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  • Writer's pictureLiveAlumni

Serenity Now! Alumni Comms & COVID-19

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Earlier this month, powerhouse team Brittany Yantos, Director of Annual Giving and Nisha Chauhan-McGrath, Associate Director of Early & Regional Engagement from San Francisco State University co-hosted a webinar with LiveAlumni discussing Alumni Communications & Annual Giving in the Age of COVID-19. 

The super-duo helped hundreds of attendees by sharing their efforts, strategies, and creativity in an all-round fun and insightful webinar. They provided samples of their work along with the results, as well as new ideas for institutions and future plans for SFSU’s alumni & donor engagement. 

Below is a quick summary of what these leading ladies shared.

The New Normal

When SFSU began canceling events and asking staff to work from home, Brittany and Nisha began working to create a robust and engaging program. The team quickly identified the new normal was only a matter of time. This meant their alumni communication and messaging needed to change. 

Keeping alumni and donors engaged was a top priority for them and their biggest concern was to keep the interaction with SFSU going, as well as remind alumni & donors that SFSU was there for them. 

The team had to collaborate to answer their biggest questions. 

  • What does it mean to add value to the SFSU community? 

  • What does it mean to truly support your alumni & donors?

Discovering the answers, they decided to keep it simple and focus on their audience. It was time to expand their network, highlight their community, and redirect fundraising to student support. Most importantly, to needed to keep their message consistent. And they needed to show it, not just say it. 

Fundraising: To Ask or Not to Ask? 

Brittany’s main job is to fundraise for the SFSU fund and she needed to pivot her strategy. She streamlined SFSU “asking” into helping students via their HOPE Crisis Fund, where students can apply for emergency dollars if they are put in a dire situation. 

With the alumni and donors’ financial situation changing due to COVID-19, SFSU began to use qualifiers in their messaging by taking a softer approach, i.e. If you are in a place to give..

In Annual Giving, she would normally pump out aggressive fundraising measures. Now they’ve softened that approach too – getting alumni used to seeing an “ask” from SFSU in all email communications.

Communications: Calendar & Content

Nisha, Brittany and their teams had brainstorming sessions about the calendar and alumni communications they wanted to put out. Flexibility and consistency continue to be their focus, as the situation is constantly changing on a global scale. To address that, they’ve shifted to weekly planning.

Nisha said their key is to be consistent with their emails and social media schedule. Their goal is for alumni to look forward to their communication and wonder, what’s next? What information is SFSU providing me this week? 

But how much is too much? 

The team relies on engagement data via click-through, open and post engagement rates. They also take the time to monitor direct feedback from alumni. Are more people unsubscribing to their communications? Are more alumni sharing their content? 

Working Together to Create Unique Content

The big question from attendees of the session? How is SFSU doing so much in such a short amount of time? Do they have a huge team?

Nope! The Annual Giving and Alumni Relations team consists of just 4 individuals and the ladies feel that the work they are doing is possible for any team, even whilst keeping costs at a minimum. 

Expertise and personal interest from their team members have provided a large number of content ideas. They created a master shared document asking anyone across their departments to collaborate by sharing interesting links as a starting point. 

Both women expressed their excitement for putting together unique content that they would not normally push out to their audience. 

Examples of What the Team is Working On

  • Spotify Playlist Working From Home & Meditation – exploring new tunes, old favorites and exploring talent from their very own SFSU alumni. 

  • Showcasing Alumni in the News! SFSU alumna Susan Alden 83′ was on Jeopardy and the team invited everyone to cheer her on! (By the way, she won!)

  • Direct “Ask” Fundraising Communications. Emails were sent out to all alumni and donors, even their faculty and staff directing them to the HOPE Crisis Fund. They even provided examples of how $25, $50 or even $100 could help their students in need.

  • Gator Great Book Club including weekly book discussions, author Q&A, highlighting reading material from their very own talented SFSU community & interactive events. 

  • SFSU Alumni Chef Recipes, featuring alumni from their hospitality program. The team reached out to restaurant owners, sommeliers, chefs, wine connoisseurs and more asking them for recipes, ideas and even encouraged them to stream themselves on social media.

  • Coloring Book Pages for adults and families, this a sweet way of providing family entertainment included pictures from their campus and SFSU artist. They also turned this into social media challenges, with alumni swag bags as prizes!

  • Streaming Movie Night, using Netflix party alumni can watch movies together and comment through chat. The team plans to feature films that include their alumni whether it be acting, directing or working on set or just involved in the film industry! Bonus! Include a film Q&A at the end!

In addition to all their alumni emails, the team also built a landing page directly on the SFSU website. That means users can find the content quickly. They also include a footer in all the emails they sent out with an “ask” – and the donations funneled in! Their experience shows that now, more than ever, people do want to be engaged and they are willing to be giving to their community.

Need help identifying specific alumni from your school to feature in targeted content or campaigns?  LiveAlumni can help by building custom reports on your alumni to help you identify these individuals. Email us at to learn more.

Engagement: Keeping the Momentum Going

The team plans to continue finding new creative content for the months ahead. Ideas include trivia night, comedy shorts, faculty lectures, alumni podcasts, a student film festival and more! Using your institution’s unique expertise can open up many opportunities. 

Hats off to these extraordinary talented women for finding positivity and solutions. We’d like to thank Brittany and Nisha for preparing a thorough webinar and taking time out of their busy schedules to provide insight and hope to the Higher Education community.

Request Webinar Recording

We encourage you to listen to the full webinar to get actual examples of their communications & strategies, hard data on their results and watch our attendees’ interactive Q&A with Brittany and Nisha. 


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