Measuring alumni engagement is beset with challenges.
How do we measure different types of behavior? How do we measure behavior? How do we convince our colleagues to report every point of contact with alumni?
When it comes to meeting these challenges, U Calgary is ahead of the curve. They have their process so figured out that they issue alumni engagement reports four times a year.
We caught up with Phil Johnston, alumni data and reports analyst at U Calgary, after his CASE VIII Conference panel, "Alumni Engagement Reporting," to find out how they do it.
You and your team at U Calgary have developed an approach that lets you deliver consistent quarterly reports on alumni engagement. What is your approach? How did you develop it?
When developing our approach to alumni measurement and reporting we began with a review of best practices among other post-secondary institutions (in and outside of the CASE VIII district). Discussing the paths others took was great insight into pitfalls we could avoid and strengths to consider blending into our approach.
Most importantly we wanted to build a model that would be useful in business evaluation and planning...something that would give us data we could use and not just show in a bright and colourful report. Another objective was to make sure that we counted alumni activity that was meaningful (in other words an approach that distinguished true engagement from more transactional interactions).
Our quarterly reports are the product not just of one or two people but a commitment across our entire alumni team to generate, gather and then share information about programming, volunteering, donations, and communications. If "it takes a village to raise a child," then "it takes a team to produce a report." The quarterly reports would not happen without the commitment of our team and faculty partners to share information and make sure it gets back into a central tracking database.
The reporting process I think has been successful for a couple of reasons:
- In the early stages and first couple of reports, we listened to feedback from our audience receiving it. Their feedback helped to make sure the report was relevant and we made changes based on what we heard.
- The report is aligned with our alumni strategy and our approach to alumni segmentation. The value-add provided is not with the production of the report but with the use of the data to support other aspects of our day-to-day business.
How do you measure who your most connected or engaged alumni are?
Our approach to measuring alumni engagement is one that looks not just at the breadth of engagement (# of engaged alumni) but also the depth (the extent to which they are engaged and which activity is part of their individual engagement story). We describe our most engaged alumni as "Alumni Ambassadors," and of course we want to sustain and support their high level of engagement.
However, it's also an area of focus for us to really examine the alumni who have some but not extensive engagement...this is an area of growth where we can identify people who have shown an interest or affinity, but where there is room to grow their relationship with the University of Calgary.
One of the things that I believe defines our measurement model and is unique is the timeframe of engagement. Rather than having a cutoff date where engagement scores reset to zero, we employ a "rolling model" that measures engagement activity over eight business quarters (two years). So as time rolls forward by three months for the next report, so too does our timeframe for engagement.
If you could give on piece of advice to institutions looking to measure alumni engagement, what would it be?
Limiting it to one piece of advice is a tough challenge because there have been so many important lessons for us along the way. Perhaps the most important thing to do is to overcome reluctance and just begin measurement with something manageable. Once you start something, it grows from there and becomes easier.