By DonorSearch

If there’s one golden rule of university fundraising, it’s that the key to effectively engaging alumni supporters is making meaningful connections with them year after year. No matter how long it’s been since graduation, your school always wants to remain a part of your alumni’s lives (and be first on their list when making a charitable gift). What’s one way to forge a long-lasting relationship with members of your alumni community? Prospect research is the practice of collecting and analyzing alumni data to better know your community of prospective donors. With the right prospect research in place, your school can leverage this data into more effective engagement techniques and help boost your school’s fundraising success. If your school can learn more about trends in your alumni community, there’s nothing stopping your team from translating that information into a more effective alumni engagement strategy! Discover some of our favorite prospect research best practices that your school should start using:
  1. Maintain meaningful prospect profiles for your alumni.
  2. Clean your alumni prospect profiles regularly.
  3. Leverage your alumni engagement survey to improve prospect research.
  4. Use alumni prospect research to plan more impactful fundraising events.
Are you ready to revamp how your college connects with key alumni prospects? Let’s dive into these data-driven engagement strategies to get started! Engage your alumni by maintaining meaningful prospect profiles.

1. Maintain meaningful prospect profiles for your alumni.

When an organization conducts prospect research, they gather all kinds of data in order to better understand their constituency. Whether you’re leveraging it to the fullest or not, it’s likely that your school already keeps alumni data in a CRM. However, even if your school has alumni data on hand, you might not be collecting the right kind of data you’ll need to create meaningful prospect profiles. There are three core kinds of prospect data your university should collect for each of your alumni:
  • Biographical data. This includes their full name, birth date, address, email address, phone number, social media handles, graduation year, major/minor, and more. Without knowing who your alumni are, your school won’t be able to engage them effectively!
  • Philanthropic indicators. These include their history of giving back to your school as well as their involvement with other nonprofit organizations. With this information, your school will better understand what inspires alumni to give.
  • Wealth markers. This refers to data that gives your school an idea of your alumni’s  giving capacity. Keep data on the companies your alumni work for, their real estate holdings, their SEC transactions, and their history of political giving.
With the right prospect research software, collecting and analyzing this data can be a breeze. Even better? Once your school has a sense of the makeup of your alumni constituency, you can make more targeted engagement efforts. For example, if your university knows an alumni prospect graduated 30 years ago, owns a home worth $2,000,000, and regularly makes donations to a healthcare philanthropy, you’ll know that they’d make an excellent candidate to invite to your School of Medicine’s upcoming fundraising gala. Alternatively, if you can see that a recent graduate makes under $40,000 a year and frequently volunteers for an organization that supports at-risk youth, they might make a good candidate for a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign that benefits your early college program. Bonus! With data-driven university fundraising software, you can seamlessly collect and manage important prospect research data concerning your alumni community. Be sure to choose the right college fundraising software solutions for your school. Clean your alumni prospect profiles regularly to foster better engagement.

2. Clean your alumni prospect profiles regularly.

Collecting alumni data is just half the battle, though. To gain a better understanding of your alumni community, you’ll need to keep your prospect research database clean and up-to-date. This means that your prospect profiles only contain accurate, relevant data that can help your university tailor engagement to your individual constituents. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle to keep a clean prospect research database, and this is especially true for universities. One of the biggest reasons for this is that quite often, individual departments, campus organizations, and other groups at your school maintain separate databases on alumni. These sometimes overlap or feature conflicting data, making it more difficult to develop a cohesive alumni engagement strategy for your university on the whole. If your school wants to maintain a more accurate alumni prospect research database, keep some of these best practices in mind:
  • Invest in prospect research software. Prospect research software handles the heavy lifting of gathering alumni prospect data for your school. Since there’s less room for human error, your university can trust that the data is accurate.
  • Validate biographical information. Quite often, slight errors such as a misprinted name or birthdate can leave your school with an incomplete or inaccurate alumni prospect profile. Be sure to verify basic biographical information against official school records!
  • Delete duplicate profiles. Your college might erroneously collect duplicate profiles on the same prospect. Since this can skew data analysis, give extra care to consolidating duplicate profiles and removing unnecessary profiles from your dataset.
Keep your alumni engagement data clean to ensure better prospect research data. One of the best ways to ensure that your alumni prospect research is accurate? Use your school’s alumni engagement survey as an opportunity to collect up-to-date information on your former student body. Bonus! Find out how your nonprofit can boost your fundraising strategy even further with our list of the top higher education fundraising software solutions your nonprofit should invest in.  Use your alumni engagement survey as an opportunity to collect valuable prospect research data.

