The Importance of Collaboration Between Alumni Relations and Development

December 1, 2020

In the previous post, we discussed preliminary analysis of the VAESE Alumni Relations Benchmarking Study, which found that colleges and universities, particularly those with smaller alumni organizations, are struggling with alumni relations. Although alumni engagement is a high priority for most alumni organizations, many aren’t doing the very basics required to increase engagement.

Failing to implement an engagement strategy, maintain an alumni database, follow marketing best practices and track ROI are common problems. Too many schools simply ask for money without offering any services or benefits to alumni. Most alumni organizations also need technology upgrades to support engagement efforts, especially with younger alumni. As a result, opt-out rates are increasing.

Clearly, fundraising should not be the sole focus of alumni relations. Schools should be seeking to build stronger connections with alumni so they feel involved with their schools. At the same time, alumni relations should embrace fundraising. These organizations have a balance sheet just like any business, yet the notion of approaching alumni relations like a business is met with resistance. Although success is measured by more than dollars and cents, alumni relations efforts will fail without enough dollars and cents.

In fact, one of the core function of alumni relations has always been the development of financial support, ever since a group of Yale alumni met in 1890 to develop opportunities for alumni to donate. When the Association of Alumni Secretaries first met in 1913 – a meeting widely considered to be the birth of alumni relations – fundraising was a top priority.

While engagement may begin with attending an alumni gathering or joining a group on Facebook or LinkedIn, one of the main goals is to secure regular donations. Instead of hiding from this reality and pretending alumni don’t know what’s going on, embrace fundraising because it’s critical to your institution’s success. Just be sure to strike the right balance between engagement goals and fundraising goals.

According to the VAESE survey, 56 percent of alumni relations organizations are fully integrated with fundraising operations. Clearly, data sharing between alumni relations and development is extremely important. Not only does data sharing enable you to measure the effectiveness of and ROI from engagement and fundraising efforts, but it also builds stronger alumni relationships that drive higher ROI.

Engagement data can tell you more about each individual, including what they’re passionate about and where the best opportunities for engagement and solicitation lie. However, the value of engagement data is reduced when there is no data sharing or coordination between alumni relations and development.

Collaboration makes it possible to segment prospect engagement based on giving behaviors, affinity and preferences, and make better fundraising decisions based on engagement. For example, if data shows you have a high-affinity individual who is engaged but hasn’t donated, you can devote more resources to engaging that individual. On the other hand, you can divert resources from those who are not engaged.

Higher education institutions need to recognize the connection between alumni relations and fundraising and implement the technology and processes to optimize the efforts of both sides. Only through close collaboration and seamless data sharing can schools increase engagement and enhance development.