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What’s Worse than no Alumni Data? Bad Data!

Everyone is talking about it. It’s in the news. On our phones, our tablets, and our computers. It’s everywhere – and it shapes the basis of almost every decision we make. It’s Data. And in our case, specifically alumni data.

Because alumni data has become so important, it’s not surprising that it played a big part in the recent DRIVE/CASE conference in Maryland. Here, Advancement teams from across the country came together to discuss data because they all wanted answers to the same questions:

How do we avoid bad data? What should we do to make the most of the data that we have?

A big reason for their concern is that, in spite of all the data that is becoming available, alumni engagement rates are actually dropping.

So, why are engagement rates dropping?

Why are alumni not renewing their collegiate memberships? According to the VAESE study, 72% of alumni organizations reported a lack of engagement as the main reason for low membership churn rate.

However, an average University sends nearly 30 emails to each alumnus per year, which is about 2.5 per month. So, what’s going wrong here?

Are the emails inaccurate? Or are they not targeted enough? The answer is both.

Get Better Alumni Data

Alumni Identity founder Jay Dillon, recently wrote a series of blogs about alumni engagement focusing on the idea that to be effective at engaging alumni, schools need better data. He’s right – we need to improve our data accuracy and our tactics or we’ll fail to engage our alumni.

Imagine this scenario. An alumnus who was thought to be living at home with their parents was later found to be an incredibly successful individual. In fact, he’d moved away from home and started 2 companies, with over 200 employees in each! But before the institution captured accurate, verified employment data, they didn’t prospect this former student at all. Simply because their information suggested that he was still at the beginning of his career.

This is not uncommon when an institution purchases bad data or stale data.And that’s just one problem.

Bad Alumni Data makes Personalization Difficult

Aside from not knowing when an alumnus has become more successful, bad data causes other issues.

For example, most Universities organize alumni events around industries. This is a great strategy, but it’s not perfect because traditionally fundraisers have tended to classify alumni industries by degree studies. However, this approach can lack relevance. Instead, try engaging alumni through the person or company industry listed on their LinkedIn profile. It’s much more likely to be effective because it’s more current.

You might believe you know a target individual’s interests based on their degree. But often they’re more interested in their passion or work experience. Personalizing alumni communications with more recent work or interests becomes very difficult if you have bad or stale data.

And remember to be careful! Bad data is worse than no data at all because saying the wrong thing can actively discourage an alum from wanting to engage with their school.

3 Top Tips for Better Alumni Engagement

So what can you actually do to increase your alumni engagement? Here are our 3 Top Tips.

  1. Watch out for Stale Data! Ensure that you purchase your alumni data from a reputable vendor with experience in the field, providing you with what they say they will.

  2. Say Goodbye to Mass-Mailing. If you don’t take the time to get to know your alumni and send more personalized messages, your 30 emails a year won’t go very far.

  3. Get Familiar with Your Alumni Stats. What percentage of your alumni are CEOs? Who volunteers, and where? How many alumni hold board positions? The more you understand your data, the better you can tailor your fundraising and engagement efforts.

Digging Deeper: Your Alumni Statistics

Capturing alumni statistics can be a big part of the alumni engagement solution. For example, we know that alumni who volunteer their time or sit on boards are more likely to donate because they know the value of giving.

So, knowing a stat like 64% of Loyola University Chicago alumni volunteer can be very useful. You can use it to discuss a specific area of interest or write a personalized email, likely to grab your alumni’s attention.

Here’s another intriguing stat. On record, less than half of Harvard grads volunteer, but nearly 2,000 have set up their own mid-size companies. The ability to identify which of these entrepreneurs also volunteer is dynamite to finding new prospects because they have both the means to donate and the disposition to do so.

It’s time to start thinking outside the box. Stop looking at the number of emails you send and start thinking about what truly motivates an alumnus to engage or donate. Fully understanding your alumni is key and remember the only thing worse than no data, is bad data!

Learn More About Your Alumni – A FREE Tool

Want to learn more about your alumni? You can access our free interactive dashboards of every University’s alumni statistics. Check if your school’s alumni stats are listed here!

Not listed? Request your alumni stats below for FREE.

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Sources & Additional Information:

[1] VAESEstudy,

[2] Alumni Aren’t Lost,

[4] Harvard University Stats,

[6] Role of Volunteering,


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