The New Rules of Engagement

Building the next generation of alumni leaders and volunteers

This study examines how institutions can enhance their alumni engagement strategies to appeal to prospective millennial donors, volunteers, and leaders.

Making Meaning of Metrics

Millennial alumni are willing to donate to and become involved with their alma maters, but they seek greater levels of personalization, customization, and convenience than ever before. Unlike past generations of alumni, they are interested in deploying their skills and expertise, not just their time and money. Advancement leaders need to recalibrate their engagement strategies to appeal to these alumni and secure their loyalties—and future major gifts.

This study focuses on five rules to help members recruit and retain this critical segment of alumni. Download the complete publication or explore the table of contents to learn more about each rule.

The case for investment

Despite the record number of institutions that have completed $1 billion campaigns and the surging number of major gift prospects, a sense of unease continues to persist in advancement shops throughout the country. Since gift pyramids are narrowing, institutions are more reliant on a few wealthy donors. Alumni participation rates continue to tumble as millennials seem distinctly uninterested in large institutions, preferring to give to causes with smaller overhead and clearer impact. So while there's good reason for optimism and pessimism, the fact remains that the under-engagement of future prospects constitutes an existential threat to higher education fundraising.

Where and how to invest

The alumni relations function at most institutions appears woefully unprepared for its newfound relevance. Chief advancement officers are increasingly willing to question long-standing norms about the optimal structure and activities of the engagement enterprise. Leadership and volunteerism stand out as a stronghold of dated practices and a storehouse of unchallenged assumptions. Today's prospects, donors, and volunteers want more dynamic, hands-on, and impact-oriented opportunities—which the boards and councils that are still prevalent today fail to provide. Since alumni have many choices about where they spend their time, higher education institutions risk losing their potential volunteers and future donations if they cannot compete with more nimble charities who have invested the resources to appeal to what alumni want and how and when they want it.

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The New Rules of Engagement: Rule One – Make It Easy to Say Yes

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