Talk | Sean Meehan, University of Hartford
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
In today’s roundtable discussion, Sean Meehan, Associate Vice President for Development at the University of Hartford, took questions from the other attendees and amazed us all with his insightful and helpful solutions.
The knowledge that he shares in this Talk is inspiring and informative. At the beginning of the Talk, Shawn describes how he feels that Higher Ed is more effective at fundraising than the Nonprofit Sector because “we are not competing with each other for funds, so we are free to share our knowledge with each other”. And that’s what LiveAlumni Talks are all about - sharing and getting better, together.
How to Find New Prospects during a Pandemic
The key is to embrace the new normal. Sean notes that he’s found a greater willingness from prospects to connect, now that meetings are online. Virtual engagement has proven oddly successful. In fact, they are discovering many prospects who used to shun in-person meetings but are now perfectly willing to meet virtually. As a matter of fact, the long, expensive trips, in-person dinners or home visits his officers sought in order to engage a prospect, now feel almost invasive.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Be forthright - forge ahead! Sean reveals that many alums are being very supportive and proactively asking what the school needs. This is a time for officers to be brutally honest.
Successful Outreach Calls
According to Sean, there’s two parts to a call. First, the business part - where you connect with your prospects and highlight their leadership in the industry and in their field. During this part, remind them that they can inspire current students who want to pursue the same career by sharing their story of success with them. Second, the fun part - get to know your alumnus and let them get to know you. The deeper connection will serve you well.
Sean’s Pro Tip: For the second part of the call allow some time for a little fun - relax, have a conversation, let them talk about their experiences as a student. Give them the opportunity to develop a deeper affinity with the school.
Using LinkedIn Profiles
Sean says his research team and gift officers use LiveAlumni because it organizes their alumni LinkedIn profiles according to the segment they are looking for.
Sean’s Pro tip: Use LiveAlumni to segment your alumni and create lists of the exact group of alums you are considering. Then, actually click on the individual’s LinkedIn URL so they can see your viewing history and, when you connect with them, tell them you visited their profile on LinkedIn.
New Reality: Stop Pretending Your Alumni are going to Reach Out to You - Most Alumni expect You to Find Them
The expectation that alums will take the trouble to keep their alma mater directly informed of their career and location changes is no longer realistic.
In fact, Sean says that the reverse is often true. Alumni, especially the younger generation, seem to expect that their school not only knows who they are but will continue to keep track of them via social media.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Be more proactive and expand your resources to track your alumni through their careers and professional lives.
LinkedIn Data is the Long-Play - but it Pays Off
Sean views LiveAlumni as a long play. Segmenting LinkedIn data allows you to plan your outreach in a way that is meaningful to alumni and allows connecting with them to become more successful. Relationships are built on strong foundations and taking this approach means your Alumni will no longer be cold leads.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Use LiveAlumni data to segment your alumni into lists that allow you to personalize communication and outreach. This will warm them up for the long-term.
Post-COVID In-Person Meetings
Once COVID is over Sean says the new world will mean that traveling dollars will be more scrutinized than ever before. So even when you do go back to in-person visits, you’ll need to be more strategic.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Use LiveAlumni to filter for top C-Suite prospects before traveling to make for more efficient, fruitful trips.
The University of Hartford Giving Day
Giving Day is still a priority and Sean and his team are going ahead with Giving Day this year. In fact, it has already been successful from a fundraising perspective thanks to upfront Challenge Fund gifts. To engage constituents in the participation aspect of the event, he describes this year’s fireside philanthropy, using the school’s new fire pits for outdoor, safe conversations with students.
Creating Alumni Outreach from Scratch
Sean has 3 important tips for schools starting from scratch.
Tip #1: Take it one task at a time. Launching multiple initiatives at once, he feels, will overwhelm the staff and they will leave.
For example, this year Sean and his team launched Giving Tuesday exclusively.
#2: The best alumni programs will be those that your alumni want to participate in. Sometimes your volunteers are the best alumni program drivers, so learn to stand back and let them build those programs.
For example, Sean says that they recently got older, high-level alumni to talk to younger students and alumni about the good financial decisions they had taken over their careers - and the turnout was huge. Getting traction and engaging on any level, will ensure good long-term relationships.
