10 Steps for Building a Successful Alumni Day – an NYU Case Study

by on Jan 26, 2016

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On October 24, 2015 NYU hosted its Alumni & Parents Day around Washington Square Park. The annual event offered everything from faculty lectures to an Oktoberfest party, with the day’s program designed to engage both NYU alumni and the parents of current NYU students. According to the school, a few thousand alumni joined their friends, classmates and fellow participants in celebrating both NYU and their experiences this past October. Based on the experiences participants had on NYU’s Alumni & Parents Day, here are 10 tips that any college can take advantage of to make its own alumni day a success.

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NYU Alumni and Parents Day Promotional Banner

1. Tag, Share, Tweet & Repeat

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These days, if you aren’t using social media, you’re missing out on a key pipeline for engaging younger alumni. In preparation for its alumni day, NYU used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to connect with its alumni, employing the hashtags #ForeverViolet and #NYUAlumniDay to track posts and tweets about specific themes and to increase the event’s exposure. In the screenshot to the right, the NYU Alumni Instagram account thanks an alumnus who mentioned the school in a post. Moments like these can be crucial to schools’ social media strategy – if alumni are asked to interact with schools on social media, schools must make sure to reciprocate by liking, favoriting and re-posting comments directed at them.

2. Who’s on the List?

Alumni like to check in to see who’s coming when deciding about their own attendance at alumni events of any size. Schools hoping to grow alumni participation in everything from large-scale volunteer days to meet-ups to cheer on sports teams should emulate NYU’s Alumni Day “See Who’s Coming” List. These sorts of lists, which should be viewable by both registered attendees and non-attendees alike, can keep alums abreast of who in their class will make an appearance and help create momentum for an event. The NYU list updated with each new alumni registration and provided an opt-out feature for alums to keep their attendance plans confidential.

3. The More the Merrier

NYU linked Alumni Day and Parents Day so parents can meet alumni while spending time with their children. This combination can help to build a larger school community, creating bonds among the on- and off-campus university family. As an added bonus, connecting alumni and parents can help those footing the bill for school envision what kind of opportunities and experiences their children might have post-graduation.

4. Develop University-wide School Spirit

Alumni days can and should build school spirit among students, parents and alumni. NYU showcases the unique community built in Washington Square, which is then shared by alumni and traveling students throughout the world. Because NYU is not as sports-oriented as some universities, the school’s diverse culture and location in New York was used to attract its alumni base for a return visit. Universities should focus on promoting and reaffirming their distinct cultures for alumni during alumni days.

5. Celebrate School-specific Pride

Another highlight of alumni days at large, diverse universities is the separate sessions offered by constituent schools. Most of NYU’s schools offered their own unique programming on NYU’s Alumni & Parents Day: deans hosted luncheons and celebrated distinguished alumni, and several held award ceremonies. For example, the School of Professional Studies had a luncheon to present awards to and celebrate those associated with that college. These lunches are a great way for alumni to reconnect with their professors, have one-on-one chats with deans and network with their peers.

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NYU Alumni Relations Flickr Showcasing NYU’s Mascot during Alumni Day

6. Highlight Anniversary Years and Distinguished Groups

Alumni days allow universities to highlight momentous anniversaries for older alumni while also engaging more recent graduates. NYU, for example, celebrates the anniversaries of one-year, five-year, 10-year and 25-year graduates on its alumni day. The first-year reunion encourages young alumni to visit, reconnect with classmantes, consider ways to re-engage with the school and see firsthand the changes to campus since graduation. At NYU, alumni day is also a time to honor the Perstare Society, graduates of the Class of 1965 or earlier, with a special Perstare Society breakfast and trolley tour.

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The Perstare Society at the Washington Square Park Arch

7. Make Alumni Day Unforgettable from the Start

Giveaways are a great registration incentive. Anyone who registered for NYU Alumni Day 2015 received a reusable tote and water bottle. In addition to providing attendees with free souvenirs, giveaways are a great way to brand alumni days and have them remembered long after they have concluded.

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NYU Alumni Relations Flickr Promoting NYU Alumni Day Tote Bags

8. Recruit Sponsors

Sponsors help offset costs, improve an alumni day’s visibility and can benefit the university financially. This year, NYU received Alumni Day sponsorships from Bank of America, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Love Letter and alumnus-owned Smuttynose Brewing Company.

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NYU Alumni and Bank of America Sponsorship

9. Celebrate Your Donors

Alumni days can provide large-scale visibility for donors. Highlighting specific donors or groups can help encourage more alums to give in the coming year. Whether it’s a reunion for the first year or the 50th, alumni may consider giving back on a day full of excitement, especially if they see their friends and other alumni lauded for specific donations efforts.

10. It’s Not a Goodbye But a See You Later

Having a fun sendoff party at the end of an Alumni Day creates a casual atmosphere, brings alumni together for networking and leaves attendees on a positive note. NYU’s Alumni Day ended with an Oktoberfest Closing Party, complete with a selection of Smuttynose beers and a debrief of the day. Other schools should consider large, themed parties as possible closing event ideas as well. A school heavily involved in sports could invite alumni to a game, do an alumni pep rally or focus on a large-scale outdoor cocktail reception.

To learn more about engaging alums returning to campus, check out Top 10 Ways to Engage Alumni during Homecoming Weekend.

For more information on Alumni Monitor and our research on alumni outreach and engagement, please contact Dana Peterson at dpeterson@corporateinsight.com or visit us at alumnimonitor.corporateinsight.com.