Homecoming: Why Volunteers Are Your Best Friends

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Homecoming. In the midst of the parades, dances, and big-time sporting events, the spirit of the event is clear: Homecoming is the tradition of welcoming alumni back to the school.

For those of us who work in advancement, homecoming offers a great opportunity to see our prospects, build relationships, and close gifts.

In order to get people back to campus, however, you’ll need to activate your alumni volunteers. When I worked as the Boston College (BC) social media manager, BC was planning its first homecoming in a long time. My role was to help promote the college’s GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) event: a tailgate before the game entitled “1st and GOLD.” It was my job to make sure it was a big hit before, during, and after the event.

 

Here are ways social media can join forces with alumni volunteers to make homecoming a success—for everyone.

Know Your Plans

A good social media manager works off a content calendar and looks two months down the road before everyone else. This means planning a social media contest for February in November—and reaching out to a blogger in March for a story in June. Especially when it comes to homecoming, you have to know what’s coming down the pipeline so you can figure out when, how, and on which networks to share the event.

Why it’s good for alumni volunteers:

Volunteers will be excited about what’s coming along, and they’ll tell their friends. It’s like a teaser to a movie (except when they don’t give away the entire plot), and they’ll feel like they have “insider info” on the event.

Why it’s good for you:

The more people that share an event, the more likely it will sell out. Why? It’s the good old “advertising rule of 7.” If alumni see something less than 7 times, they’re less likely to act. But if they’re on social media and see all their friends sharing it, they’re more likely to click.

At BC, we also ran a homecoming trivia contest all week to get people jazzed about coming back to campus.

Use Instagram Contests

Instagram contests are an easy way to get alumni engaged around events. I worked closely with the alumni association’s account manager to create a contest around homecoming, and a simple hashtag (#bchc) was born. I promoted the hashtag to alumni through every avenue possible—in updates, in tweets, in emails, in registrations.

Why it’s good for alumni volunteers:

It’s easy. They’re already on Instagram. If you search #wearebc or #bceagles, they’re already using hashtags. You don’t even have to change their behavior; they just have to add a hashtag. All we asked volunteers to do was to remind their friends about the contest in any emails they sent out. That’s it. Simple.

Why it’s good for you:

You have user-generated content that you can do whatever you want with. To capitalize on the photos, I created a Facebook album of all the photos taken with the hashtag. Once the album was live, I emailed our alumni volunteers to let them know the album was up. I included a short “thank you” message they could use when reaching out to their lists and also included the link to the album.

What happened? People flocked to our Facebook page and our total fan count went up. People love pictures. Anytime you can take pictures at an event and tag folks (and their friends), traffic will come to you.

Plus, for those who missed homecoming, seeing the pictures may have inspired them to cancel all plans and be there next year!

Respect Their Time

As a former BC GOLD volunteer myself, I can’t begin to tell you how indispensable volunteers will be to your success. A motivated, enthusiastic volunteer is a rare breed. Appreciate that.

I would try to make “sharing” as easy as possible for our alumni. I’d write tweets, posts, and even emails they could send to their friends. If I had access to the giveaway items in advance (like koozies), I’d take a picture so they could share it with other alumni. Seeing the incentives got people to sign up.

Notice the hashtag! It’s everywhere!

Why it’s good for alumni volunteers:

People have lives. Alumni can offer three things: their time, money, or talent. In my honest opinion, I’d choose someone’s time over the other two any day of the week.

Why? It’s time away from their leisure life. It’s time away from their families. It’s time they’re donating to you. If you don’t consider volunteers an invaluable resource—and don’t treat them as you do your top donors—you’re doing it wrong.

The more you can make a volunteer’s life easier, the better. They can use the templates you’ve created and get back to the good stuff.

Why it’s good for you:

Was it more work for me? Absolutely. But it went a long way in building relationships with the volunteers and helped me to create a BC social media ambassadors program. At the end of the year, I mailed out small gifts (BC ornaments) with personal notes to about 20 alumni who assisted BC Alumni on social media.

If you can take your relationships offline, do it. You never know when Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other networks will turn the tables on you. Get out from behind the computer, thank those who help you out, and go to bat for them when they need a favor.

Strong relationships—no matter where they started—will be the key to your success. Thank your volunteers so that no matter what happens, they will always feel welcomed and will always come “home.”

A quick note: #SM4NP

I’ll be presenting at the Social Media 4 Non-Profits Conference in Boston on Monday, October 19. This is a one-day, intensive conference that will help nonprofits bridge the gap and learn cutting-edge social media strategies. Scholarships are available and you can register here.

Learn more about using social media to identify alumni volunteers and donors in EverTrue’s latest whitepaper:

 

Stephanie St. Martin is the Marketing Content Manager at The Ariel Group. Prior to this, she was the Social Media Manager for Boston College University Advancement, i.e. the person behind @BCAlumni on social media. When she’s not in the digital marketing trenches, Steph can be found writing, playing/hosting trivia, and driving around the USA in hopes of seeing all 50 state capitol buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter if you dare.

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