#3: Reach out to peer institutions - they are great allies. Talk to them and ask about their successes and failures. Sean says he is a serial donor to many campus engagement events. A small donation will give him an “in” to see how other schools take on stewardship by seeing the way they treat him as a donor.
Planning Trips - Tell a good Story & Start to Cut Costs!
Sure, big donors are always found in real estate, finance, and venture capital, etc. But when Sean travels to a city, he focuses on visiting areas and people to whom he has good stories to tell. It is an easier connection.
Using LiveAlumni, you find many interesting prospects by segmenting to find opportunities to build a good story. For example, if meeting a health professional alumnus, pair them with medical school faculty that wants to talk to that prospect. There is already a built-in story for this meeting. There is no excuse for officers spending funds and time visiting alumni that don’t pan out to be top tier.
Sean feels that post-Covid budgets won’t be getting any bigger, so everyone will be learning how to better use their resources. Development officers will have to qualify prospects over a zoom call instead of a trip.
Sean’s Pro Tip: A call has to count as much as an in-person meeting so you have to find ways to connect with alumni and prospects on a deeper level during a 30-minute call so that the second round, in-person meetings are definitely with the right people.
Don’t let Data Overwhelm You
The more data you have on your alumni, the better the position you’re in and LiveAlumni gives you just that. But sometimes, faced with a lot of data it’s hard to know where to start.
If you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry. The solution is simple.
Sean suggests approaching the pool of data with a specific question in mind to help you focus on filtering down to get the exact data that you need. This way you won’t be overwhelmed with the large pools of prospects.
Sean’s Pro Tip: If you sort through your database with a definitive question in mind your report results will be first-rate.
Tracking Young Alumni
Sean’s Pro Tip: Use the data to follow your young alumni now through their career path. In ten years you will automatically know exactly who to reach out to and bring them back around.
Lessons from Non-Profit Fundraising
In the non-profit sector, you raise funds based on the organization’s mission statement and Sean says it’s the same with alumni and institutions. Remind your alums of what is unique about their alma mater - build it up, and ask them to take part in carrying that forward.
And don’t forget your peers at other institutions. In this case, Higher Ed is different from Non-profit, so reach out and share, share, share your tips, tactics and strategies! Remember that sometimes you get better insight from someone at a gift officer level, dealing with similar daily battles as you are, rather than the individuals at a higher level, say a VP.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Higher Ed fundraising is not competitive, so share information and best practices with each other.
Getting from a Name to an Actual Gift
According to Sean, Linkedin Messaging is an effective and transparent way to make initial contact. People are putting themselves out there because they want to network so they are more open to communication.
After the initial outreach, some people might not be able to engage too much in terms of their time, but once you have qualified the prospect, just having the meeting in itself means you’re 70% of the way there.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Get to the point. Often it’s just a relief for them if you cut to the chase and ask. Ask for a mentorship, a donation, board membership, even their unrestricted support. Be direct. Always have a number in your back pocket. They’re usually expecting some sort of ask.
COVID has allowed Sean and his team the space to create a strong social media strategy - publishing good posts on relevant topics and following through with them.
They have determined that different platforms help with different age groups. Facebook attracts the older, baby-boomer demographic. Instagram reaches their millennial alumni. And LinkedIn reaches the alums who are building their own brand and putting themselves out there to be found.
Sean’s team uses Facebook ads for boosting and amplifying their ads inexpensively. Ask everyone in your network to like your ads. For younger alums, they have a Student Ambassadors Program at the University of Hartford where students do Snapchat takeovers, to communicate the school’s message.
And don’t forget about live events - Sean’s and his team have hired a third party to kick off their first live-streamed event in order to stay focused on working and promoting the event. For big important events, it’s worth the expense.
Sean’s Pro Tip: Use Social Media Platforms based on their specific strengths and look for opportunities to expand the reach of your message with inexpensive paid ads. Also, get creative by involving current students in your outreach.
Want to watch more LiveAlumni Talks?
Sean is just one of many inspiring members of the LiveAlumni community who have been sharing their fundraising, prospecting and engagement strategies. If you’d like to learn more you can (1) register to attend one of our future Talks or (2) watch recordings of past Talks.