Tips and strategies to support community engagement from the University of Colorado Boulder

Alumni engagement ideas

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Leveraging homecoming season to boost community engagement and expand your alumni ambassador program

About the University of Colorado Boulder (CU)

CU is a public research university in Boulder, Colorado that was founded in 1876. The university is spread over four campuses and incorporates nine colleges and schools offering over 150 academic programs and enrolling more than 37,000 students each year. 

Homecoming: An opportunity to gather brand ambassadors for alumni engagement

Homecoming—that time of year, around September/October, when schools welcome alumni back after summer break—has long been associated with football. However, CU’s Online Engagement and Events Manager, Christina Fang, saw an opportunity to also use homecoming as a platform to boost ambassador and alumni engagement. By using homecoming to gather as many ambassadors as possible and allow them to connect and socialize, CU hoped to ignite enthusiasm, build community spirit, and inspire more alumni to give back to their community, either as ambassadors or in other ways. 

Read on to get CU’s top alumni engagement tips and learn how to use a combination of homecoming and an ambassador program to boost alumni engagement at your school.

Top tips for boosting your student ambassador program during homecoming season (and all year long)

Alumni engagement idea #1: It’s okay to start with limited resources on the team

Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you have a full staff dedicated to making your ambassador program a success. Even if you only have one part-time staff member, you can still achieve a lot, as CU did. This is especially true if you use digital alumni engagement tools like Graduway and prepare high-quality guides and other materials that help you onboard new volunteers with a minimal staff time commitment (more on this further down).

Alumni engagement idea #2: Emphasize that volunteering as an ambassador is a two-way street

Many ambassadors or would-be ambassadors see their work on behalf of the school as a one-way street where they give their time, experience and skills for the benefit of the wider community. CU found that when you emphasize what’s in it to the volunteers personally (and professionally), you can boost commitment and recruit alumni that may otherwise have shied away.

In all your marketing materials and calls for volunteers, emphasize that what makes a great volunteer group —for example, a group of ambassadors working together— is the people in it. Promote the idea that volunteering at your school is a wonderful way to make new connections and revive old ones—and you never know where these connections will lead and in what way they could enhance your life.

Alumni engagement idea #3: Prepare materials and guidelines to onboard and train new ambassadors for their role

By preparing materials and guidelines to help onboard and train new ambassadors for their role, you can recruit more people even if you only have limited staff. The key is to make the materials as concise, simple, useful and as engaging as possible.

CU recommends spelling out the ambassador’s role very clearly in a handy guidebook that each volunteer receives upon joining the team. In their guidebook, CU describes ambassadors’ key duties very simply:

  • Welcoming new users 
  • Recruiting new users using the “who’s missing” tab” to find those that have not yet connected and then sending out messages.
  • Generally engaging on the network by answering questions, liking, and sharing content posted by other members, much as you would on any social media platform. 

Ambassadors are asked to take a short amount of time out of each week to engage in the above activities. Expressed in this simple and clear manner, ambassadors are not daunted by their role and realize that the time commitment does not have to be huge.

When using the guidebook at CU, staff found that they didn’t receive many questions from ambassadors during the year and a once-monthly online meeting was enough to keep the program running smoothly. 

Get the full case study

Leveraging homecoming season to boost community engagement and expand your alumni ambassador program

Alumni engagement idea #4: Provide messaging templates for ambassadors to make their lives easier

Some ambassadors are intimidated at the thought of having to draft their own messages when engaging alumni on the platform. You can eliminate this fear and ensure that you help your ambassadors be more active with a minimal time commitment by providing a library of templates.  

Create readily-accessible templates for as many activities as you can think of, including:

  • Welcoming a new user
  • Asking a missing user to join the platform
  • Thanking someone for their contribution 
  • Wishing a user a happy birthday 
  • Asking for volunteers for a certain initiative 

A CU best practice is to end each template with a question designed to elicit a response from the recipient. 

Alumni engagement idea #5: Ask for a commitment from your ambassadors

When recruiting ambassadors, ask for an initial commitment of just three months. This will make it much easier to attract new ambassadors. CU emphasizes the fact that ambassadors can make a high impact even in a short space of time and with minimal time or effort. This is a surefire way of attracting those users who stayed away due to fear of the level of commitment involved. 

CU noted that many ambassadors renew their commitment after the 3-month period is over, and those who did not often become much more active in the online community than formerly. In this way, your ambassador program can act as a conduit for training up the top platform users of the future.

Alumni engagement idea #6: Attract new student ambassadors by sharing your existing ambassadors’ stories

Encourage your ambassadors to share their experiences to draw more volunteers in. Make a video where ambassadors share their personal stories and what they gained from being an ambassador. Publish testimonials and case studies. Be creative in how you share the impact your ambassadors are making on the broader school community as well as what they have personally gained from getting more involved.

Alumni engagement idea #7: Nurture relationships and create collaboration with other departments in your institution

Many alumni relations staff feel that they are spread too thin between admin, arranging events and dealing with the community. But remember: you are not alone and should reach out to other departments in the school for assistance. If you’re running an employment event, collaborate with the school’s employment office.

Ask the marketing department to help with publicity for your homecoming event. While you may not realize it, you already have many materials that can help you—e.g., your guide books—so don’t do double work. Think about what resources and people you already have on board and dip into your existing pools.

Alumni engagement idea #8: Create two-way communication to connect with your alumni community

A successful alumni community is about catering to the needs of the people in it. Aside from advertising your services and asking for help, make sure you also talk to people in the community.

Use the platform to ask members what additional services they would like to see included and how they feel about your current offerings. The more you get out there and speak to your people, the better able you will be to create services that resonate with them and attract even more users. 

Alumni engagement idea #9: Turn homecoming season into an opportunity to drive community engagement

Once your online ambassador and alumni program is up and running, you can use homecoming as the cherry on top to generate even more enthusiasm and recruit more widely from the entire community. Most schools already hold an alumni event that community members anticipate and look forward to so jump on an existing platform and take it further. 

Hold a huge homecoming event both online and in person but shift the focus toward engaging alumni during homecoming and building a vibrant and exciting community. That way, you can attract a much greater number of participants than you could by holding a football event, for example. 

Collaborate with your school’s marketing department to create publicity materials. Share inspiring stories from alumni volunteers who are already involved and whose lives have been enriched by their services to the community. This will help those who have not yet joined up as active members understand how their participation will benefit not only the community but themselves personally.

Your force for alumni engagement

Graduway from Gravyty is your force for building and sustaining online communities. It allows schools to engage alumni with a state-of-the-art virtual networking experience, find alumni who are willing to volunteer, provide college and career guidance, scale their mentorship programs and automate the matching of mentors to mentees using smart matching algorithms. 

Ready to plan your homecoming strategy? Make it all about community and use Graduway to boost alumni engagement and volunteerism across the board. Let’s talk.

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