Accessibility is the key to reunion ROI
Just when you think you have the green light to plan a “traditional” reunion, you’re back to thinking through contingency plans. In these crazy times, you might find yourself wondering why even do reunion at all? Is all of the tent-popping, catering, and risk management adherence really worth it? Yes, it is, but the real question is, how does your institution improve reunion ROI? The answer to that may boil down to one word: accessibility.
The traditional vision of a college reunion includes alumni, some with family, walking across campus and revisiting all of the buildings, benches, and bars that defined their school days. That stroll through nostalgia tugs at all the right heart strings, reigniting the passion for alma mater. But what about the alumni who can’t take that walk because they can’t get back to campus? What about alumni who WOULD reconnect in a reunion year, but the class dynamic doesn’t speak to them? First, let’s dive into why this matters.
According to the Education Advisory Board, reunions remain an important aspect of the advancement strategy. Specifically, reunions are of crucial importance to the annual fund and data integrity. People who attend reunion tend to give back and in order to attend reunion, alumni need to provide updated contact information. Let’s not forget, alumni donor participation is an important metric for colleges and universities. Like it or not, one of the ingredients that goes into ranking an institution is percent of alumni who make an annual gift. Reunion matters because it moves that needle. Perhaps more important than reunion gifts, is reunion-inspired data. The value of being able to contact someone who just attended a reunion could lead to a major gift you didn’t know was there.
EAB also lays out four tactics to maximizing reunion ROI. What’s number one on their list?
“A digital peer engagement platform”
I couldn’t agree more. Not only, as EAB argues, does a digital “platform” offer volunteers the opportunity to inspire engagement on behalf of the institution, but it doesn’t require time and attention from alumni affairs staff. On top of that, a digital reunion experience offers accessibility.
Whether a school lies in the heart of a major metropolitan area or is centrally isolated in a rural community, getting back to campus can be a challenge. Cost of travel, time away from a job, finding childcare, and age are just some of many factors that may inhibit someone from attending their reunion. Younger alumni who maintain connections with classmates through a variety of digital channels, may also be less compelled to spend money to attend a reunion. Others may identify more with an affinity group than their class and would like to engage through a specific organization. Regardless of the reasoning, it’s fair to say there are more people who would LIKE to participate in a reunion than who actually show up on campus.
So when you consider the importance of reunion from the perspective of the institution, shouldn’t a school offer a digital option to bring MORE alumni into the reunion experience? Enter: BrightCrowd. This is what we do. BrightCrowd offers a private, easy to access, simple, but beautiful, digital book for class (or affinity) reunions that is both beloved by alumni and invaluable to the advancement shop.
When classes launch a BrightCrowd book for their reunion, they see at least 10–15% more alumni create a page in the book than attend the in-person reunion. Not only does that boost attendance, but it delivers an autobiographical “contact report” from everyone in the book. That’s also 10–15% more alumni who could make a gift to the annual fund. That’s 10–15% more alumni records updated in your database, paving the way for future event invites, solicitations, and gift officer meeting requests. As an example, the record attendance for a Cornell University 30th reunion was around 380 alumni. This past May, the Cornell class of ’91 launched a BrightCrowd book to celebrate their 30th reunion. As of the writing of this article, they have 514 alumni in their BrightCrowd book.
Will every class see that kind of increased participation? Maybe not, but just this past year alone, our partners have launched dozens of books for class of ’56, ’61, and ’66. The MIT class of ’56 book has 131 alumni who have created a page in their book. That’s 131 Engineers in their late 80s who are able to participate in reunion without leaving their home.
According to a recent research report by VAESE, 72% of institutions have not increased their alumni affairs budget in the past five years. Overall, budgets nationwide are down 10% since 2017. VAESE also found that the number of alumni organizations who have increased their staffing has dropped by 27%. Despite these facts, the number of alumni organizations who offer a private, online community has dropped by 56%. Less staff and less budget shouldn’t inspire divestment from digital, it should do the opposite.
Considering reunion’s impact on inspiring data and donations, while recognizing that budgets and staffing remain stagnant if not decreasing, investment in a digital reunion experience is a must. BrightCrowd is providing that for over 100 schools who are boosting reunion participation and collecting the essential data that’s necessary to improve alumni engagement and discover the next generation of transformative gifts.
Reunion is most definitely worth doing, but the key to maximizing its ROI is by making it accessible to EVERYONE.