Although we are constantly highlighting how important it is for advancement shops to connect with alumni through social media (check out our post on growing your alumni Facebook page), sometimes it’s good to take a step back and remember that having a traditional web presence matters too. Social media has arguably become THE media—but that doesn’t mean your Alumni Association should neglect its website! As the face of your association and a destination for all things alumni-related, your webpage offers distinct value to you and your constituents alike.
While it may take time and effort to design a site that is visually striking, easy-to-navigate, informative, and mobile responsive all in one, the potential benefits are immense. By providing career resources, promoting news/events, encouraging giving, and much more, an excellent website can increase the credibility of your Alumni Association and open the door to donor engagement opportunities.
So what do alumni websites offer that social media channels don’t? Check out these four unique features that make your website worth the investment:
1. Websites can provide a private community for alumni.
Unlike social media pages, which are usually open to the public, your website can act as a portal to a “members-only” online community where alumni can set up a profile to access exclusive resources (and update their information!). While Facebook and LinkedIn do enable organizations to create closed groups, the added security of having a space hosted entirely by your university is advantageous.
When we analyzed the alumni websites of institutions in the Conference USA, we loved how Rice University included an alumni login widget on the upper half of their homepage. It’s a great call-to-action for alumni to join the community, and a nice example of the value an Alumni Association website can bring:
2. Online giving becomes a safe and secure process.
The process of giving online needs to be simple, speedy, and safe to ensure that alumni follow through with their contributions. That’s where your alumni website comes in—no one wants to give out their information on a Facebook donation form! Your website is a trustworthy interface through which alumni will feel comfortable making a gift, making it an important cog in your advancement machine.
To avoid losing potential donors, schools should develop accessible, easy-to-use giving pages. While ranking the alumni websites of the Mountain West Conference schools, we were impressed by the U.S. Air Force Academy’s donation page. Along with a comprehensive list of opportunities to give, it quickly directs visitors to a clean form where they can input their payment information:
3. Websites can be customized exactly to your Alumni Association’s needs.
Sure, you can upload a profile photo or a cover photo on your office’s social media page, but the options for customization are limited. A website, on the other hand, is a blank slate. You have complete creative freedom to experiment with formatting and design to figure out how to best showcase your institution’s brand to alumni. Plus, your site can be a hub of information in a way that a social media timeline cannot. The subpages allow ample space to relay your association’s mission statement, details about news and events, and anything else your team deems relevant.
Cal Tech, who came in at No. 1 in our alumni website rankings of the SCIAC schools, is a prime example of a school that has taken advantage of the flexibility of websites to illustrate their brand. Everything about this site shouts Cal Tech and inspires alumni pride!
4. They can help build your office’s social media presence!
Websites drive a lot of traffic, making them perfect for promoting your social media pages to gain more followers. It’s possible to seamlessly incorporate social media into the design of any website: For example, you can include social icons on the page, embed a live social feed, or both.
We’ve seen plenty of schools take both approaches. The bottom of the Pacific Lutheran homepage provides direct links to five school-affiliated social media sites—contributing to the university’s high score in our alumni website rankings of the Northwest Conference. Meanwhile, the alumni team at Bowling Green State University has integrated their Twitter and Facebook feeds into their page, winning them the top slot in our rankings of the alumni websites of the Mid-American Conference!
Alumni websites aren’t obsolete—in fact, they’re far from it. As an essential component of your association’s web presence, they can help nurture a community of alumni that is not only loyal, but also willing and excited to give back. Think of it this way: Your website is the first impression alumni will have of your association. What impression do you want to bring? A poorly designed website can be an instant turn-off, while a vibrant page will speak volumes to how much your team values its alumni community.