List of contents
Chapter 1. Executive Summary………………………………………………………….4
Chapter 2. The main issue………………………………………………………………..4
Chapter 3. SWOT Analysis……………………………………………………………….6
Chapter 4. 4Ps of Marketing……………………………………………………………..
Chapter 4. Young Alumni……………………………………..………………………….7
Chapter 5. Primary Research…………………………………………………………….8
Chapter 6. Discussion…………………………………………………………………….
Chapter 1. Executive Summary
This report provides an evaluation of the ways in which the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) keeps in contact with graduates after they have left Aston University and how to reconnect with those who are no longer in touch.
This is through using the main concepts of their email address, postal address and telephone number and will demonstrate how the department needs more attention and focus on other areas such as social media, networking events and peer to peer contact to gain an increased connection.
The aim of the engagement is to lay down a foundation in which DARO can maintain a relationship with alumni, in hopes of a financial return from those particular individuals, for example the CEO of Go Compare or Founder of Snaffling Pig. This should begin right at the start of a student's life cycle and yet DARO only connect with students as they graduate.
Chapter 2. The main issue
The Development and Alumni Relations organisation for Aston University are a charity which is focused upon staying in touch with graduates after they have finished their studies. This includes all graduates from all types of degrees such as Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate, Postgraduate etc. The organisation is split into two different departments. One focused on Alumni Relations and the other focused on Development.
The Alumni Relations department is there to engage with graduates through the likes of communications, events and data, where as Development is focused upon fundraising through the means of three types of investment: Individual Giving, Trusts and Funds and Major Donors. The departments work together to reach their main objective of raising money to fund projects and research for the university, alongside keeping donors pleased and connected with the alumni community.
One of the main issues that is featured across both departments is the lack of detail and quality of the data that is given to them after graduation. The data includes basic information about students such as; name, date of birth, email address, postal address and subject of study which comes from SITS. This doesn't allow DARO to build a profile around these graduates and so the issue begins. To be able to reach full potential with our target audience, DARO aims to gather information such as business details (including their position and organisation), up to date contact details and specific attributes to target communications.
As part of my role within the office, I was focused on looking at new ways in which to stay in contact with our Alumni. The first and key area that the organisation used was an online update form, in which they had to wait for alumni to come back to the site and fill out their updated details manually. Across the team we found that this wasn't useful as out of the ninety thousand alumni that had already graduated from the university, there was a very limited amount updating the form without any prompts. This led for us to ask how we could contact them ourselves.
The three primary areas that were used at first were: email address, postal address and telephone number. Email address allows us to send information and news from the university to them, so that they can find out how they can continue to benefit from the university after leaving. This could be through inviting them to join a networking event based in their country or for them to have access to the library services. Many people have multiple email addresses (for personal and business use) or change their email regularly when they have done something as mundane as forgetting their password. So, as soon as our email communication to their email address bounces back – we have lost contact.
It is highly unlikely that when a graduate moves house or even country, the first thing on their mind is to tell Aston their new postal address. I had found that there was a vast difference in postal addresses on Raisers Edge, our database, then where the alumni actually were currently living. One of our main streams of communication to alumni is through the Aston in Touch magazine, and so this is made redundant as it is returned to the sender.
As for telephone number, alumni are asked to provide both their home and mobile number but these are easily outdated. They change their mobile number for business, or just as they change network provider or contract deal. This means that we are unlikely to reach them via the phone.
After realising that this was the case, I had to look for other ways to reach alumni. This was where I decided that the best way forward would be to use ‘LinkedIn'. This is a social network platform where it is strictly used for professional use only and helps provide people find jobs, connect with new people and advertise their own business models to the world. This allowed us to effectively find people who studied at Aston University through filtering search results to their location and the school in which they studied at, applying ‘Aston University' or ‘Aston Business School'.
I found that through messaging on LinkedIn, I was able not only to take their new email and postal address but I could retain their business details as well as their LinkedIn profile was set out like an online CV, listing all the roles that they had ever worked. By messaging the graduates individually and having a conversation with them online, it gave a more personal touch and so they would more willingly give their details to us. Overall, I found that the most efficient way that alumni were likely to connect with us, was through peer-to-peer word of mouth. This is something that as an organisation we found hard to measure, and so we rely upon the basis that we can put forward before hand.
One of the main legal issues that we have with retrieving contact with ‘lost alumni' is that the General Data Protection Regulations state that we must ask for consent to retain any information that the graduate wishes to let us use to contact them. It also states that ‘It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it', implying that graduates could opt out of emails if they begin to receive emails which are not specifically targeted towards them.
As a charity, a lot of economic features affect the business as a whole, such as inflation rising leads to less disposable income for graduates, which in turn means that they're less likely to donate. To retrieve data online through LinkedIn, it does not cost the graduate anything, but if they are being invited to attend an event, they may not want to spend money on the travel to engage with us and their fellow graduates.
