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Create, Don’t Expect, Alumni Engagement

Rebel Staff,

By: Paul Pita 

During a time of upheaval in traditional approaches to donor relations in higher education, there’s no one-size-fits-all mechanism to build donor and alumni engagement. Colleges and universities need to rethink or change their approach to programs, services, organizational structures and relationships with their donors and alumni. They need to strategically embrace opportunities in order to engage their largest — and most enduring — constituency.

Expanding, engaging and retaining donors is a critical factor in today’s competitive fundraising environment. Here are some top-level strategic tips to spark innovative higher education marketing.

Promote What Undergraduates Value And Use Existing Relationships To Create Long Term Connections

  • Universities that provide strong intellectual development and encourage deep friendships with fellow undergrads and faculty can also help foster more alumni donations. 
  • Leverage current student data to cultivate strong future alumni incentives and engagement before students graduate.
  • Campus community, special interest and social groups; intramural sports, scholastic sports teams should be leveraged: they donate consistently even during economic downturns.

Understand On-Demand 

Across the board, today’s customers expect information on-demand. Millennials, for example, check smartphones almost 100 times each day* and expect their customer experience to be consistent across all platforms, both in-person and online.

For colleges and universities and their advancement organizations, customers – i.e., alumni and donors – demand not only speed but ease of interaction and personalization. Universities need to apply sophisticated communications tools and segmented data for higher education marketing strategies that serve individual alumni and affinity groups. 

Respect Donors

Not all donors are alike. In a study,** 75% of respondents say they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content, including vague, dull and irrelevant content.

  • Be clear who your donors are and segment them. Once segmented, ensure your language is specific to their needs and donation motivations.
  • Create programs that recognize tiers of donors/donations.
  • Target younger alumni and donors with options of involvement: aim your calls to action to your audience (not all calls to action require money).

Social Media Has Matured

With or without the benefit of an alumni association, alumni independently engage with each other through social media, which has reduced the predominance of alumni magazines, directories and events.

  • Online managers now guide programs that develop, monitor and direct communications content, based on affinities, age and generational lifestyle habits (including those of Gen X, Millennials and Baby Boomers). 
  • Information can be developed and/or repurposed strategically through content curation for all platforms, with links and interactivity among them.

Why Should Donors And Alumni Care?

Some donors and alumni don’t believe their college degree has opened enough doors for their careers.

  • Through raising awareness of networking events, university activities, online communities, reunions, and real business success all demonstrate that alumni participation and donations are worth the time and effort. 
  • Messaging needs to transcend appreciation and return to the university itself and should demonstrate value to undergraduates and industries on which the university has an impact.

Creating donor loyalty and alumni engagement elevates the value of lifelong education. If your students, alumni and donors can connect post-graduation success back to their alma mater, everyone wins. 

Time to get schooled in how Rebel can help your higher learning institute.

*According to a 2017 study on

**Abila & The Nonprofit Times Donor Loyalty Study | A Deep Dive into Donor Behaviors and Attitudes; Blackbaud’s The Next Generation of American Giving Research Report; GWCT 2014 Attitude and Awareness Study