What’s in a Name: Email Personalization For Alumni Engagement

In the legendary self-help book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie writes that a person’s name is “to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language”.

What can advancement officers learn from Carnegie’s wisdom?

Simply put, the more personalization, the better. The more often you can tailor your communications to particular constituent, the better engagement you’ll see.

And for many institutions, email is the primary touch point for the vast majority of their constituents — 84% of higher ed advancement offices use email, as noted in a CASE Report on “The Use of Technology for Development and Alumni Relations“.

Getting Personal from your office – the “From” Section

Your team has probably spent tons of time and effort getting your alums’ email addresses and crafting campaigns designed to effectively market your institution. Don’t let all that work go to waste by forgetting to personalize your emails and include those magical tools – names.

In fact, a remarkable personalized email starts with the ‘From’ section and the subject line. In ‘From’, instead of just having your school’s name, include the name of your Director of Alumni Relations, for instance (in the style of “David, [school name]”). That way, your alums feel that a real person is reaching out to contact them rather than some monolithic email machine.

Wesleyan Alumni Event
Wesleyan sends out an email to alumni athletes.

Personalizing Constituent Subject Lines

According to Marketing Sherpa, subject lines that contain personalization received only a slight advantage in open rates, but increased click through rates, on average, by a noticeable 17%. Beyond name, other personalization items, such as a location (e.g. Great News for our Boston Alumni!), are recommended.

Looking for inspiration? ExactTarget provides lots of great ideas for subject lines.

Personalizing Alumni Email Content

In HubSpot’s roundup of excellent examples of email personalization, every single email included the recipient’s name at the very top, in the “salutation” of the email. And while all of HubSpot’s examples were from businesses, the same principles apply for email marketing of all types.

So, at the top of every email coming from the advancement team, simply place the alum’s name in the greeting, such as “Hi David,”. Many mailing programs (for example, Constant Contact or MailChimp) make inserting names quite easy, usually in the form of “Hi FIRSTNAME”.

While it might be obvious to some alums that inserting names is automated, there’s a reason why the practice is so widespread in the corporate world – reading your own name makes you feel that the content was prepared just for you.

Getting Deeper – Targeted Alumni Marketing

There are so many possible layers of email personalization that it’s impossible to list them all. But as you plan your annual fund drives or event notices, think about how adding personalization based on alumni affiliations could boost your engagement.

For example, alums who participated in a certain sports team might be more engaged by a message from their former coach urging them to return for homecoming, rather than a generic message that you send to all your alums.

The possibilities are endless. All it takes is a little thought…and a name.