Creatively Engaging Alumni Despite Tighter Budgets

April 2023 — By BrightCrowd

The Covid-19 pandemic created significant financial strain for many colleges and universities nationwide. Having received less state and federal funding, schools carefully evaluated their spending and reallocated money accordingly. Looking to combat shrinking enrollment, maintain university operations, and provide top-notch academic programs, support for many college activities and alumni associations fell to the wayside. This only made the need for alumni engagement that much stronger.

Nearly 87% of alumni organizations believe that their university is underperforming when initiating engagement efforts – they also note having poor participation and communication with young alumni. This number is alarmingly high, given the important role that alumni relations departments play in the overall success of their schools. If schools are already struggling to maintain engagement levels, how can they set themselves up for success with even more restricted budgets?

Alumni relations departments, alongside the help of their universities, need to identify unique ways to creatively engage alumni despite tighter budgets. This is where innovation, technology, and lifestyle intersect.

Going Against the Grain

We’ve all heard the Einstein expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?” Yet, we see this all too often play out in organizations with longstanding histories of doing things the same way for decades. That fear of change or going against the grain can paralyze creative thinking and limit the possibilities of implementing newer, more effective strategies that may be less work and less costly.

This is often the case when it comes to increasing alumni engagement. Going against the grain and trying out creative community engagement ideas that target a large audience in a non-traditional way can expand participation more than schools realize.

For example, rather than focusing the majority of time and budget on hosting in-person alumni reunions or fundraising events, schools can use the power of technology to expand these gatherings to alumni who have never participated in an event previously. Creating a virtual or hybrid component that complements the main event can help expand alumni relations efforts and allow schools to open opportunities to more college alumni. Those that can’t physically attend the event can still reap the benefits – the ability to network with peers, stay up to date with school news, and volunteer their time and resources. Incorporating the virtual avenue is an inexpensive way for schools to expand reach, increase engagement, and reignite new connections with alumni who may become future donors.

Making a Modest Investment

So, how do schools know which will work? The answer is simple: they don’t - well, not right away at least. Some schools may shy away from trying new ideas because they fear failure – not being able to successfully reach their goal or losing the money they invested in their endeavor. Especially when schools are grappling with restricted budgets.

Colleges and universities are challenged right now with doing more with less – that is, increasing engagement and activity levels with less money to do so. What does that ultimately mean?

Cutting costs doesn’t mean that the quality or effectiveness of engaging alumni should be compromised. Aim small first with pilots. Schools should start by focusing on one particular goal and a singular solution that will get them there with minimal cost and minimal effort until they know it’s the right fit. Making modest investments in new technologies that solve existing (much costlier) problems can go a long way in improving ROI.

Putting Technology to the Test

Some of the pushback to try new things stems from the fear that the use of technology will disengage alumni or discourage in-person attendance. The results show that’s not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Using technology can be advantageous for schools and their college alumni participation rates.

Alumni associations may struggle with how to engage diverse communities. For colleges and universities with a diverse alumni base, creating personalized methods to engage everyone effectively can be costly. However, finding the right technology partner grants them the opportunity to personalize their efforts and cut back on expenses.

Increasing Alumni Engagement With BrightCrowd

By using online services such as BrightCrowd, institutions can easily interact with both broader and more intimate groups. For example, schools can create digital memory books or digital scrapbooks for a specific affinity group, whether it’s a sports team, volunteer organization, or multicultural club. Allowing individual participants the opportunity to create their own pages in books that feel aligned with their authentic selves helps pave the way for long-lasting and meaningful connections. Not only does this increase engagement among former classmates or teammates, but it allows schools to gather valuable data such as alumni contact information. Alumni who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to participate in school events and make contributions – the digital world helps facilitate just that!

Digital books are also a cost-effective alternative to the swag or memorabilia that alumni receive at school-sponsored events. Imagine the cost of ordering hundreds of coffee mugs with your school logo, compared to the nominal fee of setting up a digital memory book that can stand the test of time. (A win-win for those universities and participating alumni.) With a BrightCrowd Book, alumni can still look back at their peers to reignite connections and establish new ones as well as relive the positive memories associated with their time at school. BrightCrowd’s creative community engagement ideas embody the sentimentality that drives alumni engagement.

Restricted budgets have caused colleges and universities to re-evaluate the way they interact with their alumni. Get creative with your engagement and your budgets and see just how much more you can get for less with BrightCrowd.

Contact BrightCrowd today to learn more about engaging alumni despite tighter budgets.