Top alumni engagement ideas & best practices to know in 2024

Alumni engagement ideas

In uncertain times, people tend to look to their various communities for comfort and support. Educational institutions are in the unique position of being able to build and foster this type of community for their alumni. The shared school experience, nostalgia and belief in common causes can unite alumni regardless of their current stage of life, age or location.

Of course, with the busy (and heavily digital) lives that people lead today, other organizations are constantly competing for your alumni’s attention. Staying on top of trends and best practices in alumni relations ensures that your team can keep alumni inspired, engaged and active in your institution’s community this year and beyond.

Here, we break down alumni engagement best practices, ideas, and strategies to set you up for success in 2024.

Alumni engagement trend #1: Personalization is key

It’s no surprise that personalization is key in alumni engagement. People across all generations have come to expect personalized engagement and messaging from retailers (just look at Amazon and other commerce leaders’ personalized suggestions of products) and service providers like insurance brokers and financial institutions. They will expect the same when being contacted by their alma mater.

Gone are the days of generic mass email and direct mail. Today, it’s not only possible but the standard to use technology (often leveraging AI) to easily customize communications and target the message directly to the recipient—and do so at scale.

Alumni engagement trend #2: It’s all about mentorship & career services

With economic unease and many companies facing the effects of a recession and planning for layoffs, career advice and job-seeking support may just be the top resource that people will seek from their fellow alumni. Alumni engagement teams have a prime opportunity to use alumni engagement tools to upgrade their networking facilitation and career services offerings and watch engagement soar.

The strategy can and should involve a mix of in-person and virtual (more on this below) networking events and opportunities as well as setting up one-to-one mentoring relationships for those who are interested. An alumni network platform makes it easy for interested alumni to sign up to be mentors, and for mentees to search for the right mentor that fits their needs.

Alumni engagement trend #3: Find the right mix of virtual and in-person events

Think back to hosting a Zoom event back in 2017—people were probably wondering what that was and why they should attend! In 2024, your alumni are completely comfortable attending virtual events. At the same time, there is a newfound excitement about the prospect of seeing other human beings in person, so there is still a demand for in-person events too.

The trick in coming up with alumni engagement ideas in 2024 and beyond will be to find the right balance between virtual and in-person events so that alumni can get the best of both worlds and can choose what they would most like to participate in. The added advantage of virtual events is that you can bring together a much wider audience with no geographic limitations (although you may need to consider time zones), giving people who otherwise might not meet the opportunity to connect. 

In addition to scheduled events, a virtual alumni platform offers a place where your community can engage with each other on their own time. People can seek each other out and send direct messages to ask questions and get information and support when needed. Events can also be recorded so that people can watch them later if they are unable to attend live.

Alumni engagement trend #4: Match events and opportunities to alumni life stage

Hosting a mix of both live and virtual events also provides the opportunity to conduct more events throughout the year. Different events can even be held simultaneously, especially if they are online. This means that it will be easier to segment alumni and provide events and learning opportunities that are relevant to their specific stage of life.

While we’re on the subject of personalized attention, alumni will also appreciate events that have to do with the main focus of their life at that time. For example, recent college graduates may find a careers fair in which they can network and look for jobs very useful. Alumni who are further along in their careers might prefer a more general networking event or a talk on a specialized subject, for example, how the latest changes in tax law affects business owners. 

The more diverse offerings the alumni relations team can put together, the more touch points there are for a wide range of alumni to connect and engage with the school.

Alumni engagement trend #5: Engage young alumni

Generation Z—those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s—are undoubtedly the most digital generation of alumni yet, with 64% of Gen Z students saying they prefer to learn via technology-driven tools.

This means keeping your youngest alumni active and inspired requires a digital-first approach to engagement. As an alumni relations professional, you have both a golden opportunity and a challenge. By taking your alumni networking activities online, you’ll be able to meet the Zoomer generation exactly where they are—on their mobile phones and computers. For more tips on how to engage young alumni, download our guide.

Alumni engagement trend #6: Cut through the noise with video

Everyone gets a million emails a day, most of which probably never even get opened. In a digital age, it’s crucial to use different mediums like video to catch your alumni’s attention. You can host an Instagram or Facebook Live, post YouTube videos, and personalized video messages that you can send directly to alumni through email, Whatsapp, text, or your alumni platform.

Get creative when thinking about alumni engagement ideas that use video. You can do things like video invitations to reunions or other events, personalized video messages for birthdays or other milestones, and encourage alumni to create and share their own videos. If you want to highlight the accomplishments of particular alumni, you can interview them and put together a short video that can be shared in e-newsletters or on social media. This is also a great way to make alumni feel appreciated and special.

Alumni engagement trend #7: Support diversity, equity and inclusion at scale

While we’ve come a long way and see more diversity on campuses worldwide than ever before, access to education is only a part of the picture. 

Most universities offer career services to their students to help them find their way in the world after graduation. However, unfortunately, many universities are failing to offer genuinely inclusive career and alumni services, and thousands of students miss out on vital support in the post-university years.

One way to foster a welcoming and equitable alumni engagement program to establish alumni networks or affinity groups that cater to specific demographics or shared interests. These groups can provide a community for alumni of different backgrounds, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation and gender to connect, network, and support each other. Provide resources accessible within your alumni engagement platform to help these groups thrive. 

Alumni engagement trend #8: Use alumni data wisely

Using available data is key to giving alumni a better, more personalized engagement experience. Automate the tracking of digital interactions that you have with your alumni to get valuable information that you can use to create more personalized opportunities for engagement going forward. Alumni surveys sent via email or directly through an alumni engagement tool or platform are another good way to gather feedback and data points about your community members. 

While in the past, alumni engagement was measured almost exclusively by events attended and donations made, today there are new standards being set. Because alumni can be engaged and involved in so many different ways, it’s crucial to be able to put quantitative values on those activities in order to get an accurate picture of the overall impact and effectiveness of the alumni relations team. 

Many schools use the CASE framework, which measures alumni engagement in four specific areas: 

  • Philanthropy
  • Volunteerism
  • Experiential
  • Communication

Gravyty’s alumni engagement platform can be set up to automatically track activities in these four areas, making it simple to evaluate alumni engagement programs and look for opportunities for improvement. 

Alumni relations trend #9: Welcome new members

There will always be some alumni who are much more active and engaged than others. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect the reluctant or the outliers. Maybe you haven’t yet offered something that appealed to them, or maybe the timing has been wrong. 

With such a strong emphasis on virtual events and making online connections, it’s easier than ever to reach a much broader and wider audience. You’re no longer bound by geographic limitations; an event that once could hold no more than 50 people can go online and an unlimited number of alumni can join. 

2024 is the time to rally the troops and get the engaged alumni to seek out their fellow graduates who have fallen off the radar. 

Best practices for alumni engagement in 2024

Your institution’s alumni are one of the strongest assets when it comes to being ambassadors and garnering support for the school. Investing even a little bit in providing the best possible alumni engagement experience will pay off in dividends. You’ll end up with a thriving community of alumni who may be located all over the world but who are united in their support of each other and of their alma mater. 

Gravyty’s alumni engagement platform lets you create a thriving community of alumni with a tailored network platform, mentoring tools, exclusive groups, job and internship boards and personalized multi-channel messaging at scale.

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