Long-Term Greedy: How to Explain the ROI of Alumni Relations to Advancement

How to Explain the ROI of Alumni Relations to Advancement

Advancement professionals are obsessed with measuring the ROI of their institution’s fundraising efforts. They crave data that will help them do that.

Those of us in alumni relations are equally obsessed with ROI, though we often have a harder time quantifying the return on our investment than our fundraising colleagues. It’s easy enough to calculate the ROI of hiring a new gift officer or running a new campaign. It’s far more difficult to measure the worth of the number of attendees, relationships, and hires that an alumni relations team generates.

Alumni relations shouldn’t let itself off the hook when it comes to measuring returns, but there are some programs that may never generate data that ‘looks good’ despite their continued success. Advancement officers can be skeptical of the worth of alumni engagement efforts even when alumni themselves attest to their value.

To communicate the value of our work, we need to explain it financial terms. To do that, we’ll turn to an unlikely candidate for help: Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs became infamous in the post-recession era for defrauding its investors and the public, but in the 1970s it was the paragon of customer service. Led by senior partner Gus Levy, the firm adopted the unofficial motto, “We are greedy, but long-term greedy.” 1970s Goldman did what was best for its customers, even when it meant missing opportunities to make easy money.

In the words of financier Charles Biderman, “Long-term greedy means being a professional, which includes doing your homework, keeping your word, cleaning up messes, honoring relationships with clients and employees. In other words, doing the right thing for no reason all the time.”

Long-term greedy means providing excellent customer service even when there isn’t data to prove its return on investment. 

Under the auspices of long-term greed, 1970s Goldman experienced incredible growth.

When we focus solely on quantifiable ROI, we focus on the returns that are easiest to measure. Investments whose returns are difficult or impossible to quantify—like time spent helping students and alumni find what they need, the core of good customer service—are undervalued or forgotten. We inadvertently become short-term greedy.

Short-term greed leads to long-term destruction. 

When we don’t provide good customer service to our constituents now, we create a population that is both less able and less inclined to give back. In its obsession with the quantifiable, advancement not only misses out on growing its donor pool, but actually risks shrinking it. You can double spending on gift officers and mailings, but if the only alumni you have to reach out to are unengaged or underemployed, resentment is the only thing you’ll get in return.

By connecting alumni with one another, alumni relations ensures that alumni have the material means to give back. We are also the face of their alma mater: we maintain meaningful relationships with alumni so that they don’t immediately scoff when they get a call from a gift officer or the annual fund. Alumni engagement is the vanguard of every forward-thinking fundraising system.

It isn’t a leap of faith. It isn’t relying on anecdotal evidence. It’s long-term greed.