingly popular in the higher education community, but they're not turning out to be all that we hope they are. Mentoring programs promise to tap into the inactive parts of our alumni networks to help students and young alumni advance their careers and engage older alumni at the same time. This promise isn't being realized.