Alumni relations organizations are facing two significant challenges – the ability to align with advancement priorities and the capability to measure return on investment. Maybe it’s time we start thinking about alumni relations differently. In doing so, we must consider it a crucial component of an institution’s overall communications strategy and measure its success as such.

If alumni relations doesn’t serve short and long term engagement strategy for institutional advancement priorities, then what does it serve?

Alumni relations work has implications for fundraising. Beyond prospect identification and cultivation, alumni relations work creates opportunities for meaningful involvement with the institution. These experiences impact each college or university’s key metrics: admission, enrollment, retention, career outcomes, fundraising, and academic exploration. By providing programming like accepted student parties or career panels, alumni relations can promote and extend an institution’s brand while making an impact on enrollment or retention.

Alumni are important advocates for their alma maters, its mission, and core values. Their interactions with the institution are mutually beneficial. Steered in the right direction, alumni can make a difference while simultaneously meeting new people, developing their network of connections, and creating the constructs for future personal and professional success stories.

Re-thinking alumni relations work

There is no question, alumni play the biggest role in engagement programs. Many events and initiatives are designed specifically with alumni in mind. But the reality is, these engagement initiatives and associated networks should open to parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends. Not just alumni. It is time to start thinking of everyone in our community as someone with the potential to engage in the life of our institution in a meaningful way. They are future brand advocates, donors, and hiring managers, students or parents of future students– I could go on.

From an organizational standpoint, our work is much more expansive than it’s ever been before and our messaging is equally as broad. The work of stakeholder engagement has evolved to require in-depth knowledge of content marketing, social media, live web events, and more than ever, powerful storytelling.

Aligning with university communications

Individual units doing the work of stakeholder engagement must continually partner with the central marketing and communications arm of the university. The recent successes of university “Giving Days” showcase collaboration between advancement, alumni relations, and university communications for the purpose of fundraising. These exercises in collaboration highlight a strength in a centralized partnership. Stakeholder engagement programs mobilize people in order to connect, celebrate, and contribute. Communications practices offer scalability that programming alone can’t achieve.

If an alignment takes place, then measuring return on investment comes under one roof. The reporting metrics associated with university communications: brand identity, earned media, social media engagement, to name a few, merges with event and fundraising data. No longer are we trying to draw correlations between engagement and fundraising that don’t exist or are difficult to prove. With this data in hand we can focus on addressing the core needs of the institution, fulfilling our brand promise, and providing valuable and meaningful engagement programming to stakeholders.


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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