Research: Poor Alumni Relations Practices are Affecting Engagement


Alumni relations are critical to the strategic growth and competitiveness of colleges and universities. While many of the most prestigious higher education institutions can get by on name recognition and reputation, all schools can benefit greatly from alumni who become ambassadors for the school and promote the quality of its education. This can not only enhance student recruitment, but also help schools earn accreditation for certain programs. Alumni relations can also contribute to better job placement rates for graduates and ongoing career advancement through networking and mentoring.

Of course, alumni relations are not all about taking. Schools should be offering their alumni a variety of services, benefits and professional opportunities, as well as access to university databases and resources. Alumni who are grateful for the impact that their education and college experience have had on their lives, and who feel involved in their alma mater’s development in some capacity, are more likely to become regular donors.

Preliminary analysis of the 2nd Annual VAESE Alumni Relations Benchmarking Study offers important insights into the state of alumni relations in higher education. While trends related to budget, membership, engagement and staffing are mostly positive for institutions with large alumni organizations, smaller organizations are facing challenges on all fronts.

Technology is having a positive impact, but staffing and budget issues are affecting engagement and fundraising. Digging deeper, data shows an inability to perform very basic, fundamental tasks related to alumni relations, and that many decisions are being driven by inaccurate assumptions or even hope rather than best practices.

According to the study, increasing alumni engagement is the highest priority for seven in 10 alumni organizations. However, 29 percent admit to having no strategy for accomplishing this goal. The study also found that:

  • 42 percent have never surveyed alumni.
  • 46 percent offer no benefits for alumni and instead rely solely on their generosity and loyalty to secure donations.
  • 17 percent struggle to maintain an alumni database, as indicated by having contact information for less than half of alumni or email addresses for less than 30 percent of alumni.
  • 19 percent have no tools for measuring the effectiveness of alumni engagement programs.
  • 70 percent don’t track ROI.

The average alumni opt-out or churn rate is 10.3 percent, a 26.3 percent increase from the prior year. That number could be higher as about one in five alumni organizations don’t even track this important metric. Nine in 10 either offer no alumni benefits or see little or no engagement from the benefits that are offered. Eight-five percent of surveyed alumni professionals believe their organization must do more to engage young alumni, and 75 percent say their technology needs to be upgraded to achieve this goal.

The key takeaways here are that too many institutions are soliciting alumni without doing enough to cultivate relationships or offering any alumni benefits or incentives. Best practices related to basic marketing tasks such as database management and measurement aren’t being followed, and technological upgrades are long overdue.

In the next post, we’ll discuss why alumni relations should embrace fundraising and the importance of sharing data between alumni relations and development.