January 23

Alumni Newsletters: How Consistent Content Can Save Your Budget

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Alumni newsletters can be one of your school’s most effective marketing resources.

A well-crafted, consistent newsletter helps you maintain an open line of communication with your former students long after they’ve graduated.

Through compelling storytelling, you can encourage your alumni to keep a steady interest in their alma mater. Be assured that they’ll take care of your school by answering questions about people, programs, and events that align with their interests.

Of course, drafting an alumni newsletter strategy takes time and resources. It’s also often one of the costliest lines in higher ed marketing budgets for schools that still rely on print.

But by staying within a few basic guidelines, you can stretch your marketing dollars while still giving your alumni the messaging pipeline they deserve.

A Consistent Alumni Newsletter

A big problem I’ve seen with many institutions is a general lack of publishing consistency, be it in regularity or content.

Too often, schools recycle the same ideas over and over in place of fresh content. A typical result is that their monthly alumni newsletter becomes a quarterly or even an annual one.

But a steady, uninterrupted alumni newsletter strategy can do wonders for your school’s advancement marketing.

For instance, I publish my Friday Finds newsletter every month. Each issue has fresh information I’ve gleaned from blogs, podcasts, or articles that I believe higher ed marketing teams may find helpful.

Since I started this strategy eight years ago, my mailing list has expanded to several thousand subscribers.

Now, there are two key points I’d like you to take away from that example:

  1. Your newsletter’s content should focus on answering your readers’ questions
  2. A newsletter with a regular cadence establishes authority by refreshing brand awareness

An Audience-Centric Alumni Newsletter

It may be tempting to simply stuff your alumni newsletter with self-promoting accolades about your college or university. But your alumni want to be emotionally engaged by story-driven content, not dry advertising.

Remember, your school isn’t the hero of your newsletter – your reader is. So, while they’ll certainly care about their alma mater’s wins, be sure to include information that will genuinely benefit them:

  • Alumni successes: Put your former students’ success stories front and center. Reach out to some of your prominent alumni on LinkedIn or put out a call to action for your readers to share their journeys with you.
  • Exciting new programs: Digital technology is advancing faster than many of us can keep up. Your alumni will be curious to see what majors you’re implementing to educate their future coworkers!
  • Alumni engagement: Showcase stories of active involvement of alumni with your school, be it volunteer work or a guest speaking role.

Your alumni’s achievements and your institution’s mission must remain linked in your newsletter’s content. But ultimately, your alumni are the protagonists of the story.

Finding Your Rhythm

Publishing an alumni newsletter on a regular basis maintains the lines of contact with your alumni.

On average, schools and alumni organizations send out 16 e-newsletters each month, or about four per week.

Over time, a consistent cadence will strengthen the relationship between your school and its readers by keeping your brand in their minds.

And if you send out newsletters regularly, your alumni will get used to receiving them. However, a slip in publishing consistency could cause concern, or worse, some of your former students may think you’ve forgotten about them.

I understand that printing costs can be prohibitive for newsletters sent via direct mail. But at the very least, you should send your alumni a monthly digital newsletter.

Regardless of frequency, set a schedule for your alumni newsletter and stick to it.

Digital Versus Print

The pandemic forced many organizations to reevaluate their print marketing strategies due to logistical and cost restraints.

Even when not accounting for world-stopping events, it can be challenging for small colleges and universities to find a good balance between printed and digital alumni newsletters.

While a digital strategy is almost certainly cheaper, higher ed marketers fear they may alienate their older alumni by abandoning print altogether.

My recommendation is: why not both?

A Hybrid Alumni Newsletter

I’m actually a big advocate for direct mail marketing, but I know it’s not for everyone.

And as I write this, the U.S. Postal Service recently announced another postage price hike. So, you can imagine how quickly the total cost of printing and shipping thousands of alumni newsletters can add up.

But trust me. You can split the difference between physical and digital newsletters while keeping your readers happy.

For example, several years ago, I worked with a client on reducing their school’s alumni newsletter marketing costs.

I recommended inserting a prepaid postcard with each printed newsletter copy. It asked the recipient if they would prefer to keep receiving the printed version or would like the digital copy instead.

Each person only had to check their preferred box and return the postcard.

A similar strategy could save your school hundreds or even thousands of dollars in future marketing costs by getting readers to switch to a digital alumni newsletter.

And if your school doesn’t have the appropriate email contact information for long-lost alumni, several third-party vendors are available to help you find them.

Shaking Up Your Presentation

When we hear the term “newsletter,” the classic model that likely comes to mind is an information dump of text.

But as digital alumni newsletters become more mainstream, higher ed marketers need to think outside the box.

Blogs and articles are still good ways to reach people, but your younger alumni probably watch as much video content as your current students.

You don’t need a costly setup to record quality video updates for your alumni – just the phone in your pocket will do. So, consider spicing up your e-newsletters with a splash of video or some fun infographics.

And remember, not all of your alumni are created equal. With a wide range of ages and affinity groups on your mailing list, a digital alumni newsletter can give you more flexibility to recognize different segments!

Alumni Newsletters Don’t Have to Break the Bank

There are a lot of parts to the alumni marketing machine, but a successful alumni newsletter strategy starts with consistency and a smart hybrid approach.

If you’re concerned that your alumni newsletter is falling short, we’d love to help you get it back on track.

After all, your former students deserve their time in the spotlight, too!


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Featured image by Mat Hayward via Adobe Stock

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