When most people think about alumni programs, they may at first think mostly about colleges, universities or other types of schools. This makes sense because alumni networks have long provided not only ongoing bonds but also long-term benefits to both the educational institutions and their former students.
The Benefits of Alumni Programs
Alumni Programs for Educational Institutions
As graduates, alumni typically have a special connection with their former schools and as a result are likely to be some of its more loyal supporters. A focused alumni program can enhance these bonds by providing an ongoing connection to the institutions.
Conversely, schools gain the ability to tap into this critical network for funding, donations and other types of ongoing support and enables the institutions to benefit from the skills and experience of the graduates. Because of the dedication and gratitude many alumni have for their alma maters, they are also often generous with contributions.
Alumni Programs for Other Types of Institutions
Educational institutions are not the only types of organizations that can benefit from an engaged, supportive alumni network. Many other organizations can derive great value from tapping into their alumni connections such as:
- Law firms
- Accounting firms
- Consulting firms
- Architectural and engineering firms
- Financial institutions
- Other types of Professional Services
- Corporations and other companies
- Non-profit and charitable organizations
The Importance of Alumni Programs
The Importance of Alumni Communications & Connections
Keeping alumni properly informed and engaged is one of the best ways to help turn alumni into an organization’s most loyal supporters and brand ambassadors, who will often, in turn, provide invaluable word-of-mouth marketing and promotion across their personal and professional networks.
But to turn them into lifelong advocates, you must keep them connected to your organization by reaching out to them regularly and providing them with opportunities to engage with the organization and one another. It can also be beneficial to help make an impact on their professional development and the community at large.
The Importance of Good Alumni Data
The key to lasting connections is good information. Without good alumni data, and dedicated resources to maintain this data, you won’t be able to reach your alumni and can miss out on valuable opportunities to develop relationships and grow a stronger support network. As a result, it’s important to continually capture and update contact information for alumni.
Alumni Data Cleaning Options
There are a number of ways to tackle an alumni data project utilizing varying resources and methods. As a result, it’s important to consider and evaluate multiple methodologies to figure out which one best meets your needs and budget. Some options include:
Automated Data Cleaning
One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to improve your alumni data is to reach out to an experienced data quality team that has tools to automatically clean, correct, update and deduplicate your records and enhance the data with missing or additional information that can be valuable for segmentation and targeting. Automated data cleaning is well-suited for cleaning data quickly and inexpensively. However, this methodology will usually only be able to clean a limited set of records, and the results will not be 100 percent accurate, due to the frequent changes in contact data and regular need for ongoing frequent data updates.
Manual Data Cleaning
Manual cleanup involves having dedicated data quality professionals or ‘data stewards’ go through your alumni contacts and lists to research, validate, deduplicate, clean and enhance the information. If this work is assigned to in-house staff, the process can be expensive and time-consuming, requiring a great deal of training and supervision. Additionally, because the work is often mundane, it frequently results in a ‘revolving door’ of staff turnover. Many organizations have learned this the hard way and, as a result, prefer to outsource these tasks to experienced data specialists who are trained in data quality and can also help you to establish processes and procedures to improve ongoing data quality in the future.
Combination/ Hybrid Method
Often the best way to clean alumni data in the with the least time and expense can be to combine automated and manual processes. In this hybrid data cleaning model, an automated data cleaning process is implemented first to quickly and cost-effectively clean and enhance as much data as possible. Then manual data cleansing can be performed on a reduced set of remaining records at a significantly lower cost.
Alumni Data Management Challenges
Some organizations have thousands of alumni to keep up with, and their data is constantly changing as alums move and relocate, change jobs or roles or make other changes. In fact, respected researchers have suggested that more than 30% of contact data changes each year. That number may actually now be as high as 50% in the current economic climate with people rapidly changing jobs and locations and working from home.
Alumni Data Management Best Practices
Because alumni data management can be a daunting task, it’s important to have a strategy and plan for keeping up with your alumni data. Here are some steps and best practices in managing alumni data:
1. Assess the Mess
Start by evaluating the sources of alumni data and the extent of your data issues. Failure to do so can result in a project that will take longer and cost more than expected. To do the analysis, its’ helpful to start by answering some key questions including:
- Where is all the data located?
- How much of the data is bad?
- How much of the data in different sources is duplicative?
- Who is in charge of the data?
- How much is this bad data costing us?
2. Formulate a Strategy
Once you know the extent of the problems, you need to determine the best way to approach your data cleaning project to ensure your goals are accomplished. Some approaches include:
- Tackle relevant and time-sensitive projects first
- Start with the most important data sets
- Review the most relevant and timely lists
- Break a large project into more manageable parts
- Measure and report on success regularly
3. Formulate a Plan
Maintaining clean alumni data also requires a plan. it’s important to figure out the most efficient and cost-effective way to achieve your desired results while also taking into account your budget. Here are a few questions you can ask to help formulate a plan:
- What is the best way to clean up the data? Should we use manual or automated data quality processes, or a combination of both?
- Who will perform the cleanup? Should we use in-house resources or outsource to a company that specializes in alumni data cleanup and can do the project more quickly and cost-effectively?
- How long will the cleanup take? Will we need to supplement our resources to make a deadline?
- How much will the cleanup cost? Do we have the budget currently or do we need to to do the project over a longer period.
