We’ve (rightly) spent a lot of time addressing the remote teaching/hybrid learning problem for students; and this year a lot of focus will be spent on the digital student experience. As long as we’re discussing digital transformation of higher education, in parallel it’s a good for the advancement team(s) to look at further transforming the alumni experience.
Why is a digital engagement strategy key? Of the institutions that I’m an alumnus of, most have traditionally sent a 4-color magazine, which, sadly, goes right into the recycling bin. (Though they are now starting to build out some alumni functionality). One institution that already has a more robust digital service is, of course, the one I engage with most. This includes both volunteering time and financial support.
Now there are a number of alumni portal products out there – Graduway, Almabase, 360Alumni just to name a few (not to mention Salesforce and the other SIS/ERP systems). Many of them have very decent networking and fundraising features.
But to drive engagement, content is king. So whatever system you’d like to use, a content strategy is critical. And there’s a great deal of content that you probably already have at your institution; it’s just a question of reaching out and making the arrangements to share it.
For example: one alumni benefit that many schools offer is the ability to “audit” a class for free. This is, for most working adults, simply impossible to take advantage of due to the time it would take to get to campus.
But now that it is very simple to live stream from your video/lecture capture technology, you can allow alumni to “sit in” on any class that you’re capturing anyway for your enrolled students. After class is over, you can take those lecture capture videos and post them as on-demand recordings, effectively creating an alumni MOOC. These can easily be permissioned such that only logged-in alumni have access to them.
Then, of course, you can measure which alumni watch those videos, and approach them with a specific campaign: “We see you’re enjoying sitting in on these classes, would you consider additional support for these activities”
(By the way – it’s almost as easy now to broadcast from some virtual classroom tools, so you can even share small class sessions if desired, without needing to enroll the alumnus/a in the class itself.)
Next, think about all the para-scholastic events that happen on campus. Guest speakers, presidential addresses, even potentially sporting events: These can also be live-broadcast and recorded for on-demand use., and made available to alumni. This keeps them in the campus community, no matter where they are in the world.
End of the Year – Commencement and Year Books
Finally – graduation and virtual yearbooks. The graduation ceremony is the first act in the life of an alumnus, so it’s important to make it as special as possible. A lot of schools have come up with creative solutions during COVID if a face-to-face graduation cannot happen. The most interesting ones I’ve seen include a “personal” moment for each graduate, as the digital equivalent of walking in graduation. It’s certainly possible to have each graduate create a small personalized (and school-approved) video message that gets automatically classed by name, major, etc, so there’s minimal work on the part of the school. Further, for ongoing alumni digital yearbooks, alumni can create/update their digital message or portfolio, which is, I think, a better option that notes in a paper magazine.
It’s all about making alumni feel they are an integral part of the campus; as as the campus moves more and more digital, we’ll need to make sure that we bring the alumni along with us.
Looking for more tips for higher education in a time of COVID-19?