Finding new ways to engage your alumni base is a persistent challenge. From regional events, to on-campus reunions, to social media content, there are plenty of tactics to consider. At the end of the day, however, the goal is to get alumni to engage under the university’s banner.
Here at Longwood University, our alumni relations team has been thinking a bit differently about the role of volunteerism in our engagement strategy. We wanted to jump start a program that was less about traditional volunteer roles and more about an easy, fun, and rewarding way to volunteer while elevating the name and mission of our university.
After plenty of discussion, we kept coming back to the concept of micro-volunteering. This would allow our alumni to get involved with their alma mater in bite-size chunks, adding up to one hour of “work” per month.
Our 1 Hour a Month Volunteer Program
When you think about volunteering, you probably picture someone manning a registration table at an event. While there’s still a place for those types of volunteer activities, at Longwood we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to volunteer no matter where they are in the world. Fortunately, technology allows us to do that.
We designed our 1 Hour a Month volunteer program as a series of 15-30 minute “bundles” with small online tasks. Alumni can complete any combination of bundles in a given month. A few examples:
- Our “Connector” bundle focuses on professional development by encouraging alumni to connect with and endorse fellow Lancers on LinkedIn.
- The “Proud Parent” bundle allows alumni to send in pictures of their children or pets in Longwood gear.
- The “Traveler” bundle asks alumni to blog about recent travel experiences and submit it for potential posting on our alumni website.
Not only did we make the bundles quick and easy to complete, but we also made sure to offer options for everyone from business professionals to grandparents. Together, the bundles are meant to help us grow the Longwood network, build our social media presence, and promote events—and even provide us with crowdsourced material for our content marketing initiatives.
How We Launched the Program
To initiate the program, we created a pilot group of nearly 50 alumni who we knew were already extremely engaged with the university. We reached out to them personally to introduce the program, asking them to chat with us for 10 or 15 minutes over the phone about the initiative. They immediately became a powerful group of advocates for us.
Using the same tactics of personalization, we also enlisted the help of a group of roughly 450 alumni who had said they were willing to help the university when they signed up for our online community. This helped us build a strong base from which to launch the program.
Once we had alerted these target groups, we introduced the program to our full alumni base via email, social media, and the other channels we regularly use. To keep it personal, we encouraged our alumni not only to sign up, but also to schedule a brief phone call with us to learn more.
The initial launch has been tremendously successful, with almost 200 alumni participants in just the first few weeks of the program.
As alumni relations professionals, we’re constantly looking for ways to prove our return on investment to the university. This can be challenging; alumni engagement isn’t a one-to-one transaction, and oftentimes it’s hard to decipher why a particular constituent is giving.
Some offices have turned to a new term—”return on engagement”—but even that is a bit ambiguous in nature. What’s unique about our 1 Hour a Month program is that, for the first time, we can report time as a metric at the end of the next fiscal year.
Each month, we ask our alumni volunteers to log their activities over the past month using a simple form. That way we can measure the success of the program and report on the number of hours of engagement we’ve produced per year.
After a great launch, we expect that this program will become a staple of our alumni relations efforts at Longwood. It folds nicely into many of our primary objectives and our strategy for getting there.
Now comes the challenge of not only building our population of volunteers, but also of cultivating them and keeping them engaged. Certainly, this will involve rewarding our volunteers with Longwood-themed prizes (tumblers, T-shirts, etc.)—but it will also mean creating great content to distribute via our website, email newsletter, and other marketing channels.
Each month is a new opportunity with this group of high-affinity alumni, and we’ll be working hard to capitalize on that energy and momentum on a daily basis.
Building out your volunteer program, too? Click here to learn how EverTrue can help you identify engaged alumni for volunteer opportunities.
Parks Smith is the director of alumni relations and a 2008 graduate of Longwood University. You can follow Parks on LinkedIn or on his Twitter @RVAparks.