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Donor Participation Project

Engaging Alumni in Meaningful Ways: A Shift from Rankings and Numbers

For years, higher education advancement offices have been chasing the metric of alumni giving participation to climb rankings and raise their profiles.

However, with the recent US News and World Report decision to drop alumni giving from its rankings calculations, schools now have an opportunity to shift their focus from numbers to meaningful engagement.

According to experts Dr. Shalonda Martin and Perry Radford, this change allows advancement teams to develop strategic, impactful alumni engagement plans beyond a single metric. The key is understanding alumni motivations and how to build lifelong connections.

“Messaging has gone to a really transactional place,” Radford says, “and I think some of it might change…to other effects that maybe have popped up along the way that can replace the participation rate.”

One way to make this shift is reimagining the traditional phone-a-thon. Typically focused on raising dollars for the annual fund, phonathons could expand to cultivate volunteers, event attendees, mentors and more. This helps address the common alumni complaint of “I only hear from you when you want money.” By servicing alumni in meaningful ways, schools build trust and lasting loyalty.

Advancement leaders should also evaluate their data and metrics, focusing on qualitative outcomes like alumni experiences, referrals and advocacy instead of just giving rates.

Digital engagement may provide more holistic insights into how alumni interact and connect. Partnerships across campus can help share data and understand connections between experiences, philanthropy, and school reputation.

The path ahead requires resources and leadership to motivate change. But by broadening the scope of alumni engagement, schools can build a culture of philanthropy that inspires alumni to give, get involved, and spread their support.

The ranking chase is over; now the real work of fostering lifelong alumni relationships begins.

Focusing on engagement over numbers and dollars is the future of connecting with alumni in impactful ways.

View the full recording of this conversation in the Donor Participation Project’s resource library.

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