Measuring alumni relations is much like trying to quantify feelings — awkward at best, implausible at worst. So, how do we go about doing this seemingly impossible task? The first thing we have to remember is that we’re talking about alumni relations. Keyword: ‘relations’. You are building a relationship and it isn’t always possible to get tangible results.

Having said that, you cannot justify the existence of your alumni relations programs — and in some cases, even the existence of your alumni office! — until you translate your outcomes numerically. ROI measurement is both indispensable and tricky. It is important to devise metrics that can help you identify roadblocks and point you in the right direction to navigate your future course of action.

Here are four of the most commonly used valuation and monitoring metrics for alumni relations and more effective ways of using them:

Event attendance

Typically, when evaluating the success of an event, we tend to focus on the number of people in attendance. While this is a perfectly fair reflection of the success of the activity, it misses out on some key components such as level of commitment of alumni towards their alma mater.

What you should try instead:
Capture how many alumni replied to say they can’t make it to the event. Write back to them to say they were missed and send a little brief about the evening post the event. Appreciate that they took the time to write back, even if only to say no.

Did your alumni forget about you as soon as they stepped out of the building or did they take the time to write a thank you note? Did someone help increase attendance by getting their classmates to attend? Alumni in this category are already ‘warm’ towards your institute. Grab the opportunity to keep the conversation going and keeping them interested.

Volunteer Participation

One of the pillars of defining success of volunteer programs is often the number of volunteers it attracts. How about tracking those who showed interest but couldn’t participate?

Alumni ROI chartAfter putting out a call for help, you will usually encounter three sets of volunteers: those who show interest, those who sign up and those who deliver.

What you should try instead:
Since we work closely with active volunteers in the smallest subset (those who deliver), it is easy to lose sight of interested volunteers sitting on the fence. It is the alumni in Set A and Set B who can easily be converted to be active and engaged.

You should continue to collaborate with volunteers who can deliver but keep all alumni volunteers and those who sign up interested while you have their attention. Ask what you could have done to get them to commit to volunteering.

Another question you want to ask yourself: “Is it the same set of people volunteering every time?” If so, you may want to relook at your strategy. Perhaps you need to provide more and creative platforms for engaging them.

Vanity metrics

With an increasing number of people going online every day, it is no surprise that most universities and institutions boast of huge followings on social media. As much as we may love our growing numbers of Facebook likes and Twitter followers, we need to remember that these may not translate into meaningful engagement. You want metrics that give you an insight into your audience, not imply that these people are vaguely interested in your school or its activities.

Connecting with alumni online does not necessarily translate into having a meaningful connection. Of course, you interested them when they joined your network online but did any further participation take place?

What you should try instead:
A truer representation of online engagement can be acquired by capturing the number of alumni who are tweeting to your handle, posting photos, writing about their memories and sharing your posts. Collaborate with the people who are leading discussions online and forming connections with fellow alumni. Nothing sells like stories – invite these alumni over for coffee, make a story from your interaction and cover it in your newsletter. You will give them a chance to reach out to the community while increasing traffic to your social media pages.

Also keep track of content consumption patterns – what is gaining traction in the alumni community? Is it alumni profiles, success stories, photos from your archives or a few words from a former teacher? Understand their online behavior, give them stories they want to read and watch alumni engagement soar.

Database counts

Data is an integral component but analyze it sensibly. Counting the number of emails in your database is pointless if you are not checking email bounce rates, deliverability, open rates, and click-through-rates by delivered and by opens .

What you should try instead:
The way to measure this is benchmarking. How many more people was I able to reach this time as compared to last month (or last week or last quarter)? What did I do to increase that? Track your reach with each mail (both electronic and direct) and let that define the legitimacy of your data.

Finally, remember that while ROI can be an invaluable tool to assess the efficacy of your strategy and its implementation, nothing replaces a great experience. A copy and paste approach may not work for everyone. Use your judgement to identify what works for your alumni and let that guide the process of quantifying your returns. There is no cookie-cutter approach, after all, when it comes to relationships.

 

Navneet KaurNavneet Kaur has over 10 years’ experience in alumni relations in both India and the UK. Presently, she is the alumni and marketing officer at The British School in New Delhi. Navneet has been a speaker and been on the panel of experts at alumni relations conferences and she also writes on the subject. Her areas of interest are developing alumni engagement programs, social media and digital marketing, and keeping up to date with the latest trends in the field.

 

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  • Vishal Sharma

    Brilliant note on acknowledging the importance and building/maintaining strong alumni relationships.

  • Duane Wiles

    Thanks for sharing! I wish there were a standard set of alumni engagement metrics all universities and colleges used or followed so we can do real apple to apple comparisons within the industry. While I know every university is different I think standardization could really add some much needed value. BTW, I am curious to know how you are tracking and recording your data points described above. What CRM tool are you using and how do you report out your findings? I’m surprised you didn’t include Alumni Giving or Participation Rates.

    • Navneet Kaur

      Giving, most certainly, provides accurate data about alumni participation. It, perhaps, is the only approach that gives accurate and measurable results for ROI. However, my focus here was more on metrics beyond traditional and tangible ways.

      We don’t do much of asking here in school so we don’t really measure giving rates. We distinguish alumni based on their level of participation – engaged and involved, active, pro school, neutral and sleeping. We are starting to work on a point-based system but it is still in its early stages.

      Indeed, some universities have devised sophisticated techniques of arriving at ROI numerically. Check out the tools used by Marquette University and Cornell University – two of the most innovative evaluation methods I have seen.

  • Mark Saddington – Head of Alum

    This is an interesting and thought provoking article Navneet – thank you for taking the time and effort to put it out there. My view is that there are actually two completely different but complimentary views on this – the benefit to the alumni themselves and the benefit to the institution. I think we often get tied up in trying to measure our alumni relations activities in how they benefit the institution only. This is of course quite understandable as the bottom line is important and drives the rationale for any non-academic post being funded.

    We should though always look to champion the importance of our activities to the alumni and why what we all do is important to them. Do we measure well enough how our offer helps and supports our alumni? Do we know how many alumni have been supported by our careers teams? Are we able to measure the introductions that lead to opportunities, growth and success for our alumni community?

    So measures that not only justify the need for alumni relations for your institution are very important but the metrics that demonstrate why we are important to our alumni are the icing on the cake.

    • Navneet Kaur

      Thanks for sharing your views Mark. I totally agree with you – it is equally important to measure the relevance of our activities with respect to their benefits to alumni. I may write a separate post on this.