During our Higher Ed Live online discussion about alumni engagement, we answered a few questions from readers and viewers. But we didn't get to all of them. Here are answers from Charlie Melichar and Andrew Gossen to some additional comments and questions.
How can our offices become proactive and future-thinking, versus playing catch-up (e.g., LinkedIn replacing alumni directories)?
Start with a clean slate. We still view problems through the lens of old solutions. Look at the news business, for example. The industry was so entrenched in papers as the delivery vehicle, they were slow to adapt to a new model to do what was ultimately most important – deliver information in the most timely way possible. We need to focus on the need, the opportunity, or the problem – and be open to changing our ways. People want a network, not a directory. People want a job, not a careers program. People want to make an impact, not a gift. How can we facilitate all of this?
You can’t do this unless there’s someone in your shop whose job is to pay attention to how the world is changing. They need the time to do this, and they need the experience and perspective to recognize emerging opportunities. In Cornell Alumni Affairs & Development, we ask two questions when new opportunities present themselves:
1. Does the opportunity enable us to pursue an existing strategic goal more efficiently or effectively than we are doing now?; and
2. Is there an emerging critical mass of alumni activity that warrants our involvement?
Charlie’s focus on value from the user’s perspective is also essential. We aren’t employed to perpetuate ourselves and our programs; we’re employed to engage our audience. Focusing on our alumni and their evolving needs will make it much less likely that we’ll be left behind.
[Melichar: "People want a network, not a directory. People want a job, not a careers program. People want to make an impact, not a gift."]
Most donors engage without having to "be present." They send a check whenever they want. What are some non-financial analogs to this?
Social media is a great example of asynchronous engagement. People pick and choose the content that is meaningful them, from the sources they care about, and then do “something” with it. They like it, share it, mash it up. We need to get away from only counting engagement when it happens on our own terms (e.g., events we organize, conversations we convene) and find mutually beneficial ways to join with our constituents.
As Charlie suggests, it’s content. Social media. Archived video. Asynchronous games. Infographics. Memes. High-quality, on-demand engagement is a great fit with today’s highly digital lifestyle.
We could also focus on the convener role, trying to connect alumni so that they can engage with each other when it’s convenient for them, around their priorities. We make the introduction and get out of the way.
[Gossen: "Emerging platforms & techniques blur the distinction between giving and other modes of engagement – the boundaries start to collapse."]
In fundraising, should we just count donors and not worry about dollars? It's much easier to measure...
It depends on what you’re counting and why, but both are critical. There are engagement models that would take size of gift, whether it is a first-time gift, renewal at a higher level, and so on, as engagement measures. This underscores that there is no "one-size fits all" model. We need to tie these measures to institutional and program-level goals. That’s the way to stay relevant and nimble.
Emerging platforms and techniques blur the distinction between giving and other modes of engagement so thoroughly that the boundaries start to collapse. Take crowdfunding, for example. A $25 donation is definitely "giving." But receiving an almost-instant thank you from someone involved with the project is both stewardship and person-to-person engagement. The frequent, informal updates sent to donors by the project team are stewardship, but they’re also communication that fits well with culture of the social web. This may complicate measurement, but it almost certainly will better engage the donor.