Talk | Dewayne Neely, Greenville University
Updated: Mar 29
This Talk is led by Dwayne Neely, Director of Alumni and Church Relations of Greenville University. During the session, Dwayne and the attendees answer each other's questions about the challenges that COVID 19 has presented and how they have handled these challenges from an Alumni Relations and Prospecting point of view. As an alumnus of Greenville University, Dwayne has a unique advantage when relating to alumni and potential donors. COVID hit just weeks after he joined the Greenville University team, so this last year was especially challenging for him.
Pros and cons of digital events and outreach.
Events that proved to be more successful than anticipated:
Alumni Spotlight Series
Virtual Book Club
Virtual 5 K Run
Alumni Awards Event
Is high attendance to Virtual Events resulting in higher fundraising dollars?
How to cultivate a donor for a Major Gift
Offering volunteer and mentorship opportunities as a catch
During this Talk we learned that those who work in Alumni Relations and Prospecting are still discovering both pros and cons as we are all being pushed to work with new digital technologies such as Zoom in lieu of their more traditional M.O. of in-person meetings and activities. Opinions range from feeling the dependence on these technologies is wearing thin to others appreciating the time saved by canceling in-person visits.
A middle-of-the-road solution is what will most likely end up being acceptable for most. Here's Dwayne's perspective: “I just don't want this new reliance on digital technology to lead the effort. I want it to be a tool in the toolbox.”
However, it's undeniable that though in-person, live events have been the bread and butter for Alumni Engagement, there is definitely a newfound audience for digital events.
Digital Events: Proven Successes & New Ideas:
Homecoming: Many found their virtual homecoming events to be hugely successful, while some found them to be notably lacking. The key to success? Pre-recording parts of the event to ensure they flow smoothly.
Webinars: Webinars hosted by a range of people from professors to local business owners have been a great success. E.g. one school had a great session hosted by a local coffee shop owner that demonstrated how to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Webinars like this foster good feeling amongst the community and strengthen relations with constituents.
Alumni Spotlight Series: Facebook Live also presents a great opportunity. One school scheduled programs every other week with notable alumni such as songwriters, local TV personalities, ESPN commentators, cooking shows etc. It was a popular series - who doesn't love a good celebrity connection?
Class Auditing opportunity for Community Seniors: Another school used digital technology to strengthen its relationships within the community by inviting Senior citizens - many of whom are afraid to leave their homes right now - a chance to audit their classes online.
Random Acts of Kindness: Yet another school saw an increase in engagement simply by asking stakeholders to share what that they have done around their community and about how COVID is impacting their lives. This board was posted to their website and generated significant engagement.
Virtual Book Club: Book clubs are a tried and tested way to connect people - which is probably why the virtual book club run by one of the alumni teams appealed to so many people (+600 members!) that it had to be divided into different groups.
Virtual 5K Run: Sticking with the theme of taking popular events and making them virtual, what about running? In this Talk we discovered how one school pulled off a virtual 5k run by asking people to sign up and tag themselves on social media afterward. They then added a photo album to their website to showcase all the people who had taken part.
Alumni Awards Event: Another great suggestion came from a school that created a virtual landing page that looks like their school's lobby, had a VIP reception available, and live and virtual photo booths that created a collage for the end of the event. There were guest appearances from some celebrity alumni, as well as performances by student groups. Pre-recorded interviews with the awardees gave a more personal and in-depth feel to the ceremony than is usually possible at a live event.
The Big Question: How has all this affected Fundraising?
This is a key issue that has no doubt been at the forefront of most Higher Eds during the pandemic. Happily, fundraising numbers are generally up, but as one attendee put it, "It’s time to crunch numbers and see if the great attendance to online events correlates to the high increase in donations."
Major Gifts - How & When to make the Ask:
During the Talk, Dewayne was asked about his process for cultivation for a major gift. He explained that his preference is to have a lot of conversations with people that love the institution. And, as a rule of thumb, he never asks for any kind of giving on the first meeting. Instead, he uses that time to learn about their interests, then funnels them into a gift that means something to them.
“It’s all about cultivating, cultivating, cultivating. After that, if they're going to help, the money will come.”
Another great suggestion was to have volunteer and mentorship opportunities to offer when you sit down with alumni. By seeing what they are interested in upfront, you get a better idea of what a gift might go towards in the end.
Prospecting & Engagement: Let LiveAlumni Help
Dewayne says that LiveAlumni is a great tool for creating lists of “Alumni Influencers” to connect students with. He explains that it's easier to use LiveAlumni reports to find these people than it is to go siphoning through everything in Raiser's Edge.
Another attendee shared that they too plan to use LiveAlumni to segment their data - specifically by profession - for their next appeal.
Finally, since LiveAlumni is great at tracking alumni throughout their careers, it presents lots of opportunities for creative ideas around alumni career history.
For example, there was an awesome idea that came up during the Talk that focused on the idea of telling specific Alumni Stories by creating Career Capsules. Each capsule tells a story of an individual alumnus, tracking their successful career from their degree onwards. The capsules offer a much deeper story than a simple survey , are useful to showcase different jobs and can be used for recruitment, new students, school deans, professors and much more!
Want to watch more LiveAlumni Talks?
Dewayne is just one of many inspiring members of the LiveAlumni community who have been sharing their strategies on alumni relations, engagement and prospecting. 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.