Tapping Into Texts for Alumni Engagement: How to Get Started

Your university’s alumni are not only potential donors—they’re also the lifeblood of your university’s community, the proof that your institution helps students succeed, and longtime supporters of your mission. That’s why it’s crucial to develop strategies to connect with them as people and engage them in a variety of ways beyond fundraising.

In this article, we’ll explore an alumni engagement avenue that you may not have explored but can be a powerful addition to your strategy: SMS (text) marketing

When combined with other communication channels, SMS is a highly impactful way to keep alumni up-to-date, involved, and excited about their relationship with their alma mater. Let’s go through the steps you should take to start tapping in.

Outline all the ways you can engage alumni with texts.

Universities use SMS marketing for a wide variety of purposes, but you’ll see the best results if you use text messages to support your existing strategies and fill in the gaps. Think about your current goals and determine where your current communications and marketing strategy is lacking. Then, brainstorm ways text messages can support these goals.

For instance, texts can help you engage alumni in:

  • Fundraising: Use text messages to send personalized fundraising appeals, share links to your donation page, and update alumni on the progress of major campaigns. Since most texts are read within just three minutes of receiving them, SMS is especially well-suited to time-sensitive campaigns like GivingTuesday.
  • Events: After inviting alumni to events via email or direct mail, use text messages to remind them to RSVP, share logistical details, and promote specific sessions. Follow up with alumni after the event via text as well to ask for their feedback. 
  • Advocacy: If your university participates in advocacy, short texts can help you inspire action and help alumni advocate for your school. Use clear calls to action and include the link recipients need to participate. 
  • Volunteering: Whether you want to promote opportunities to mentor current students, volunteer for a university service project, or speak on a career services panel, texts will get your alumni’s attention quickly. 

According to Mogli, texts also work well for encouraging alumni to apply for graduate programs, promoting reunions, and keeping their contact information up to date.

Plus, the personal nature of SMS helps you build stronger relationships with alumni no matter your immediate goals. This is because texts inherently feel more personal than emails and open the door for easy two-way communication. Focus your text strategy on relationship-building by sending thank-you texts, anniversary messages, and periodic updates about your school’s accomplishments.

Ask alumni to opt in to receive texts.

Once you have an idea about the direction and goals of your SMS strategy, start collecting opt-ins from alumni. Just like with email, alumni must explicitly consent to receive text messages from your university by opting in before you message them.

You can ask for and encourage opt-ins by following these steps:

  1. Add a sign-up form to your website’s homepage.
  2. Add a checkbox to your donation page so alumni can opt-in to texts as they donate.
  3. Send out a survey to update alumni contact information and include an SMS opt-in field on the survey.
  4. Send an email directly asking alumni who haven’t opted in yet if they’d like to receive text messages.

Be sure to explain why alumni should opt in and how they’ll benefit by receiving texts from your university, as well. For example, say that you send an email announcing your capital campaign to renovate a beloved dormitory. In the email, you might ask recipients to sign up to receive text messages so they can get updates about the campaign and be the first to hear about exciting new developments. 

Segment alumni within your CRM.

Record alumni opt-in statuses in your university’s CRM, then create several groups within your pool of text-eligible alumni to better engage them. When you segment alumni based on shared characteristics, like class year or career field, you can easily write more tailored SMS messages that will resonate with those in each group.

Both broad and hyper-specific alumni segments will help you craft more engaging messages. For example, take a look at the different SMS messages you might send to the following alumni segments:

  • Recent alumni: Congrats again on graduating, Julia! Remember that our career services team is here to support you. Schedule a meeting with us at any time here.
  • Recurring donors: We just received your monthly $20 donation. Thank you so much for continuing to support current students in their academic careers ❤️
  • Potential donors: Jason, did you know you can donate to the same scholarship fund that helped you through college? Give the gift of education to incoming students just like you.
  • Alumni on class committees: Excited to show your classmates how hard you’ve worked on this year’s alum weekend? Share this post on Instagram to spread the word!
  • Business school alumni: Check out the prestigious internships secured by this year’s MBA class. Their futures are bright thanks to the generous donations of alumni like you 🙏

If you use a text messaging app that’s native to or integrates with your CRM, you can automatically personalize messages for each segment and individual. 

Plus, you can set up multipurpose automations that are triggered by certain alumni actions, such as donating or registering for a reunion. These actions can trigger whole strings of personalized texts that support your goals.

Draft short, compelling messages.

With the bulk of your strategy in place, you can start creating your initial SMS marketing content. Start by referring back to the goals you brainstormed earlier, then write a few adaptable messages to support each goal.

Stick to these SMS marketing best practices when writing your text messages:

  • Keep them short and sweet. Ideally, you should limit every message to 160 characters or less. 
  • Use a friendly tone. SMS is a naturally personal medium, so lean into that with a friendly tone and emojis if relevant.
  • Personalize as much as possible. Include first names and use segmentation to make your texts highly relevant to alumni interests.
  • Include clear calls to action. Let alumni know exactly what you’re asking them to do, and include the links they need to take action.
  • Open the door for responses. Encourage responses by asking questions and letting alumni know that they can ask you questions via text, too.

Let’s see what these strategies look like in practice by writing a message about alumni matching gifts. According to re:Charity, matching gifts are engaging because they allow donors to increase the impact of every gift they make with no extra cost to themselves. With this in mind, your university might write the following text message:

Aislin, want to double your impact on our Women in STEM scholarship fund? Click here to see if you’re eligible to multiply your donation with matching gifts!

With these SMS basics under your belt, you’ll be able to engage alumni in everything from fundraising to community events and beyond with texts. Keep your strategy flexible, and don’t be afraid to shift your approach as you learn more about alumni preferences and the kind of texts that interest them most.

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