3. Leverage your alumni engagement survey to improve prospect research.

Whether it’s on an annual, semi-annual, or quarterly basis, it’s quite likely your university regularly sends out an alumni engagement survey to capture key alumni data. Your alumni engagement survey is an excellent vehicle for collecting key prospect research data on your alumni constituents, but not every school knows the right questions to ask. Since these surveys are voluntary, you can ask alumni targeted questions to gain meaningful data to improve your engagement tactics. Even if only a small portion of alumni respond, that will give your school a solid sample population to analyze. Be sure to share your alumni engagement survey across all channels, including:
  • Via email.
  • Over social media.
  • Through direct mail.
  • And more!
Alumni engagement surveys offer a meaningful opportunity to learn deeper information about the preferences and trends among your constituents. What inspires these individuals to give back to your school and what can you do better to meet them where they are? In your university’s alumni engagement survey, be sure to ask questions like:
  • What is your preferred giving channel?
  • Which campus organizations would you consider donating to?
  • Would you consider becoming a peer-to-peer fundraiser or participate in a university crowdfunding campaign?
  • Are you interested in alumni engagement events like professional development conferences?
The alumni who opt into responding to surveys like these are likely among the most motivated members of your school’s community. As such, the data they can provide is incredibly valuable and will help your team learn more effective ways to connect with these individuals. Use alumni prospect research to tailor engagement events to your community.

4. Use alumni prospect research to plan more impactful fundraising events.

Alumni engagement events are some of your school’s best opportunities to reach out to former students and secure gifts. However, even though these events are so integral to your school’s fundraising plan, you might not be planning them effectively. With the right prospect research data on hand, your team can tailor events to your alumni constituency and offer engagement opportunities that are designed with all of your alumni in mind. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-most mindset to engagement events, your university should plan events that address different constituencies within your community. For example, your school might segment events by:
  • Graduating classes.
  • Former residence halls.
  • Majors, minors, or colleges within your university.
  • Gender of students.
  • Career track.
  • And more!
Rather than inviting all alumni to every event, only invite those who you think would be most interested in the event at hand. This way, your alumni feel like when you reach out to them, you’re reaching out to them directly. Additionally, after your events you can send attendees a follow up survey. Like your general alumni engagement survey, this form will ask key questions including:
  • Did you make a donation at this event? If so, did you plan to give prior to the event or did you decide while attending the event?
  • Did you hold off from making a gift? If so, were there any factors that dissuaded or prevented you from making a gift?
  • Was the event relevant to your life? Do you consider it a positive, negative, or neutral experience?
  • Would you consider attending additional alumni events? What kinds of events would you be interested in?
While not all of your attendees will respond, as with your general engagement survey this data will prove valuable to shaping your alumni engagement strategy on the whole. Once your school amasses more strategic events feedback data, you can combine what you’ve learned about the kind of events alumni respond to with your prospect research data on your alumni. The more well rounded your knowledge base, the more tailored your events will be to your alumni community. Bonus! Want to learn another tried-and-true university events strategy? Tie your alumni engagement events in with a university crowdfunding campaign. These exciting online fundraisers go hand-in-hand with alumni engagement events and are a perfect way to leverage alumni excitement into fundraising success.
Ready to revamp your school’s alumni engagement strategy? With our prospect research best practices in place, your university is sure to make lasting connections with alumni for years to come!

Additional Alumni Engagement Resources

  • Prospect Research: The Ultimate Guide. Can’t wait to learn more strategies your school can use to hone your alumni engagement strategy? Check out our ultimate prospect research guide to answer any of your lingering questions on this exciting subject.
  • Westfall Gold’s Major Donor Fundraising. For your high-capacity alumni, consider a weekend retreat which can significantly accelerate the major donor cultivation process. Westfall Gold – the leader in major donor events – utilizes prospect research in their model to achieve amazing results!
  • Double the Donation’s Top Crowdfunding Platforms for Colleges. With the right crowdfunding platform, your school can boost your fundraising success while also making lasting connections with alumni. Visit Double the Donation to find the right crowdfunding service for your university.
How to Engage Alumni Effectively | 4 Key Best Practices