In higher education, U.S. News and World Report rankings loom large. They are the most trusted reference for top colleges and universities, value of an educational institution, and directly correlate to admission revenue and prestige. Yet, in recent years, there has been a skeptical eye turned on the metrics that make up these ranking, particularly within advancement and the measurement of alumni participation.
As any advancement leader knows, measuring alumni participation is critically important for institutions, because it is heavily weighted in U.S. News and World Report rankings and ends up touching so many critical success factors. This includes competition for students, recruiting and retaining faculty, marketing, admissions, advancement, and so much more. Many don’t think the metric accurately measures the valuable culture and importance of the institution.
Sue Cunningham, President and CEO for CASE wrote the following on Inside Higher Ed:
“The alumni giving metric used by the rankings is deeply flawed, and it can encourage a profoundly limited view of the positive impact of alumni relations. It is a blunt tool that distracts from core, mission-driven work.”
Today, there is growing momentum to move away from measuring alumni participation in giving, and opting instead for an alumni engagement metric.
The Difference Between Alumni Participation and Alumni Engagement
Whereas alumni participation is a percentage of alumni who give back to their alma mater, alumni engagement is a deeper and more meaningful metric. Alumni engagement considers giving, volunteering, event participation, and communication. So, rather than focus on the alumni who give monetarily, engagement also looks to quantify the other ways alumni bolster their community and make an impact on the true bottom line: the institution’s mission.
CASE, in fact, has dedicated a task force to assess the pros and cons of moving to an alumni engagement metric, after what it calls a “decade long discussion” on the topic. A sea change is imminent, and the call for transformation is now at the doorstep of U.S. News and World Report.
Alumni Engagement – What to Measure
There’s an inherent value in documenting every gift that a college or university receives. But, measuring alumni engagement means that it is equally important to capture every single communication with an alum and having a holistic view for how they impact, support, and grow the institution.
CASE suggests a “more traditional metric of philanthropic engagement, which includes diverse opportunities for alumni to make philanthropic investments that are meaningful to the donor and support the institution's strategic direction”, and outlines the following areas:
- Volunteer Engagement – formalizing volunteer roles and measuring activities including membership on a governing or advisory board, career mentoring or advising, public advocacy, guest speaking to classes, and project review
- Experiential Engagement – measuring activities that promote the mission of the institution, such as participation in alumni activities, attendance at cultural and sporting events, and other enrollment and advocacy
- Communication Engagement – incorporating likes, follows, retweets, along with measuring activities such as writing letters to the alumni magazine and adding class notes
How To Measure Alumni Engagement
As you can see, these engagement activities come in so many different forms, that currently very few institutions could show the full breadth of alumni engagement. Within advancement alone, 79 percent of data collected is never entered into the CRM. How could we imagine improving our data collection and even extending that to other stakeholders, such as faculty, who are constantly in meaningful contact with alumni?
Gravyty’s AI suite of tools is already measuring alumni engagement in ways that other reporting or technology cannot. For example, Gravyty’s Connect+ solution can empower every gift officer, professor, staff member, or employee across a college or university to hold personal and meaningful conversations with alumni. When combined with Gravyty’s Email Integration technology, each of these interactions are automatically and comprehensively logged back into advancement’s database or CRM.
Gravyty’s AI tools can already capture every email -- or different action -- with an alumni or donor and then goes on to capture the response and resulting communications with anyone in a portfolio. This technology alone is already flipping the data loss conundrum on its head.
Transformation is coming in the way we measure. Alumni participation is a metric that still has its place, but the future is really about a more inclusive alumni engagement metric. Being able to quantify alumni engagement now means growing prestige, impact, and ultimately revenue.
Are you ready to quantify alumni engagement? Talk with Gravyty about how advancement can lead the transformation, thanks to AI.