The organisation also has to take into account the social aspects in which we try and connect with our target audience. Different countries have different cultural trends and values, meaning that our communications such as emails need to be specifically adapted to suit their needs. This can mean that we have language barriers in the way of being able to connect with our alumni and so our events have Chapter Presidents. These are allocated voluntary roles which will help lead the events from the country in which the Chapter is set up.
The biggest political issue that is going to hit the Development and Alumni Relations Office is Brexit. The uncertainty surrounding freedom of movement and capital means that Events Chapters may not be able to proceed in the coming future. This also means that alumni who live abroad may choose to invest their money in other ways rather than donating to Aston University.
Technology is also vastly different in other parts of the world, for example, one of our prime social platforms ‘Facebook' is banned in China. This means that we are not able to connect with our Chinese alumni in the ways that we might connect with graduates living in the United Kingdom. This means we have to pay for more subscription services to be able to reach our customers in the most appropriate way possible.
Chapter 3. SWOT Analysis
Although we currently have issues with our data, without the quantity that we already have – our department wouldn't be able to have a target audience. There are ninety thousand alumni in which we have access to forty thousand of them via postal address and email address. Through the alumni and donors to the university, we are able to fund events to engage more and more of our target audience and which inevitably brings both tangible and intangible value to the university.
By raising the amount of money that we currently have, we are able to fund scholarships for current students, capital projects such as the building of the new Student Union and other projects such as new training matts for the Aston Ravens cheerleading squad. This all in essence shows students what we are doing and we can continue to promote this to future donors for them to want to give. This then allows us to incentivise the alumni that do decide to give us their details as the more they feel we give back, the more likely they are to help.
One of our main weaknesses is that the brand ‘Aston' isn't strong enough compared against Russell Group universities. As an organisation we rely upon peer to peer conversation as alumni are more likely to donate if their friend has already. As a university we are known more internationally as we have many international students but within the UK and Birmingham we are surrounded by universities which are branded more significantly and so if our alumni are also alumni of a different university as well for example they studied their Bachelors at Aston but their Masters at University of Birmingham, they may feel more inclined to give to them rather than Aston.
As a team within the Alumni office, we are of an average size which only includes five different people sat within Alumni Relations. This means that we have only one person primarily handling the data that comes into our database, Raisers Edge. This means that without being on placement, there's nobody there who actively seeks to retain data from alumni, which is a considerable issue considering the Development team use the data that we have to build a profile around a particular alumnus or alumna.
Raisers Edge is being replaced by a database called NXT which will give the organisation new prospects as it will not be as time consuming creating reports and will be more user friendly, this giving the team an advantage as they can work collectively to retain higher quality data at a faster pace, this saving both money and effort.
Currently in the media, many charities are being given a lot of bad press due to misuse of their data handling. This gives a bad press to charities in general and could be seen as a threat to our own organisation. This is closely followed by union strikes over rows of pension funds, alumni may see the university as not providing their staff with the benefits which they rightfully deserve, and could be discouraged from wanting to engage with the university.
Also, the Telephone Preference Service allows for alumni to opt out of being contacted by the university via using their telephone number. This stops us from being able to use that source of communication to engage with the alumni and also has a negative affect when they hold the telephone fundraising campaign whilst relying on the limited data that sits within Raisers Edge.
4Ps of Marketing
The events service which is hosted by DARO is free and beneficial to the customer. The cost of entry is almost always free and is open to all alumni and their partners. This shows that the office is concerned about maintaining the relationship with the graduates as well as gathering their data. The events are always open for the alumni which live within the same country. This shows that not only does the service provide alumni with a benefit service to incentivise them keeping in contact, it also saves them money by providing them with others which they could network with and create a solid bond.
Chapter 4. Young Alumni
The main aim that both sides of the department strive for is to raise as much money as possible to fund different areas within the university, so that students can have a more fulfilled time whilst at Aston. Most of our pledges come from alumni that graduated from ten years or higher out. Whilst trying to retrieve more contact details, I have to recognise that there is a positive correlation between the engagement of alumni and the amount of money raised between cohorts.
To try and raise awareness of the alumni office for young alumni, who are classed as the cohorts of students from 0-5 years after graduating, we decided to go look into how we could benefit students, and begin their alumni timeline from their very first fresher's event.
To do this, I decided to go to an event which explored the different ways in which other universities are currently tackling this problem and it gave an incentive to benchmark against a different university's alumni office. University of Birmingham held a student engagement event at their campus, and invited members from thirty different universities across the country to come and join. I found that the majority of these universities were also having the same issue and that they were looking at ways in which we were yet to explore.
The issue with benchmarking against a different university is that having graduates as your primary focus means that your market isn't competitive. This also suggests that there isn't a standard in which all universities apply to, as they all have different means of advertising their own service to their graduates.
DARO had not got a strategy for targeting young alumni, and so this event was the making of particular ideas to work towards. University of Birmingham suggested using Instagram as our main focus to engaging with students and offering them incentives in return for ‘likes' on their Facebook page around graduation. They also sent gifts to their halls of residence for students so that from the very first week they joined the university they were aware of their DARO. University of Manchester had created a Student Alumni Society within their university, which bought more students attention to engaging with Alumni and receiving benefits such as mentoring and being given an increased opportunity to be chosen for ambassador schemes. University of York found that their students were particularly activist and so ran events to use their fundraising as a political tool so that students could come and voice their opinions and help to raise capital themselves.
