Events are the staple of alumni relations, and for good reason. Reunions, regional gatherings, and chapter parties are excellent ways for alumni to reconnect with each other and their alma mater (and enjoy themselves, to boot).
This reunions season, it's important to think about all the other times in alumni's life when they aren't engaged with their alma mater but could be. Improving alumni engagement doesn't mean infiltrating every nook and cranny of their lives or demanding that they become superfans always decked out in school regalia. Nor does it mean cramming the calendar with even more events.
Consistent and meaningful alumni engagement can begin with events—but it cannot end there. What alumni relations needs is a strategy that includes events, but builds on them: an "events-plus" model.
An events-plus model is about expanding engagement beyond events to create an alumni network—a shared alumni experience, a social fabric—that persists. An events-only model creates periodic engagement and leaves gaps in between programming. An events-plus model fills in those gaps with an easily accessible alumni network, generating continuous engagement.
- At times and events you plan
- On the institution's terms
- What you want
- About preselected subjects
- Strengthens relations
- Whenever alumni want/need it
- On alumni's own terms
- What they want
- About anything and everything
- Strengthens alumni
You can't be everywhere at once. But your network of thousands of alumni effectively can.
Under events-only models, we rely on chapter events, reunions, and so on to keep alumni and engaged and bring the unengaged back into the fold. Under an events-plus model, we still do that, but we also make the institution relevant to alumni in other parts of their lives and help them engage each other themselves.
Entrusting your alumni network with the responsibility to engage can be daunting. It may feel like you're delegating key parts of your job to people who have never done it before. But in reality you're just empowering your alumni to do what they've been doing all along.
Events-only models restrict our understanding of alumni engagement and stifle the many other ways alumni want to—and choose to—maintain their relationship with their alma mater. To quote Marts & Lundy consultant Charlie Melichar: "Do you want engagement or just more people doing the thing you want them to do?"
Expanding our relationships with alumni beyond events deepens those relationships and reaps benefits for our institutions as well. Many schools have done so for decades, but there are a few that stand out as good examples.
Marquette University's alumni mentoring program offers alumni a way to connect with younger versions of themselves, a powerfully meaningful means of engagement. Not only does this arrangement excite alumni and help students, it also helps Marquette's advancement office broaden its donor-base and cultivate donor relationships.
Longwood University's "micro-volunteering" initiative invites alumni to donate an hour of their time each month to their alma mater or other alumni by networking, sharing jobs and internships, or even just submitting class notes.
Oberlin's CASE-award-winning May Day initiative encouraged alumni to reach out to students and offer advice on starting a career and life after college. The project was hugely successful—dozens of alumni offered students help, and those offers are still facilitating connections today.
Our alumni's lives aren't made up of just events. They include families, careers, friendships, and all manner of ups and downs. The more ways we can find for our institutions to fit into their lives—rather than asking them to fit us in to their calendar—the stronger our relationships will be.