4. Start With Style
To enhance your alumni network clean-up and prevent future data issues, it is essential to establish and document your organization’s data standards in a Data Quality Standards Manual that outlines your specific data styles and processes for consistent alumni data entry, formatting and maintenance. Your style manual should contain standards for consistent and standardized data entry for information such as:
- Formal names, nicknames, prefixes, suffixes, and pronouns
- Jobs and title
- Multiple physical and website addresses
- Multiple company, personal and mobile phone numbers
- Dealing with retired or deceased alumni contacts
- Handling people who work with multiple companies or boards
5. Focus on the Future
Once you’ve cleaned your existing alumni data, it’s important to maintain it moving forward so that you don’t get into a bad data situation again. Here are some things to consider:
- Data cleaning projects are never ‘over.’ Information on people is constantly changing, which means that ongoing data maintenance and resources will be required to ensure that your data doesn’t degrade over time.
- Regularly review new data as it comes in to ensure it’s clean, correct and complete
- Make sure that people who enter or work with data are well trained on the importance of data quality to the goals of the organization.
6. Don't Do It Alone
Most importantly, if you need help, reach out. The CLIENTSFirst team of almost 100 data quality consultants and professionals can help. We have deep knowledge of data quality systems and processes and can share best practices for success. We have more than a decade of experience helping our clients achieve success with their alumni networks. Our clients include hundreds of organizations including:
- Law, accounting, consulting and other Professional Services firms
- Companies and corporations
- Charitable and not-for-profit organizations
- Colleges, universities and other educational institutions
Our proprietary TrueDQ Solution allows you to achieve the level of data quality to meet your needs – and budget.
Reach out today to see how CLIENTSFirst can help you maintain, grow and leverage your alumni network. Some of our strategic services include:
- Alumni List/Data Assessment – An Assessment is performed on your alumni data to determine the full scope of the data quality project along with top priorities and projected costs.
- Alumni Data Cleaning – The CLIENTSFirst team can assist with any size or type of data quality project. Our data quality consultants can perform an initial automated data cleanup and our team of experienced data quality professionals can then assist you with any additional manual cleanup on a reduced number of records to meet your needs and budget.
- Alumni List Checkup – Our automated processes can also be used to validate alumni contacts on lists before communications or invites are sent, assuring they can reach the targeted audiences. Emails that may have bounced can then be removed or researched and updated to ensure delivery.
Having worked together with literally hundreds of organizations on data quality projects, here are some helpful answers to the questions we hear most frequently:
Why are alumni programs important?
Schools, businesses, non-profits and other types of organizations need alumni relations programs to help with critical initiatives such as recruiting, fundraising/donations, sales/business development, referrals and general positive branding.
Should I invest in an alumni program?
- Donations: Alumni can be an excellent source of contributions for some organizations
- Recruiting: Alumni are an excellent source for identifying, referring and engaging potential recruits
- Speaking: Alumni can speak at events or webinars promoting an organization and all the good it does
- Brand building: Alumni can be brand ambassadors to promote the organization and its goals
Why is data quality essential to a successful alumni relations program?
Clean, correct and complete alumni data is one of the most critical requirements for connections with and outreach to your alumni network. You can have the greatest events and the most valuable content and benefits for alumni, but without good contact information, you won’t be able to reach them to maximize the full potential of your alumni program.
What's the best way to clean alumni data?
In the past, up to 30% of data degraded each year. In today’s economic conditions with people rapidly relocating and changing roles and careers, it’s probably more like 50%. This means your alumni data is likely dated and degraded. Here are some ways to ensure that your alumni data is as clean, correct and complete as possible.
- The first step is to identify locations of key data and identify relevant information to be evaluated.
- The next step is to “assess the mess” to determine the scope and cost of your alumni data quality project so you can properly budget and gauge the time frame.
- Next, dedicate budget and resources to properly cleanse existing data. Begin with automated data cleansing to easily and cost-effectively clean as much data as possible.
- Then hire data stewards to clean the smaller set of data more quickly and at a reduced cost.
- Finally, create a data quality strategy to establish project goals and data management processes to ensure that future data will be entered consistently, properly updated and regularly maintained.
- If your organization doesn’t have the resources and host in-house staff to perform these processes, you can easily and cost-effectively outsource these positions to experienced professionals.
What is the best to connect with alumni?
A fundamental part of being able to communicate with your alumni network is to invest in an alumni program. Once established, you can use multiple channels such as newsletters, social media or your website to communicate with your alums and share important information and news about the organization, events, speaking engagements or opportunities to connect with the organization or each other.
You can also provide a automated mechanism for them to update their contact details because to communicate effectively, you have to have up-to-date information on your alumni.
What can you do to create a strong alumni network and program?
To create a successful alumni program start with the goal of continually providing them with value and/or supporting their professional development. Here are some suggestions:
- Think of different ways to provide value to different groups and individuals
- Create an alumni list and distribute newsletters or other publications to promote new programs they can get involved in
- Offer them access to information about job/career opportunities
- Provide opportunities for continuing education
- Provide opportunities to reconnect with each other through in-person and virtual events
- Offer opportunities to speak at your business, school or other organization or at sponsored programs
- Send them swag or logo branded “tchotchkes”
- Let them write article or blog posts for the organization
- Promote scholarships or philanthropic programs for donations
- Provide a quick and easy way for them to update their information so you don’t lose touch
One Final Important Note: Don't Do It Alone!
- Reach out to the CLIENTSFirst team for help. We have years of experience assisting top organizations with alumni data and program management.
- Check out our helpful resources on alumni data management best practices and different ways you can provide your alumni with more value and opportunities to stay connected.
- We can also help to analyze and clean your alumni data and lists.