University of Bradford found that Graduate Outcomes were critical for student satisfaction and that the degree itself didn't represent value. The engagement with the university meant that they valued their time their over the degree and with both satisfaction and value, it gave students loyalty to their university.
DARO's strategy must comply with the universities. This meaning that their objectives must match those of the three beneficiaries: students, businesses and the surrounding area. As a department, we had not before recognised the students as one of our main targets, even though they are prematurely our main audience. After taking into account what had been said at the Student Engagement event, we decided the next best step would be to hear from our student audience, so that we could begin engaging with them from the beginning of their student life cycle, rather than waiting until the end. This led to a focus group being set up.
Chapter 5. Primary Research
I conducted an informal focus group alongside a short questionnaire, aiming to reach eight students from all years of university, with the purpose to find out more information about what students would like from the university after they graduate. This consisted of a voluntary sample, with the only incentive of being given pizza on their lunch break. It lasted for one hour, in the middle of their university working day.
This was promoted through the means of the My Aston App, in the library on the morning of the focus group, invites were sent to particularly engaged students that were suggested from Marketing and through social media. On the day, only two female students came to the focus group, one studying in their second year and the other in their fourth. They were first given the questionnaire of four short questions:
1. Do you know what the word ‘alumni' means?
2. Do you use Social Media? If yes, please state the three platforms you use most.
3. Do you have a LinkedIn profile?
4. How many times a week do you check your email?
This questionnaire was then followed by an explanation of the Development and Alumni Office and students were kept anonymous. The focus group consisted of seven questions:
1. Have you ever heard of the Development and Alumni Office?
2. Have you ever met an alumnus/alumnae?
3. How do you think the alumni office could help provide support for you as a student?
4. What would be the best means to connect with you after you leave Aston?
5. Which organisation channels do you follow on social media?
6. How would you feel about a Student Alumni Society?
7. What benefits would you like Aston to provide you with as you become an Alumni?
The focus group provided valuable feedback, giving us insight onto aspects we hadn't considered ourselves.
• Both participants had heard of the office, though participant two didn't understand the purpose of DARO.
• Both responded that they had not met an alumnus/alumnae until prompted, in which they changed their answers to mention a lecturer and a guest speaker. Participant one had heard of the word ‘alumni' through an uprising leadership programme that she took part in, where they had to sign up to the Facebook group to receive their certificate. She had also been mentored by an alumnus.
• Neither were sure of how we could benefit them as a student though they would like to be kept up to date with what alumni are doing now that they have graduated e.g hearing about their research, careers, any radio interviews.
• They both agreed that social media, especially ‘Twitter' was the best source of contact for them.
• Responses included: ‘The Guardian', ‘Student Problems', ‘James Felton'. They followed the ‘Aston Business School' pages, but not ‘Aston University'. They were both fond of the use of GIFs through interaction on social media.
• They both agreed that a Student Society would not be of interest to them. Participant two said there would be an ‘age gap, course gap and not enough to connect with'.
• Both participants agreed they would love benefits such as discounts from stores and cinema tickets. They also agreed they liked the idea of networking events and meeting alumni from all across the globe. Participant one did not like the branding of our current events, the term ‘chapter' was a ‘bland name' and should be more vibrant.
• When asked if they knew about the fundraising aspect of the department, participant one said it was ‘general knowledge' where as participant two wasn't aware.
The focus group was not generalizable to the whole university cohort of students. Both participants were female, which is not representative of males. The sample was voluntary and the focus group was informal which means that there was a lack of bias. There were only two participants out of thousands of students who study at the university, so it can not be depictive of all students opinions.
The questions were structured and qualitative, which means that though the same process could be replicated, it is unlikely that the same results would be found from a different set of students.
After promoting the focus group for weeks before hand and only having two sign up to join, it gave insight into how incentivised another session like this would need to be. It also brought attention to the lack of knowledge that students have about the Development and Alumni Relations Office. This gave us application to how the organisation would have to work towards trying to engage students before graduating and how the branding within the Alumni office needed to be more prominent. This was from as basic as the participants not initially thinking of their mentor or lecturer as alumni, rather as seeing them as their prime purpose first hand.
The focus group took place in their place of study and so gave the study high ecological validity as they were not outside of their comfort zone and did not have to make a higher amount of effort to come to the focus group.
The focus group stuck to all ethical guidelines. By giving participants anonymity they were able to answer honestly and openly. They both gave explicit informed consent by signing up to the focus group and were made aware of the purpose of the study before entering, which meant that there was no deception involved.
In conclusion, the primary research gathered highlighted the importance of connecting with students at the start of their university life cycle, as they need to be made aware of our services early on for them to want to connect with us after graduating. This research also benefited my role as it helped develop the tone of voice that is needed from our department which implored that formality isn't always essential after receiving consent from both graduates and students.
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