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Overcome these two roadblocks to engage young alumni

January 24, 2024

Many of today’s young alumni find themselves burdened with outsized student loan debt and facing tumultuous financial challenges as they embark on entry-level careers. The recent Supreme Court ruling striking down student loan forgiveness has only brought these realities to the forefront of many recent graduates’ minds, meaning your young alumni are likely feeling financial strain and frustration more than ever.

On top of the financial burden, shifting perceptions of the value of higher education are also impacting their desire to engage with your institution. Additionally, this generation of alumni’s time in college was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This all culminates in a reality that makes it unlikely for them to prioritize giving back to their alma mater.

But engaging young alumni is vital for the health of your institution and annual giving program. It helps build a pipeline for future support and cultivates a strong and loyal donor base while getting immediate spendable cash for your institution. In this blog post, we’ll explore two key roadblocks that impact the engagement of young alumni and tips to combat them.

Roadblock #1: The diminishing view of the value of higher education.

In recent years, there has been a shift in the perception of the value of higher education among younger generations. Rising tuition costs, concerns about job prospects, inflation in an unstable economy, and the availability of more accessible alternative education pathways have all contributed to this changing perspective. To combat this, institutions need to communicate and establish the value of being a student at their institution and what a student can gain from obtaining a degree. Concurrently, advancement teams must focus on emphasizing the importance and benefits of donating back to the institution.


Tip: Establish the culture of philanthropy early in the student experience.

While enrollment teams strive to build awareness of the value of obtaining a degree at your institution early on, it’s equally important that advancement teams focus on cultivating a culture of philanthropy among students while they are still enrolled. By promoting the significance of giving back to an alma mater, institutions can instill a sense of gratitude among students, emphasizing the impact of philanthropy on their education and future opportunities.

How one university does it

Miami University’s annual giving day is held on their campus move-in day each fall. Dubbed “Move-In Miami,” this fundraising initiative has become a fundamental tactic of their annual giving program. By weaving this giving day into an existing campus tradition at the start of every student’s time on campus, Miami establishes a culture of donating as an alum early on and encourages students to engage their families and communities. Miami has seen significant success in their annual giving on this day, seeing growth of 226% in the last 5 years. Learn more here.

Tip: Share your value proposition using the digital platforms your young alumni are already on.

It is crucial that advancement teams establish a strong digital presence and engage with young alumni on the platforms they frequent, such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. By effectively using digital channels to showcase success stories, highlight the impact of education, and provide valuable career resources, institutions can bridge the communication gap and showcase the value and relevance of their education in a way that resonates with young alumni. This allows institutions to share their value proposition by targeting specific demographics with specific messages and engaging them in the spaces where they organically interact with one another.


The benefits of digital marketing

85% of alumni can be reached via digital marketing versus just 50% through traditional email methods. What is digital marketing and how can you use it to excel your annual giving program? Check out this infographic to learn more.

Roadblock #2: Students’ lack of connection to their alma mater due to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the college experience of your young alumni and hindered their ability to form strong emotional ties with your institution. With more time spent online and less time spent on campus connecting with other students, getting involved in student organizations, and participating in campus events, your young alumni may feel less connected and loyal to their alma mater compared to previous generations.

Tip: Personalize all touchpoints to the individual alumnus.

One key approach to combat this lack of connection is to ensure all communications and touchpoints are tailored to the individual young alumnus. Personalization goes beyond simply addressing alumni by their names; it requires understanding their specific experiences, interests, and aspirations.

Personalization in action

Imagine Sarah, an alumna who served as a New Student Orientation Leader for two years during her time at ABC University. Recognizing the impact of her leadership role, ABC University’s advancement team tailor their annual giving campaigns towards Sarah, acknowledging her invaluable contributions and the positive influence she had during her time on campus. By highlighting her leadership and expressing gratitude for her dedication, ABC University invites Sarah to consider donating to support the New Student Orientation program. This personalized approach fosters a sense of connection and provides an opportunity for Sarah to give back to a program that holds a special place in her heart, making it more likely for her to consider giving back.

By leveraging data and analytics, universities can gain insights into the preferences and behaviors of alumni, enabling you to deliver these targeted and relevant messages. This can be achieved through segmented email campaigns, personalized outreach, and customized digital content that speak directly to the interests and goals of each young alum.

What donors prefer

80% of donors prefer to receive one form of personalized content. Click here to learn even more strategies on engaging young alumni.

Tip: Create non-monetary engagement opportunities for alumni to build community.

To combat the lack of connection resulting from the pandemic, it is crucial that advancement teams also prioritize non-monetary engagement opportunities that help foster meaningful connections among young alumni. Examples such as organizing game watch parties, hosting alumni networking events, and involving alumni in the admissions process for new students are all strong tactics to help young alumni build a stronger connection to their alma mater.

These engagement opportunities demonstrate your institution’s commitment to the well-being and success of your alumni and provide avenues to build meaningful connections that may have been missed during the pandemic. Finding ways to engage your young alumni in ways beyond financial contributions may increase the likelihood of them donating in the future when they are more financially sound.

Investing in the Future

Engaging young alumni is an investment in the future sustainability and growth of your annual giving program. Through targeted digital strategies, personalized communications, unique messaging, and non-monetary engagement opportunities, you can ensure you are taking the right actions to engage this important audience.

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