event engagement

Using Analytics to Drive Event Programming

As alumni relations professionals, we repeatedly view attendee or RSVP lists for many different reasons. Because of the repetitive nature of this task, our top event attendees become seared into our brains in a way that only alumni relations professionals can understand. We also develop relationships with our repeat constituents as we welcome guests at our registration tables, mingle about rooms, and interact through virtual events.

A former colleague of mine recently reminisced about the joy we found when a new name would pop up on one of those lists, or an unfamiliar face would walk up to our registration table. This was always a great rush. As our department grew and our strategy began to focus on more robust programming, these occurrences happened more frequently, but continued to bring great joy. Leveraging event data to provide fresh content and innovative programming can generate unique engagements while providing new methods of stewarding previously developed relationships. All it took was looking at data we had been storing right under our noses in a different way.

Repeat events are wonderful for institutions and departments for so many reasons and can provide consistent touch points for alumni to engage with an institution. But, changing the programming, theme, or format of a repeat event can create a new interest from other demographics. Think about events with a “state of the institution” style program. During these types of events the audience would typically hear updates and plans for the future from a higher ranking official of the institute. Although integral in our Alumni Relations arsenal, repeating this type of event can provide repeat results.

In a previous role, researching archived data from this type of event revealed a pattern. The emerging pattern was one of the same demographic and giving level consistently attending the “State of the College Address”. An even deeper dive showed that current leaders of volunteer groups and boards attended, but did not continue participation once their terms ended. A verbal survey of a cross section of these leaders revealed that their attendance was a call of duty rather than an engagement and that they would attend if the subject matter were more relevant to their industry.

In the above situation, our strategy was to truncate the address portion of the programming focusing on three quick highlights and to add an interactive question and answer session. The question and answer session featured successful alumni from popular industries or faculty members with interesting research topics, but was facilitated by our dean. Our team was able to keep the signature event while opening our audience to new demographics that resulted in a 7% increase in new attendees. We were also playing with the idea of distributing the address to an even wider audience through a video campaign and adding a panel discussion to this signature event.

As a take away, remember to truly understand why you are holding an event and then use analytics to guide your programming. Adopting a food truck concept (if the client doesn’t have it, bring it to them) in your event planning and using archived information will help you reach the maximum amount of constituents.