Re-engaging with alumnis

By Ron Babuka posted 12-20-2019 08:20 AM


Keeping alumni engaged is both a short term and a long term goal for any alumni organization in higher education.   Alumni are inundated with emails and social media outreaches from businesses, charities, political parties and higher education.  An unfortunate result of the mass marketing efforts by so many institutions is the “I’m outta here” unsubscribe from many email sources.   When alumni unsubscribe from communications, alumni organizations lose the ability to connect with the alumni, to build a vibrant and engaged community, and raise funds to support the university missions.  

Periodically alumni associations will produce a campaign to reengage with alumni as many alumni fail to realize that they had broken the connection with their school and fail to understand that they can manage their interaction with the alumni association.      This blog is intended to highlight one such campaign to re-engage with alumni.

At Cornell, our alumni organizations use numerous products to engage with alumni such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.  We also use numerous emails products such as iModules, Pardot, and Mailchimp for communicating with our alumni.  These products and outreach programs can occur at both the central and the college/unit levels, especially at large research Universities such as Cornell University.  The effort that is highlighted was recently carried out by the SC Johnson School of Business at Cornell University in a campaign to contact alumni who had opted out of communications after graduation. 


The engagement campaign was created with two goals:

  1. Create a customizable communication experience for alumni of the college, enabling them to opt in/out based on personal preference fields in one location. Therefore, creating a positive engagement experience and reducing the number of complete platform opt-outs.
  2. Improve alumni data in effort to build a strong foundation for all engagement efforts across the college and university, in advance of the capital campaign.


Prior to launching the campaign a strong foundation was built to include a single communication platform, mobile friendly communication tool, and a customizable communication experience.

  1. Implement new communication platform, Pardot in addition to utilizing an existing communication system iModules.
  2. Migrate from seven platforms used within the college to two communication platforms including Pardot and iModules, a central AAD platform.
  3. Create a customizable communication experience enabling alumni to select categories of communication they would like to receive from the college.


The execution of the engagement campaign involved the various components:

  1. Marketing and Communications Strategy
    1. Month long strategy including electronic communication, text, phone, hard copy mailing, and social media
    2. Incentives to engage were provided such as Mac book air and Amazon gift cards
    3. Easy execution for the alumni including responding to an email, OR filling out a form, OR updating an alumni directory.
  2. Key stakeholders
    1. Ensure stakeholders (at the university, college, and volunteer level)  are informed of the strategy; communicate, communicate, communicate.
  3. Volunteer Engagement
    1. Provide continuous updates with numerous volunteer organizations.
    2. Request support with promotion from these organizations.
  4. Data and Metrics
    1. Pull data for execution of communication.
    2. Identify metrics to assist with measuring success of the campaign.
    3. Pull all pre engagement campaign data for baseline measurement.


Most mass marketing email systems utilize an ability for an alumni to opt-out from all emails or from various categories of emails.  Normally emails will not be generated to an alumni who has indicated an opt-out.  However a common strategy to verify or validate an opt-out is to extract alumni with  opt-outs flags and integrate that information into a new email system where the opt-outs have not be configured.   This permits the alumni organization to reach out to the dis-engaged alumni to provide an opportunity to re-engage by ‘reversing’ their opts out, managing the categories of communication they would like to receive, and update demographic information on file.   These validation campaigns are carefully designed to stay within spam laws and often utilize non-intrusive social media campiagns to supplement email communication.


Emails generally maintained the following flavor with the purpose of contacting the alumni to display basic information  to begin the verification and validation process.   There are instructions and links where the alumni can update their information.




Hyperlinks on the emails would send the alumni to a site where they could manage their communications with the Alumni Affairs office.



Postal cards were mailed to the last known address of alumni as another form of communications that is not reliant on a last known email address.  Often the last know email we may have for a younger alumni is their university issued email,  which may have been supplanted with other  emails in the years after the alumni graduated.


The front of the card is usually a very simple message...


And the back of the card with links for email communication and a form where information could be recorded.



Instagram stories were created to encourage alumni to update their preferences and their data on file.  Social media sites allow the Alumni Affairs office to engage with alumni, who still maintain an interest in the former school and college.



Twitter campaigns were created.


LinkedIn was utilized


Facebook was also purposed for the same objective.



The results:

                Over 12% of the alumni contacted re-engaged with the SC Johnson of Business Alumni Association and provided updated personal information to Cornell Alumni Affairs and Developments via updates to the alumni directory, forms, and email replies.

                Since the re-engagement campaign over 200 of these re-engaged alumni have  generously supported the mission of the University and the SC Johnson Business School with over $300,000 in pledges and donations.


The material for this presentation was based on a PowerPoint presentation by Alumni Affairs at Cornell University’s  SC Johnson School of Business.