Calculating Alumni Engagement Rates

Posted on 12/01/2019

Educational institutions can engage their alumni in a variety of ways including events, regional chapters, affinity networks, educational and travel programs, social networks, and more. Unfortunately, not many do a very good job of tracking their progress. One of the reasons for this is that there isn’t a universally-accepted way of defining and measuring engagement. With so many different factors to consider and methods of calculating, a lot of programs end up talking about it but never actually doing it. 

The trick is to keep it simple. Rather than accounting for every single action that could possibly be considered a form of engagement, try focusing on a few of the most important ways alumni can become engaged. Then use those behaviors to calculate an alumni engagement rate for your entire alumni population—similar to the way annual giving programs track alumni giving rates. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Convene a meeting of key stakeholders from the advancement department with representatives from alumni relations, the database team, senior leadership, and anyone else who has a vested interest in alumni engagement. 
  2. Determine 3-5 of the most important ways that alumni can engage with your organization (e.g., attending an event, serving as a volunteer, making a gift). Make sure these are things that can be tracked in your database even if you haven’t necessarily done a great job of tracking them in the past. Don’t choose more than 5. 
  3. Develop a report to show how many alumni exhibited any one of those behaviors in the last full fiscal year. Only count alumni once even if they exhibited more than one behavior during that period of time. In other words, if they attended an event and served as a volunteer for their class reunion committee, they would still only be counted once. 
  4. Divide the number of engaged alumni by the number of living with a good mailing address (i.e., the same number used to calculate the base when reporting alumni giving rates to CASE and US News & World Report). This number is your alumni engagement rate for last year. For example, if you have 50,000 alumni and 10,000 engaged with the institution last year based on your new definition, your institution’s engagement rate would be 20% for that period.
  5. Set a goal of increasing your alumni engagement rate over a one-year period. Then, when the year is over, run a report to see if the rate has changed. Be aware that you will be limited by what data is in your database, but that’s okay. If anything, it will encourage your team to do a better job of using the database to track engagement activity moving forward. 

Among the many reasons why it’s so important to monitor alumni engagement is that simply doing so improves your chances of increasing it—people are more inclined to achieve what they measure. What’s more, the individual types of engagement can have a positive impact on one another. For example, alumni who serve as volunteers are more likely to make a gift later on, and vice versa. Engagement builds upon itself, helping to create a stronger alumni community and support the institution’s overall advancement efforts today and well into the future.

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