Key Findings of the 2016 VAESE Alumni RelationsBenchmarking Survey
Web ClinicMarch 15, 2016
Host: Andrew Graft VP Corporate MarketingAccess Development
Gary Toyn VAESE Primary ResearcherMarketing/Communication ConsultantAccess Development
Gary Toyn is a Marketing and Communication Consultant at Access Development, and its subsidiary TriQuest. He consults with organizations ranging in size from a few hundred members to over a million, aiming to help them better engage their constituents, expand their reach and improve their operational efficiency.
His background is in higher education advancement, having experience in capital campaigns, planned giving, major gifts, and annual funds. He was Associate Director of Alumni at his alma mater, Weber State University, and director of alumni at Utah Valley University, where he was successful in growing alumni engagement, and building membership and marketing programs. He is the author of several titles related inspiration and humanity, but today is focused on research and writing about alumni engagement in higher education. 2
AgendaOverview and Data reviewQ & A From Participants
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What is VAESE?Voluntary Alumni Engagement in Support of Education surveyFilling a gap due to a lack of research focused on alumni relations and engagement practices. (most research relates to fundraising)Survey instrument was a collaboration from alumni relations professionals world-wide.Key objective: to increase the body of reliable data that alumni relations professionals can use to better do their jobs.Results shared openly under a relatively unrestrictive Creative Commons license (permits remixing, re-purposing and building upon this work.)Responses from all 50 states, 5 countries. 97% are from United States, 3% Canada, Europe.49% participation from the 351 NCAA Division 1 institutionsMargin of error 4 % +/-
First let me thank all those who participated in taking this rather extensive survey. It looks like many of you completed this survey, so we appreciate your participation, and hope that we can get everyone here to participate in next years survey coming up again in November.
Key ObservationsAlumni organizations appear to struggle with life-long alumni engagementA widening gap appears between the haves and have-nots.Progress: email communication, digital/social media, membership marketing, database management.Growth needed: engaging GOLDs & new grads, embracing technologies like mobile, delivering meaningful & engaging benefits.
We see a large number of institutions that are hit and miss with their long-term engagement efforts. Its interesting to note that many alumni organizations were created in the 60s and 70s, when the focus was on appealing to a completely different demographic. This was a time when diversity was reflected by the increasing number of women in higher education. Now its completely different scenario, as the US census shows a dramatic increase in ethnic and cultural diversity in higher ed. Not to mention the demands of technology, as is it any wonder that engagement practices are often legacies of a by-gone era.
And because it appears that many alumni dont connect with the current alumni programs as being relevant to them, the result is a growing number of alumni opting out of contact with their alma mater. (well talk more about that later). Well also talk about the result of alumni organizations that use gift solicitation as their primary means of engagement. This apparent lack of long-term engagement strategy is a concern, and future surveys will need confirm or disprove that observation.
Larger institutions, especially those associated with Division 1, NCAA college athletics, seem to be using the resources they get from these athletic enterprises to better impact alumni engagement. Smaller institutions that dont enjoy that exposure and revenue, seem to be struggling more frequently. Thats not to say that smaller institutions arent succeeding, but they simply face additional challenges when their institutions arent part of the March Madness cycle or the College football bowl cycle.
Institutions are becoming more sophisticated with their email engagement, and are quite adept at maintaining high open and click rates, most are actively using social media to attract and engage alumni, and for those with a dues-paying structure, they are skilled at membership best-practices used to increase acquisition and retention of their members. Data base management has also come a long way in recent years, as organizations have refined their techniques in keeping their database current.
But we still see a significant number of institutions struggle to find meaningful ways to get GOLDs and new grads engaged. We also see many organizations struggle with new technologies like offering a mobile responsive website, and adopting alumni engagement programs on a mobile platform. Our research found that a potentially significant gap exists between alumni executives, most who are digital immigrants, and most of their staff who are digital natives. And finally, we see a significant number of organizations that solely rely upon alumni loyalty and philanthropy, and dont offer any type of alumni benefit as a means of attracting and engaging alumni who are not yet in a position to give money. 5
4 Key TakeawaysThe integration of alumni relations with fundraising/ development/advancement operations is becoming the norm.When alumni relations and fundraising operations integrate, lifelong alumni engagement efforts may suffer.Dues-paying alumni organizations appear to be on the decline.The alumni professionals anxiety index offers new insights into pressing issues among professionals.
The Integration of Alumni Relations with Fundraising/ Development/Advancement Operations is Becoming the Norm.67% of alumni organizations report being fully integrated or are working toward or discussing integration with fundraising/development5% of alumni organizations oppose integration11% of senior alumni relations executives report directly to the President/ Chancellor.Private institutions have a much higher rate of integration than public institutions (76% vs. 5 4%). Smaller schools with under 100K alumni are also more integrated (70%) than are schools with more than 100K alumni (56%)
67% of alumni organizations report being fully integrated or are working toward integration with fundraising/development. 5% of alumni organizations reporttheir opposition to integrating their alumni engagement programs with fundraising/development. 11% of senior alumni relations executives report directly to the President/ Chancellor of the institution. When the top alumni relations executive has frequent access to the institutions top decision maker, greater emphasis can be given to promote both engagement AND fundraising goals if needed.
Private institutions have a much higher rate use of assimilation than public institutions (76% vs. 54%). Smaller schools with under 100K alumni are also more integrated (70%) than are schools with more than 100K alumni (56%).7
When Alumni Relations and Fundraising Operations Integrate, Lifelong Alumni Engagement Efforts May Suffer.62% of alumni organizations are not focused on offering alumni any significant benefits, or instead appeal to the philanthropic generosity or loyalty of alumni/ae to (get them to) engage, join, or give.82% of institutions send at least one gift solicitation to new grads within the first year of graduation.Nearly one-third of schools (30%) send three or more gift solicitations to new graduates during their first year.7% of institutions send five or more solicitations to new graduates during their first year.
With the increasing number of institutions integrating alumni relations and development, the data reveals an increasing number of engagement programs that appearto be taking a back seat to the demands of fundraising. When alumni are solicited without regard for timing, cultivation, prior engagement or willingness to give, long-term engagement can be affected. How is it manifested? By under-delivering on alumni benefits, and over soliciting alumni. This statistics makes the point: 62% of alumni organizations are not focused on offering alumni any significant benefits, or instead appeal to the philanthropic generosity or loyalty of alumni/ae to (get them to) engage, join, or give.
This can be especially evident for new graduates whose desire to stay connected with their alma mater is often at its peak. But they are asked to contribute in the only manner they are least capable of giving, a cash contribution. Many would gladly give time, talent or otherwise engage in ways that dont require a cash contribution, but are never asked.Many institutions dont seem interested in waiting to cultivate young alumni, based on how often they solicit new grads. Cultivation often becomesbecome subordinate to short-term demands to raise money. For example: 8
When Alumni Relations and Fundraising Operations Integrate, Lifelong Alumni Engagement Efforts May Suffer.One in four institutions have seen at least 10% of their alumni opt out of all contact with their alma mater. 6% have suffered opt-out rates as high as 39%Opt-out rates have not improved, or are getting worse at 41% of U.S. institutions.33% of institutions admit they dont track alumni opt-out rates.
With the increasing number of institutions integrating alumni relations and development, the data reveals an increasing number of engagement programs that appearto be taking a back sea