Top Tips for Encouraging Alumni Engagement
Creating meaningful relationships with alumni can deliver big returns for students and support for your program’s future.
Many University of Washington fee-based degree programs are finding grads eager to give back to the university through their time and talent. Across campus, you’ll find success stories and helpful resources to boost what you’re already doing, so you don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to alumni relations.
“Even if you don’t know it, you’re connecting with your alumni in one way or another,” says Cassady Glass Hastings, senior director of academic partnerships at UW Continuum College. “It’s really about the power of building on that.”
Here are a few tips to think about as you engage with alumni from your program.
Start with the UW Alumni Association
The UW Alumni Association (UWAA) is here to make your job easier, says Amy Goodloe, associate director for constituent relations.
Any unit can leverage UWAA’s programs, events and the centralized Advance database. For example, you can encourage grads to serve as student mentors through the Huskies@Work program or put together an alumni team for the annual Alaska Airlines Dawg Dash.
You can also inform and engage your grads through UWAA student-alumni programs, legislative advocacy and UWAA communications, including social media and University of Washington Magazine, Goodloe says.
Know Your CRO
Each unit has a designated constituent relations officer (CRO), a person in each unit or advancement team who is most responsible for alumni engagement, Goodloe says. If you don’t know who your CRO is, email Goodloe for an introduction.
“The more you know about them and they know about you, helps make things easier in your world,” Goodloe says.
Here are a few ways your CRO can help:
Contact Info: Tracking alumni can be challenging; CROs can help pull lists and up-to-date contact information from the Advance database whenever you need them, Goodloe says.
Alumni Updates: Email email@example.com to report new alumni info, including change of address, bounced emails or updated career data.
Engagement Scores: Ask your CRO about alumni engagement scores. Goodloe says these scores can tell you which alumni are highly engaged in programs or events, which grads may be difficult to reach or those who may be most receptive to hearing from you.
Email Goodloe if you’d like to join the monthly CRO meetings or Teams channel. Anyone who works on constituent relations is welcome to attend.
Getting Started: Low Lifts and Small Somethings
Are you new to alumni relations? Don’t try everything in the first year. It’s okay to start small to give alumni the best experience, Goodloe says.
Newsletters and invitations can be an excellent first step. When you hold a student event, try adding an alumni list to the invite email. That could be enough to reach some grads that quarter, Goodloe says. Or try repurposing articles to create an alumni-facing e-newsletter.
“I started with just a monthly alumni newsletter and inviting alumni to events we’re already doing,” shares Tori Gottlieb of the Masters of Science in Data Science. “They’re now sitting on panels for us and networking with students at hiring events.”
Here are some more low lift ideas from other campus partners:
Meet Up: Invite alumni to your annual department picnics, student orientation events or mixers for admitted students or faculty speakers.
LinkedIn: Connect with graduating students and alumni on LinkedIn to keep tabs on their job titles and employers.
Share ideas: Keep alumni connected to the academic world. Share interesting readings in your discipline, or foster discussions with an alumni book club.
Next Level: Make Connections Through Careers
Career-focused programs can be a win-win-win for students, departments and alumni. Alumni often respond to opportunities to help students through courses or mentoring. At the same time, you can learn what motivates graduates to engage with their alma mater.
For example, the staff of the Master of Human-Computer Interaction + Design (MHCI+D) is amping up career-related programs as the degree approaches its 10th anniversary.
“We’re trying to think of what else we can do not just with the alumni, but for the alumni,” says Diane Andolsek, outreach & communication manager for MHCI+D.
Now that Zoom calls are the norm, it’s easier than ever to ask grads to give an hour as experts for career panel discussions and Q&As, says Matt Bartels, a career and academic advisor for MHCI+D. Bartels says these events offer students job advice and industry contacts, and alumni say they gain confidence from the experience.
The Master of Communication in Communication Leadership program invites accomplished graduates to serve as Alumni Fellows, says Liyao Zhao, head of outreach.
The program brings in seven or eight alumni to teach one workshop per year and serve as resources for students, Zhao says. They also serve as ambassadors at open houses for prospective students and orientations for new cohorts. Alumni Fellows get to audit one class in the program free of charge, Zhao says.
Other activities they use to engage alums include:
Mentorship: MCHI+D alumni offer students critiques and feedback through a capstone program and career fairs. About 50 grads also volunteer each year to be matched with students for a popular mentorship program.
Career Services: MHCI+D offers ongoing career services to alumni. It’s a heavier lift, Bartels says, but grads are always welcome to talk with advisors during a job search.
Networking: Communication Leadership hosts “First Friday” networking events, which bring students to visit a local company or organization and meet with alumni. Several grads have offered to help organize these events; Zhao says.
Social Media: Zhao manages LinkedIn and Facebook communities, and sends weekly emails about events and job opportunities to both students and alumni.
When You Hear a Good Idea, Give it a Try
If alumni relations is part of your job, take time to reach out and bounce ideas off other campus partners, Goodloe says. Find out what’s worked for them — and what doesn’t. You’re likely to find natural partnerships, Goodloe says. Importantly, don’t be afraid to borrow good ideas.
“Sometimes it’s finding those folks on campus who are similar enough to you, and bringing that kernel of an idea, and collaborating with each other,” Goodloe says.
Ready to step up your alumni relations? To learn about campus resources and support for your unit’s goals, email UWAA’s Amy Goodloe at firstname.lastname@example.org or UWC2’s Cassady Glass Hastings at email@example.com.