Why You Must Engage Your Alumni Virtually—and How to Do It

Written by Courtney Brady, Senior Consultant

Homecoming is a vital event for alumni relations and development.  But thanks to COVID-19, most schools are cancelling or postponing their celebrations.  So how do you connect with alumni, cultivate high-level donors, and keep them connected to your school without being face to face? 

Here are a few ways to make the most of virtual communications—and strengthen your relationships with alumni at the same time. 

Virtual Alumni Gatherings

How do you attract your alumni to virtual events?  What is the hook?  Here are our tips for high engagement and quality connections:

  • Add Value: Alumni are more likely to join your virtual events if there’s something in it for them.  Panel discussions on relevant topics, small sessions with notable professors, class-specific breakout rooms, and networking opportunities are just a few ways to make your virtual offerings worthwhile to your alums.
  • Make it Personal: High-level alumni are not looking to be just another face on a Zoom screen.  To truly cultivate those important donors, consider inviting them to a more intimate event.  A private virtual cocktail hour with the university president or other administrator, a VIP chat room during a larger gathering (hosted by your department), or a one-on-one virtual tour of new campus facilities help cultivate your valued alumni. 
  • Follow Up: Don’t let the opportunity to follow-up with your donors go to waste.  After your virtual event, call them to get their feedback on how you did.  Engage them in the creation of your next event and give them a voice.  People like to be asked for their opinions, especially if you’re not asking for their financial support at the same time.


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What Else Should I be Doing to Cultivate Alumni?

COVID-19 has changed the way we connect with everyone around us.  The virtual model has become a necessity, and many believe that it will be a permanent fixture in the way that we connect in the future.  So how do you maximize cultivation in this digital environment?

  • Communicate: Don’t let the lack of in-person visits keep you from staying well connected with your alumni.  Tell them your plans, ask for their feedback, give them opportunities to be involved, and use them to engage harder to reach classmates.  Now is a great time to ask alumni to share their networks with you, reaching out to classmates who may not have a strong connection to the school and helping you re-engage them.
  • Collaborate Across Divisions: Development and alumni relations need to coordinate their messaging, mailing, and cultivation moves now more than ever.  Cultivation happens through both channels, so coordination of your efforts will yield greater results. 
  • Show them the ROI: Spend LOTS of time letting alumni know how their support impacts your school; don’t be afraid to be very specific.  Even more than in “normal” circumstances, donors are seeking affirmation that their gifts are making an important impact.  Show them the value of their gifts beyond the monetary.  Demonstrate the ROI with stories of real people being affected by their generosity. 

COVID-19 has brought many challenges, but also more opportunities to reach new audiences.  Don’t waste these new cultivation opportunities.  Think outside the box and successfully engage alumni throughout the year—not just at major events.  Seize this chance to connect virtually and stay connected all year long.

Prior to joining the Winkler Group, Courtney Brady was the Director of the Duke University School of Law’s Reunion Fundraising Program.  She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Lawrenceville School.

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