No aspect of the university experience has been immune to the changes that have barrelled down on higher education this past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities to quickly redefine how they can accomplish their core objectives of community building and engagement within a new landscape. With that, the prevailing story about shifts in higher education has emphasized the move to online learning, but like their academic counterparts, alumni relations offices have had to pivot too. The critical challenge: how do we stay the course with engagement initiatives despite new restrictions? In some cases, the Zoom format has provided a stopgap measure for traditional events; however, creative new approaches to meaningful community building are beginning to take hold.
Over the last year, the bar was raised for digital experience in every industry. As we think about the alumni experience in 2021, the potential is clear for a permanent shift toward an intentionally designed, high-quality digital engagement resource. Solutions like the Salesforce platform can help universities reimagine their engagement strategy as an intentional digital experience.
Digital engagement platforms offer more in one place
Let’s look back at alumni reunion weekend circa 2011.
I’m an alumna with an interest in staying connected to my dear alma mater two hours away. I clear my schedule, text my friends to see who’s planning to attend, and arrive in town a day in advance. Once on campus, I check in, correct my address information on a clipboard, and scan the room to see who else had arrived. I bump into the people I used to know, I make a mental note to give a gift to support the new Life Science building (which I later forget to do), and I buy my kid some university swag at the bookstore. I see a few signs highlighting ways I can stay involved and services available to alumni. At the end of the weekend, my friends promise to email each other pictures, stay in touch, and do this all again at the next reunion. Afterward, I get a “thanks for attending email” from the Alumni Association.
Let’s try this again using a digital engagement platform— like Traction Gather used with Salesforce Experience Cloud.
I’m an alumna with an interest in staying connected to my dear alma mater two hours away. I hop on my alma mater’s alumni platform regularly to stay connected. I can see the details for the upcoming Alumni Reunion Weekend as well as the attendees. I’m prompted to nudge my first-year roommate because she hasn’t registered yet. I can’t attend in person this weekend, so I opt for virtual attendance. When I register, I update my contact info, communication preference and share the news of my book.
On the day of the event, I get text message reminders, log into the same platform where I registered, and I watch as others arrive. I see attendees from campuses globally, and in breakout rooms, I meet people working in my industry. But I also see that I haven’t given my annual fund gift, which I do from within the platform, and I watch in real time the impact of my gift on the class giving dashboard. I buy my kid some university swag at the online bookstore, and it recommends products to me based on my club membership (ultimate frisbee, thank you very much!).
During the event, I see suggested alumni opportunities and sign up to be a mentor and volunteer in person at an upcoming regional event. I can share my feedback any time throughout the weekend while it’s fresh in my mind. I see what upcoming events people from my class year are attending, and post pictures. After the event, I get a personalized message thanking me for attending specific events and directing me to my class’s specific photo gallery.
Use solutions designed for digital experiences
Being unable to attend in-person does not relegate alumni to a suboptimal experience. In fact, there are affordances that even an in-person event cannot provide. By using solutions like the Salesforce platform that are specifically designed for a digital experience, university digital engagement can be:
- Multi-platform; meet alumni where they are in real-time via email, text, and online
- Personalized; you can use a constituent data-centric approach to custom-tailor relevant, premium content relevant to each individual
- Creative; optimizes the use of technology to enable new experiences, rather than attempting to mimic in-person events
To treat engagement during the crisis as a series of fractured Zoom meetings is to miss a transformative opportunity. Intentional investment in the digital experience means using technology to create an integrated, holistic platform for ongoing engagement and connection. This is an investment that will remain valuable as we return to in-person events in the future.
The new way to support lifelong engagement and giving
Salesforce offers a powerful platform for digital engagement. When a consolidated view of your constituents serves as your experience’s backbone, every interaction deepens the institutional understanding of an alumnus, setting up increasingly meaningful future interactions. As the world evolves and the business of Advancement and Alumni Relations follows, this foundation of deep and meaningful engagement data is imperative for forging a path to lifelong engagement and giving.
If you’re looking to reimagine alumni engagement in 2021, get in touch with one of our Traction Gather experts to see how we can help you more effectively engage your audience.