A man holding a compass in his hand

Navigating Alumni Relations and Donor Communications During an Extended Crisis

In the latest Brain Trust discussion, we spoke with higher education clients and colleagues about the challenges of alumni engagement and fundraising in the era of social distancing.

In the latest Brain Trust discussion, we spoke with higher education clients and colleagues about the challenges of alumni engagement and fundraising in the era of social distancing.

Asking for Support in Uncertain Times

Spring is the season of giving days, but when nothing is normal, how do we proceed? Many schools have decided to cancel, postpone, or modify giving days to focus on emergency needs. For example, Emory University canceled their giving day, scheduled for April 2, 2020, but used their existing crowdfunding platform to feature funds that support student, faculty, and staff emergency needs, as well as a “Feed the Frontline” fund to send food to health care providers at 19 Atlanta-area hospitals.

Boston College postponed their March giving day in favor of a community-outreach campaign celebrating their core values of service and care. #EaglesforOthers encourages alumni and friends to share stories of people who exemplify those values.

Staying the Course

Some institutions have pressed on with planned giving days, including McGill University. On March 11 they raised 25.5% more than they did on their 2019 giving day. Cornell, whose success with giving days is legendary, also decided to forge ahead with modified messaging that acknowledged the strange situation we are all in, and raised more than $7 million in the process. Their giving day team shared their experiences and answered questions in a recent video chat.

Connecting with Alumni by Meeting their Needs

Since in-person events are canceled indefinitely, institutions face the paradoxical challenge of remaining connected with their communities while staying apart. Widener University responded by asking alumni in health care professions to share their stories about COVID-19. They have also focused on sharing career development resources and connecting alumni volunteers with graduating seniors for informational interviews and networking.

With artists and organizations all over the world offering free online concerts, readings, tours, and more, the competition for online attention is tougher than ever. Many people are also getting tired of screens after working online all day. So what can we offer alumni that doesn’t involve yet more screentime? Babson is running a coloring contest, offering free coloring pages and a chance for alumni to partake in a fun offline experience with their children. The entries will be judged by campus personalities. Other schools are creating events like virtual 5Ks to encourage people to get outside and run.

Alumni Magazines: The Question of Print

Due to long lead times for print publications and our rapidly-changing environment, many schools are struggling with how to handle their alumni magazines. We just don’t know what will be happening by the time print pieces reach readers, so there’s concern that what seems fine now may be terribly tone-deaf when the magazine is published.

Some schools have changed their publication calendars and switched to online-only editions in the meantime, since they can be more nimble on the web. Dartmouth’s alumni magazine, published in print six times a year, added an additional online-only special issue to address the pandemic. Others have decided to press on with print, allowing space for a short note to acknowledge the situation, and hoping that alumni may welcome a break from the COVID-19 coverage.

We’ll cover this topic in more detail at a future Brain Trust. Register today!

More Ideas

On April 8 we reconvened attendees from previous Brain Trust sessions and asked them to update us on how things are going, what's working well, and what challenges they are still facing. One college has taken this time to build out a schedule of alumni who will be offering fellow alumni various offerings from home, including yoga, financial planning, and live painting instruction. Alumni have also shared their appreciation and excitement with alma maters who have provided school-spirited backgrounds for Zoom.

Can We Help?

These are uncertain times for higher ed and we'd like to offer a strategic 1:1 session with Rachel Reuben Senor, our VP of Account Strategy. We can discuss alumni magazine digital strategies, email communications, and brainstorm ways to further engage your alumni. Schedule a call today