Bridging the gap between advancement and alumni relations can be hard—even when one office is asking something of the other.
To solve this problem, Elon University created a unique hybrid position: the Alumni Engagement Officer. Elon has used its AEOs to increase rates of attendance, volunteering, giving, and retention.
We spoke with Tricia Teter, senior alumni engagement officer, and Jill Hollis, coordinator of alumni engagement and special events, to tell us more about the Alumni Engagement Officer position and the strategy behind it. They recently presented on the topic at the CASE District 3 Conference in Nashville.
Elon University created the new position of Alumni Engagement Officer, which straddles the line between advancement and alumni relations. Could you explain this position and why Elon decided to create it?
The Alumni Engagement Officer position brings a holistic approach to the giving officer concept, focusing on the Alumni Engagement Office's branding of partner, advocate, and investor. We describe engaged Elon alumni as those who step up to be partners, advocates, and investors with us.
At Elon, partnering is attending an event, advocating is volunteering time, and investing is making an annual donation of any amount. When Alumni Engagement Officers ask for involvement, they ask for all three aspects of involvement, not just one. There are two reasons behind the three-part ask: First, because people who are involved as partners and advocates are more likely to be investors; and second, because involvement isn't just donating, nor do we want alumni to think that a financial transaction is the sole reason for their relationship with Elon.
Alumni Engagement Officers work to show alumni that we want them to be involved in these three ways, and they encourage our alumni to give back to Elon through their time AND resources. Alumni Engagement Officers also help to communicate the ways that Elon University is partnering with, advocating in, and investing in our alumni, to show that this relationship is a two-way street.
Elon decided to create this position in order to increase overall alumni involvement at Elon. Alumni Engagement Officers work to increase event attendees, volunteers, and donors which helps the advancement team increase engagement among all alumni. By creating officers focused on alumni engagement, all advancement goals increase.
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What were your goals for your AEOs? What have your AEOs achieved so far?
The Alumni Engagement Officer goals included annual face to face and phone meetings as well as number of volunteers within the portfolio, event attendees within the portfolio and donors within the portfolio. The goal for event attendees and volunteers is established by taking the results from the previous fiscal year and setting a goal of a percentage increase. This fiscal year, the goal is to increase event attendees and volunteers by 5%. The goal for donors is to achieve 56% giving among the portfolio. That goal was established in an effort to retain 75% of alumni LYBUNTS, achieve 40% giving from the class of 2015 and acquire 30% of alumni SYBUNTS and never donors.
Since June 1, 2015, the AEO portfolio has completed 49.8% of the event attendee goal, 54.6% of the volunteer goal and 37.8% of the donor goal. In addition, the three AEOs have completed 293 alumni engagement meetings, 224 face to face meetings and 69 phone meetings.
What have you learned from creating the AEO position? What are you hoping to improve upon?
While we specifically track event attendance, volunteers, job and internship connections, and annual donors, the AEO position has been a great tool for engagement on all levels. We have seen young alumni respond well to the personal outreach; they enjoy having a direct liaison back to the university.
On many occasions, we have heard stories from our alumni about how they wouldn’t be connected to Elon if it weren’t for their relationship with their alumni engagement officer. While we are still very much in the early years of this position, we can already see that it has been a worthwhile investment and will only continue to strengthen Elon’s relationship with its alumni.
At Elon, we are always working on how we can improve and get better year after year. Currently, areas of improvement for the alumni engagement officers are to increase collaboration with the annual giving team. Since we are frontline fundraisers housed in alumni engagement, it is important to stay on the same page as our annual giving team so that we are messaging the same thing. In addition, we want to make sure that we follow their solicitation calendar to avoid over-communication.
Another area of improvement is to improve our efforts in engaging unique alumni. Since we oversee a large portfolio, it is easy to engage the same alumni multiple times throughout the year, rather than engaging many different alumni once. This will be accomplished by strategically reaching out to different alumni rather than repeating alumni in our outreach.
How can other schools use what you’ve learned to improve their own engagement efforts?
Ideally, other schools would be able to implement a similar program by hiring additional staff to focus on young alumni engagement, but we understand that limited budgets often stand in the way of implementing such changes.
The most important lesson to learn is that alumni crave individualized attention. They want to feel special, so taking a few minutes to send a personalized follow-up email (even if it’s mail-merged) to an event invitation will go a long way. Alumni welcome any opportunity to get “insider knowledge” or to offer feedback, so keep them in the loop on your programming and don’t be shy in asking for their advice. It’s the easiest way to cater to your audience, and it may even land you with some volunteers to execute their own ideas!
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