How to Improve and Leverage Alumni Relations During COVID-19

Alumni play a significant role in an institution’s ongoing development and success. Alumni are brand ambassadors, mentors for students, sources of employment, and financial donors. Before the pandemic, alumni engagement was primarily conducted through in-person events, such as networking happy hours, tailgating at sporting events, fundraising cocktail parties, and professional development workshops. Given the remote nature of society and higher education today, what can institutions do to remain connected and engaged with alumni?

In-person events came to a screeching halt in early spring, and advancement offices transitioned alumni relations to digital programs for continued engagement. This new paradigm created the need to balance providing support for alumni during this challenging time and asking alumni for help.

One of the many big surprises in the online transition brought about by the pandemic is that institutions can now offer more alumni events because the costs are lower than large in-person events and because they are more accessible to a broader audience. The busy parent may not be able to go to a weekend tailgate or a networking event, but they may be able to take an hour to participate in a career development workshop or listen to a motivational speaker online. Meanwhile, out-of-state alumni who previously could not attend most in-person events can now re-engage with the institution virtually.

Here are a few examples of how institutions can leverage online alumni engagement programs.

Providing Support for Alumni

Institutions can offer career coaching and free seminars online on topics such as using LinkedIn for professional career development, how to effectively work from home, and other topical subjects. Alumni groups can also host regular virtual networking events to help other alumni or prospective graduates with job searches and career transitions.

Getting Alumni Help for the Class of 2020

This year has been extremely difficult for new graduates. In August 2020, there were approximately 13.55 million unemployed Americans. According to Glassdoor, entry-level job postings in May 2020 were down 68 percent compared to 2019.

Colleges and universities are in a unique position to get support from alumni. In some cases, alumni are positioned to take on a graduate as a new hire, student intern, or even a volunteer. This can be a great way to give back to their alma mater and support their classmates. Some alumni organizations have organized programs that match job-seeking students with alumni who can assist with networking.

Recruiting Alumni as Brand Ambassadors

For institutions, onboarding alumni as brand ambassadors can significantly help the admissions process. Ambassadors can interview prospective students, write personalized notes to prospective students and parents, and share their success stories as recruiting tools.

Alumni can also leverage their connections to develop and strengthen the institution’s ties to their local communities. These activities can span numerous activities, including making introductions or getting institutional leaders together with business representatives and leaders.

Additionally, digital-savvy alumni can act as online brand ambassadors by building relationships and telling stories through social channels like LinkedIn and Facebook. In some cases, institutions are developing programs in which alumni share their content through the institution’s channel or even take over an institution’s social media channels for a day.

Improving Alumni Fundraising During COVID-19

Fundraising activities and strategies need to adjust to today’s landscape. Fundraising is more critical than ever before as colleges and universities navigate the unexpected and unpredictable financial situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions should tap into their alumni networks to identify new donors or get support from existing donors.

Institutions can create online fundraising events that focus on the most immediate needs related to the pandemic, which can span from supporting health teams or backing research to solve the global health crisis. Additionally, institutions may be able to lean on alumni to give financial support to students who are experiencing financial distress due to the pandemic.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has disrupted nearly everything in the higher education space (and elsewhere), but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t also introduced new opportunities. Virtual events have become surprisingly successful and have opened avenues to engage alumni on more levels. In most cases, alumni are passionate about their college experiences and are willing to help, which means that institutions shouldn’t shy away from asking for assistance when it comes to fundraising, mentoring, student internships, and hiring graduates in entry-level positions.

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