Connecting with Those Elusive Graduate-Student Alumni

A client recently asked me, “How can we maximize our graduate alumni engagement?”

The answer is, of course, not simple, but there are five fundamentals that we most frequently see rise to the top in our graduate alumni engagement studies.

  1. Maximize grad students’ sense of connection before they graduate.

This may seem obvious, but quite often when we ask our clients what they are doing to connect with current graduate students, they don’t have a good answer. Grad students typically spend less time on campus, and therefore are not as immersed in the fabric of an institution as undergrads. Institutions must work harder to connect and engage with them to help them form a strong bond. For example, ensure graduate students have opportunities to gather and build community outside of the classroom, and consider establishing traditions specifically for graduate students that can become points of nostalgia in the future.

  1. Offer alumni benefits that they actually want.

You can’t assume which benefits are most valuable to your alumni. Ask them. Do they need intellectual resources and professional development activities? Do they want more social opportunities to engage with other alums? Maybe it’s both. The answers will vary by institution, so connecting with your own graduate alumni and determining which topics, programs, and services they desire is imperative. In our research, we have helped clients test the resonance of ideas including specific career development programs and services; access to online resources and job listings; alumni networking events; leisure book clubs; and many more. The key is finding exactly what will work for your graduate alumni base and remembering that it will not necessarily be the same as what will work for your undergraduate alumni.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

While research is important, don’t let a lack of data paralyze your efforts. A little trial-and-error is fine so long as it’s not your only strategy. Some recent ideas our clients have tested among their alumni populations include hosting alumni events with like-schools (e.g. regional technical schools, other Ivy League institutions, etc.) to expand networking capabilities or planning a week-long retreat for alumni from multiple single-sex institutions. Sometimes those “what if?” ideas yield pleasant surprises.

  1. Keep detailed reports on your efforts.

Even when you do your due diligence, there will be times when alums say they’re interested in something and then don’t take advantage of it when offered. The key is to track performance over time. That’s the only way to know if an idea just isn’t realistic, or if there are other factors at play in the lack of participation (timing, cost, location, etc.).

  1. Nurture graduate alumni engagement each and every year.

Reunions are a key focal point of alumni relations and fundraising. But ensuring that alumni are staying engaged during non-reunion years is imperative. How many times have you heard, “I only hear from School X when they want something”? Cultivating a pattern of engagement and giving among your alumni is possible, but only if you include frequent touchpoints that aren’t focused on fundraising or another call to action.

Are you doing anything out-of-the-box at your institution? Send your stories to hello@simpsonscarborough.com, and we’ll publish the best ones in a future issue!

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