initiatives & other programs

Don't be afraid to test your engagement strategies

There are plenty of challenges facing alumni engagement professionals today. One of the most significant challenges I continually hear across the country is how do you rise above the noise and grab the attention of your constituents? While there are plenty of answers to that question, another trend I’ve seen is that we (as an industry) are afraid to test new ideas.

In a past life, I worked in college admissions as somewhat of a consultancy role when it came to direct marketing and national trends.

We would regularly come up with new ideas and so would admissions offices across the country. It wasn’t foreign to hear “let’s test it” on any given day.

Admissions is a bit more cut-throat because you’re competing against other universities, but as we know college alumni and advancement offices are now competing with different causes, experiences, and more. We’re at a point that we need to test new ideas to stay relevant in the hearts and minds of our alumni.

The two most significant challenges you often hear when it comes to testing are:

1. A fear of what if it doesn’t go well and it hurts your event or initiative goal?
2. Testing is hard!

Sure, trying something new is scary but when testing something new you should only do it with 10% of your population or less. Embrace A-B testing to make things simple.

A great example of this is paper mailings. You’ve probably had discussions in your office whether or not it’s worth spending your money on a traditional mailer. The only way you’re going to find out is by testing.

Let’s say you have a Homecoming coming up and you’ve mailed a brochure with paper registration for as long as you can remember. You know most people register online now, but you don’t want to eliminate the “snail mail” option. So let’s test it with populations that look like this.

Traditional Brochure: 80% of your audience
Control: Traditional Brochure
Test: Postcard Online Driver (simple postcard with online registration link)

With this test you’ve mitigated your risk of “missing out, ” and you’re still going to get the value of the test. Maybe you won’t see a registration lift at all? Perhaps you’ll see more online registrations? Either way, you now have justification for what to do next year and possibly save thousands of dollars in printing and mailing costs. You can even expand this example to have a test audience that receives no mailing.

If we’re going to stay nimble and start to engage our alumni, especially Millennials, the way they want to be involved then we have to start testing ideas like this.

Some great things to get started with when it comes to testing are:

Event Deadlines
Email Subject Lines
Email Content
Message Segmentation
Paper vs Electronic Messaging
Paper Packaging
Outreach Timing
Event Premiums

What other ideas have you tested?

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We hope you continue to join us in our efforts to help support the alumni relations space and justify the impact of engagement throughout our networks.

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