It is more important than ever for alumni to be involved with their alma maters. Colleges across the country are rushing to engage with their alumni—stepping up alumni outreach efforts to earn more donations and to showcase their former students’ success to encourage new applicants to don their colors. Of course, simply emailing alumni isn’t enough to keep your college front-of-mind for former students. To understand what’s important to them, universities need to conduct alumni surveys.
The Importance of Alumni Surveys
Alumni outreach programs have long been a staple of collegiate fundraising—helping get alumni active in the college’s affairs and raising awareness of the positive impact the college has on students and the community. While outreach programs that aid in job placement can be incredibly beneficial for students, giving alums the chance to participate in the direction the school takes in the future can help bring ongoing awareness and support to a whole new level.
That’s not all. As former students, alums often have a fresh perspective that long-sitting alumni board members might lack. This can be crucial for gaining insights into how college programs might be improved to attract new students (and thus generate revenue).
7 Best Practices for Your Alumni Surveys
A good alumni survey keeps you informed on alumni whereabouts, their job, and their financial situation, which often relates to how likely they are to donate to the school or attend alumni events. Based on this information, communications can be tailored to their interests. Alumni surveys can also provide unique insights into things that may not have been considered otherwise. Of course, to attain this information, the survey must be created with a few things in mind.
1. Personalize the Survey
Today, this is almost a no-brainer. Since you’re emailing “one of your own,” there’s no excuse to avoid using the alumni’s name in the header of the email or letter. Alumni want to know they’re valued, and showing them you know who you’re talking to is the easiest way to convey this.
2. Avoid Questions You Already Know (or Should Know) the Answer To
This goes hand-in-hand with personalizing your alumni survey. If you truly know who you’re addressing (and you should), there’s no reason to ask them what year they graduated, whether they received financial aid, if they were in a fraternity or sorority, or whether they’ve donated money before. These types of questions should be avoided, or they can be pre-populated so that the respondent knows that you know the answer (and can change them if, for some reason, they are incorrect).
3. Define the Objective(s)
Your alumni are likely busy people; they want to know why you’re asking for their time. So, be sure the alumni survey email or letter clearly addresses the purpose of the survey and explains what the results will be used for. Then, eliminate any questions that don’t meet this objective, otherwise, respondents can become frustrated and may opt-out.
4. Use Labels, Not Scales
Scales are a great way to gain quantitative results, but for busy alumni, labels are much easier and more likely to get a response. It’s much easier for a time-crunched individual to select “Excellent” or “Poor” than it is for them to spend time choosing an appropriate number from 1-10.
5. Conclude with Open-Ended Questions
You likely have some questions that are open-ended, which takes a respondent more time to consider and complete. You don’t need to eliminate these questions from the alumni survey entirely, but reserve them for the end; if you start out with them, it gives the respondent the impression that the entire survey will be this way, and many may not want to invest that kind of time.
6. Keep Lists Short
If you give respondents too many options, they’re likely to become frustrated and opt-out; worse, they may simply pick the first or last item on the list to get through the survey faster, skewing your results. So, stick to short lists that still provide you with relevant information; if needed, break questions into two to get the answers you seek.
7. Don’t “Beat Around the Bush”
An alumni survey form should get to the point quickly. For example, universities often want to know if their alumni will be recommending their alma mater to their children. So, they’ll ask how often the alumni talk about their school around the home; how often they wear a university sweatshirt; whether they display their degree on the wall. Instead, simply ask if they would like their child to one day follow in their collegiate footsteps.
Using Alumni Surveys for Selecting Board Members
Another way that universities can use online surveys is for selecting board members and the appointment of trustees. Voting online allows people to vote at their leisure so that they can take the time they need to research candidates and come to the best possible decision. However, it’s important to use the right online voting tool to maintain impartiality, fairness, and integrity.
Simply emailing a short list of notable alumni and asking each one to pick a candidate may not produce clear results. It also leaves open a possibility of vote results being skewed unintentionally because of miscounts or missed emails.
Using an online survey tool to collect virtual ballots helps to improve the voting process—making it more accurate and reliable. For example, using a virtual ballot, you could track the total number of ballots sent, responses received, and the total votes for each candidate with ease. Online surveys, like those created by SurveyLegend, also provide security and anonymity.
Are you following best practices when conducting alumni surveys? By adhering to these seven tips, you can improve alumni outreach programs which can have a positive domino effect; engaged alumni inspire future students, which in turn helps generate university revenue and positive word-of-mouth.
To conduct your alumni surveys, SurveyLegend offers a convenient and easy-to-use tool to create an alumni survey form. Sign up for a free trial of SurveyLegend today or contact our team for more information.
Does your current alumni outreach program include alumni surveys? If so, did we miss any alumni engagement best practices? Let us know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Alumni outreach programs get alumni active in a college’s affairs and raise awareness of the positive impact the college has on students and the community.
Alumni surveys give alums the chance to make their voice heard, participating in the direction the school takes in the future and providing fresh perspectives.
Yes; online surveys are a great way to reach alumni that may be spread across the country or even the world.
An online survey platform such as SurveyLegend makes emailing secure voting ballots easy for colleges and universities to survey their alumni.