Alumni Engagement Is A Contact Sport

The Rochester Institute of Technology recently announced its largest gift ever: $50 million from alumnus Austin McChord, founder of tech company Datto.

While that certainly is big news, what’s even more interesting is how it happened: engagement.

As the article makes clear, this is not your run-of-the-mill engagement from your run-of-the-mill university. This is honest-to-goodness, full-on engagement that could (and should) serve as a template for advancement officers across the country.

Like admissions, alumni engagement is a contact sport. As in: make contact—meaningfully. When you give your alumni opportunities to lend their expertise, to truly complement the education of your current students, you’re also making a great first step in getting more alumni invested in the trajectory of your school.

But going further than that requires skill and strategy. Here are a few tips to increase engagement levels with one of your most important audiences: your alumni.

Invite

Sure, homecoming and rivalry weekends are fun events for your graduates to enjoy. But if alumni aren’t regularly invited to campus for specific reasons they care about, then tailgating might be the only face time you get with this group. Instead, develop opportunities for alumni to speak to and mentor students, as well to support academic programs, recruit for their companies, partner on research, and more.  

Involve

Are there program changes coming that a subgroup of your alumni might care about? Get them involved in some of the decision-making that occurs in the spaces that shaped their lives. This gives them the chance to feel invested in the future of the school, and it gives your institution access to experts in the field, who will know what the new program needs to produce graduates with relevant skills.

Inform

Without a strong communication structure, it’s hard to get alumni engagement off the ground. Just as alumni each have their own remembered version of their alma mater, they also have their own preferences for hearing from you. Making sure that communication is consistent and substantive (and on their terms) is the best way to keep them engaged.

Developing a deep connection like the one between RIT and McChord doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a plan and a space for those connections to thrive. After all, alumni who not only give, but also give back, are one of the most critical resources for any institution.