The Five I’s of Alumni and Donor Engagement

by Robert A. Scott

Campus building

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The shutdown of higher education due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal communications with alumni as well as other constituencies and opportunities for limited travel for meetings with alumni and other donor prospects. Therefore, this is a good time to review our approach to volunteers and prospective donors, so that we are prepared when it is safe to resume operations, perhaps later this year. After all, our goals are to energize alumni and reach other potential donors who can contribute time, talent, and treasure.

There is a ‘tried and true’ maxim for alumni and friend engagement in institutions summarized in five words that begin with the letter “I”. These are Identify, Inform, Interest, Involve, and Invest. It is the role of the alumni board or council to approve overall goals and their metrics; monitor progress in terms of the metrics and other measures; assist in the execution of strategies; and review the results.

The five steps to be taken are these:

Identify

We need to undertake the research necessary to Identify the people we want to include as prospects for assistance, including alumni, and then can employ the four other “I”s of Inform, Interest, and Involve so that we may then invite them to Invest . We may know these prospective volunteers from news stories about their accomplishments or may meet them at an event. Perhaps they enjoyed a performance and sent a note of congratulations, or even sent a donation. I have met those who became major donors in these ways and more.

Inform

Once we have piqued their interest, the next step is to inform them more fully about how the campus mission is being fulfilled and about the success of faculty and students on and off-campus. We can keep informing them through newsletters, e-news blasts, an alumni directory, special events, and similar initiatives. We can inform them about the various ways the campus is providing cultural events as well as instruction by use of digital media.

Interest

We start by trying to interest alumni and other potential friends of the university through strategic and active, not passive activities, and various forms of communications. Inviting them in for a cup of coffee or lunch can reignite a dormant interest. Inviting them to watch a streaming performance or visit campus for special lectures, artistic performances and exhibits, and athletic events are good ways to introduce them to the interesting activities produced on campus even during the pandemic. Invitations can be tailored to the known interests of the graduate or potential donor.

Involve

Too often, the primary communications with alumni are asking for money. Yet there are so many more ways for people to be involved and to help an institution. Here is a sampling of possibilities. They can:

  • Attend casual events, with no need to “dress up”
  • Watch streaming events, whether dramatic, musical, or athletic
  • Speak on campus – sharing their expertise and experiences
  • Provide career advice
  • Take classes
  • Participate in an intensive language program or book discussion group
  • Help recruit talent, both students and volunteers
  • Introduce campus leaders to others in the community
  • Help improve admissions yield by hosting an “accepted student” reception
  • Provide or find internships
  • Assist with summer and full-time jobs
  • Increase networking opportunities
  • Bring their children, grandchildren, and friends’ children to campus events
  • Agree to be profiled in student and alumni publications as an inspiration to others
  • Attend or teach in an Alumni University

Invest

There are numerous ways for alumni and others to invest their time, talents, and treasure.

They can contribute to the Annual Fund, knowing that the alumni participation rate can affect higher education rating guides, foundation grants, and bond-rating agencies, among others to the benefit of the institution.

First, of course, is time, a most valuable commodity. They can invest time:

  • By interviewing prospective admission candidates,
  • By serving on a fundraising committee, such as an annual gala or golf outing committee,
  • By serving as a consultant on a task force,
  • By serving on the Alumni Association Board,
  • By serving on an academic unit or institutional advisory board,
  • By serving on the Board of Trustees,
  • They can contribute to and assist in a special or general capital campaign,
  • They can include the university in their Will and estate planning.

The five I’s provide a useful guide for engaging alumni and other prospects in the life of the campus in helpful ways. Alumni are a unique constituency, an affinity group with an emotional bond. They are a logical group to be asked to share time, talent, and treasure.

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