Rules of (re)engagement: connecting with recent alumni
Recent graduates continue to be a key focus of alumni engagement offices, and for good reason. The earlier this group engages, the more likely they are to not only continue to engage over time but to become long-term supporters. This is also a cohort with different expectations of the relationship with their alma mater. While there may be an intrinsic connection to their alma mater, this does not automatically lead to engagement or a sense of duty to give or to remain engaged, as has been the case for past generations.
In a nationwide survey of over 2,000 alumni, there were some notable differences among the 706 respondents who were recent alumni–defined as individuals who graduated in the last ten years (classes of 2013 to 2022). For the majority of this group, engagement remained the same during the pandemic, but a higher percentage indicated a positive change in engagement, at 28%, than the overall population. However, 18% of this group indicated that their engagement had decreased over the course of the pandemic, slightly higher than among overall respondents to the survey.
As would be expected, recent alumni generally have a higher preference for use of technology in communications, as 64% expressed a preference for email, followed by 34% who mentioned social media. Postal mail, phone, and text messaging were all less preferred at fewer than 20% of respondents each, with text messaging being selected as preferred by the fewest recent alumni. This is telling and highlights the importance of email in engaging recent alumni.
When it comes to email content, recent alumni expressed the highest interest in information about in-person alumni events (30%), followed by discounts or promotional offers (30%), alumni networking opportunities (29%), career-related information (28%), virtual alumni events (25%), and volunteer opportunities (25%). Recent alumni do not have a high level of interest in updates about fellow alumni, which was the highest area of interest for the overall population. Given some of these differences, institutions have an opportunity to tailor communications to recent alumni.
When asked specifically about career-related tools or resources, only 19% expressed no interest in this type of information. Networking opportunities were of highest interest (49%), followed by information about a job search, resume tips, etc. (43%), as well as job postings (42%). This provides additional context for institutions in making career-related information part of the content for recent alumni. Institutions should partner with career services and other offices on campus for at least some of this content, rather than creating it completely on their own.
A high percentage of recent graduates (81%) are interested in participating in programming. The two categories with by far the highest level of interest were networking opportunities (43% of all recent alumni), and career-related programming (39%). Over 60% of all respondents expressed interest in one or both of these programs. These were followed by community service programs (28%) and large-scale programs (homecoming, reunion, etc.). There is clear interest in these programs, with community service programs being much more important to recent alumni than to the overall population. This presents another opportunity for institutions to focus on recent graduates.
Of recent alumni who have a preference for how events are held, they are evenly split between virtual and in-person events, with nearly 40% expressing an interest in each. Therefore, institutions should continue to offer both types of events to cater to this population.
A high percentage of recent alumni (74%) are interested in helping current or prospective students. This continues to be an opportunity for institutions to engage these graduates. The highest interest was in mentoring current students (33%), followed by 30% who expressed interest in helping admissions recruit prospective students, and 26% who would be interested in speaking with prospective students about their careers. Identifying ways that recent alumni could assist admissions would likely help both areas – alumni would be more engaged, while admissions offices have the opportunity to highlight alumni successes to prospective students and their families.
Forty-three percent of respondents reported being “never givers” — never having made a gift to their alma mater. However, 17% stated they had made a gift in the current year and 22% indicated that they made a gift last year. While this is partially impacted by senior gift programs, it indicates a relatively high percentage of recent alumni donors (keeping in mind that this is self-reported data).
Among those who made a gift, 51% indicate that the gift was prompted by email, with 32% indicating that a letter prompted their donation, while 29% gave due to a phone call. The high percentage for email presents an opportunity to institutions to continue to refine email solicitation strategies for recent graduates, and perhaps even reducing some print solicitations – especially to alumni who are engaging with email communications. Among all recent alumni, the highest percentage (55%) are interested in giving to student-related funds, followed by the annual fund at 33%, and 24% to specific student organizations. This is again beneficial as institutions refine solicitations, as there is an opportunity to focus even more on the impact of donations on current students.
There are many ways that institutions can continue to build on engaging recent graduates. By tailoring programming and communications with a higher focus on career-oriented information, as well as other areas of interest based on the survey, institutions can build and deepen relationships with recent alumni so that they remain engaged over time.
Mirko Widenhorn, Ed.D.
Mirko Widenhorn, Ed.D., is senior director of engagement strategy at Anthology. Widenhorn joined the Anthology team in 2013, bringing more than 11 years of higher education experience to the organization. Prior to Anthology, he was the director of alumni relations and annual giving at Wilkes University. Now serving as the senior director of engagement strategy, he works closely with clients on engagement scoring, while also focused on thought leadership for higher education. Widenhorn is a Drew University graduate and completed his Ed.D. in higher education administration at Wilkes University, focusing on whether giving differs based on participation in different types of alumni programming.