Of all the audiences you communicate to as a higher education marketer, alumni are among the most rewarding and satisfying segment. If you market well to your alumni, they’ll return the favor and take care of the alma mater.
The reasons you should market specifically to alumni may be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning.
Alumni already understand the value your institution has to offer. They’re recipients of the value of your education.
- Alumni are familiar with the names and “characters” of your organization. More than likely, they’ve had a class with the professor you’re highlighting, or they’ve heard the president give a public address before.
- Alumni are personally connected to your cause. They share a common experience with other alumni and have been a part of your broader mission in the world.
- Alumni benefit directly from your success. If their college or university grows in popularity or esteem, their degree becomes more valuable, and their school pride grows too.
- Finally, alumni get the fact that you have institutional needs. They know by experience where you could use some help.
Considering how familiar your alumni are to your institution’s mission and value, you would think marketing to them would be a piece of cake.
But, too often, institutions blur the lines of marketing and fundraising.
When this happens, alumni begin to receive solicitations in every message from their alma mater.
The idea is that the more we ask, the more likely they’ll give. We fear we’re leaving money on the table if there’s no form of a solicitation in each message.
However, slipping in solicitations in each marketing message does not result in more giving.
In fact, it produces the opposite effect. Solicitations in every marketing message will create the undesirable impression that you’re either desperate for help, careless with your resources, or greedy.
Younger alumni especially want freedom to choose how they’re going to support their school—and that may not mean a monetary donation.
Zeroing in on the need for financial support in every communication will only alienate them from you.
If you focus your alumni marketing on these four principles, you’ll not only improve your marketing results, you’ll improve your fundraising results.
In order to hit their goals, the development department needs constituencies that are ready to give. Marketing is here to make that happen.
Alumni marketers that follow these four pillars create strong, emotional connections with alumni that make fundraising successful.
1. Raise friends first, raise funds second.
If you can make a friend through your marketing, development should have no problem making a donor out of them.
And what did our moms tell us about making friends? First, you have to be a friend.
Content marketing expert Jay Baer explains in his New York Times bestseller, Youtility, that marketers should strive to make their content useful to their audiences as opposed to “amazing.”
Use rich content in your marketing to help alumni solve a problem, inspire them, encourage them, or teach them something new.
This goes well beyond telling them about the latest and greatest updates from campus. Craft your marketing messages around the felt needs, aspirations, and challenges your alumni face every day.
Inspire. Provide career advice. Become the curator of content they value about life.
And you’ll make a lot of friends.
2. Segment your alumni by affinity groups.
Sure, they’re all alumni, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Creating content for the various affinity groups from your school will ensure that they feel heard and understood.
Like Jan Brady, these alumni groups don’t want to be overshadowed by other alumni groups! Each one wants to feel they’re recognized for their own merits.
3. Be sensitive to alumni budgets.
Budgets for many students are tight, especially among young alumni and grad students. Saddled with student loans and facing loan payments that just kicked in six months after graduation, these alumni are not prime candidates for solicitations.
Imagine what it feels like to get your email newsletter—yet again asking for money—right next to their student loan payment notification email.
So be sensitive to this marketing segment, especially when it comes to issues about money.
4. Stress participation rather than amounts.
Find ways in your marketing to get alumni involved in your mission that don’t involve financial giving. And when you do need to make the ask, let them know that your goal is to increase giving percentages, another form of participation, and suggest a $5 donation to do so.
Surveys, sharing their story with you, sharing your social media posts with their followers, coming to a homecoming game, volunteering at a campus days event—all of these are ways alumni can give back to their school without ever opening their wallet.
Good alumni marketing has clear calls to action, but that shouldn’t always mean giving.
The more alumni participate with you in other ways, the more likely they’ll be to give when the development department launches their next fundraising campaign.
The objective of alumni marketing should be to promote the mission of the organization among alumni.
If you build your marketing strategy on these four pillars, you can promote the mission of the school as well as prepare the way for lucrative fundraising campaigns.