Lost Alumni: From Re-Engagement to Making the Ask

Social networking conceptLast June, we brought you “Higher Ed Hero’s Top 5 Strategies to Re-Engage Lost Alumni” outlining some of the best ways to find your alumni. In this follow-up post, we discuss some of the ways to tap into your lost alumni’s emotions to make them care about your school again.

In many ways, alumni are the lifeblood of your institution. As graduates, they are ambassadors of your college’s reputation and academic value to the world. As donors, they represent the largest gifts made to your college. As stewards of your academic mission, they represent the legacy of your school to prospective students and their families. It is no wonder, then, that most advancement shops incorporate a robust alumni relations department to nurture healthy alumni relationships. One aspect of that work is to find lost and lapsed alumni and bring them back into the fold. There are many technological tools to help you accomplish this, but what do you do once you found your alumnus and need to start communicating? This guide from Higher Ed Hero will help you lay the foundation for meaningful engagement with lapsed alumni to help cultivate new donors.

Start Things Off Slow

Your initial contact with the lost alumnus should start with a brief message. Something along lines of:

Dear Alumnus,

Greetings from [your college]! Just wanted to say hello and wish you all the best.


Alumni Relations.

If you got their information from a professional networking site, you can incorporate a comment about something they posted publicly: “Congratulations on the job at [publically listed employer].” Adding the personal touch will always help move the conversation along.

Wait for Them to Reply

So, you sent your first message 3 days ago and you have not heard back. You might be tempted to go ahead and add them to your standard alumni mailings or e-blasts. After all, you found them, have their contact info and sent a light-touch first response, right? While there is nothing wrong with taking that option it is always best to verify interest by getting them to take an action first. Maybe send a follow up reply asking for verification that they received your first message. If you know of any topics that interest them, maybe send an article related to that topic. If you can get them to respond to you, you can start a conversation and that is always better that one-sided communication.

Don’t Make the Ask Yet

You found your lost alumni, sent an initial message, got a reply and have communicated with the alumnus several times by now. In the process you gained permission from the alumnus to add them to your mailing list. Success! You can now send the Alumni Magazine to a verified address, you have an email address for e-blasts and newsletters and you even managed to gain their cell phone number. Things are moving along nicely and you think it is time to ask for a donation. Think again. At this point, the alumnus is likely starting to think about their time with your institution. You have successfully invoked emotions of nostalgia and perhaps even gratitude towards your college because of the role it played in your alumnus’s personal and professional development. Just now you are thinking that it is time to ask for a donation. But I would suggest you are still one very important step away.

Relating Current Need and Demonstrating the Value of a Gift  

Once you have started the conversation with your alumnus, invoked positive feelings for your school and re-engaged them, it is time to demonstrate how needed their gifts are. One solid method for doing this would be to re-connect the alumnus with a favorite faculty member who can discuss the need to developing a new program. Another suggestion would be to invite the alumnus back to campus and show the facilities that will benefit from a gift. No matter what strategy you settle on, if you can bridge the gap from engagement to demonstrating how a gift will be used to create a positive impact for current and future students, this will help make the gift personal for the alumnus.

We hope you found these tips from Higher Ed Hero useful. To learn more on Finding and Engaging Lost Alumni, please join us for:

Reconnect & Reengage Lost Alumni: Navigating Today’s Digital Landscape

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Kevin – Higher Ed Hero

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