Hark! An Alumni Email Newsletter Examined

by on Feb 01, 2016

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Email correspondence can be a key driver in the relationship between colleges and their alumni, and has proven to be an effective way to disseminate information and engage users. In the current landscape, however, every seemingly worthwhile cause tries to motivate actions and generate engagement via email, making it difficult for the messages from any one source to stand out. One of our recent reports, entitled Email Best Practices in Alumni Outreach, focused on the design and execution of email, highlighting key elements than can help colleges cut through the clutter and reach their alumni. In our report, which reviewed over 400 emails from 40 schools, we noted wide variations in the ways that colleges and universities try to reach and engage their alumni. And while there are innumerable guides on the web purporting to offer ironclad guidelines for email-based outreach, including some by colleges themselves (e.g., Cornell), the pieces that stand the best chance of connecting alumni to their alma maters share three main traits regardless of their subject matter: beauty, brevity and clear email headers. Above all, a focus on a well-designed and to-the-point email offers the best route for schools looking to catch the attention of their alums.

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The “Hark!” Newsletter
(Truncated Lower Section)

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The College of William & Mary’s
“Hark!” Newsletter (Top)

The College of William & Mary’s recurring alumni newsletter offers a nice example of all three key email aspects. The Hark! newsletter, as it appears in alums’ email inboxes, is straightforward and utilizes space effectively. In the example to the right, the piece begins with a full-width title banner, providing consistent month-to-month branding, and then offers a banner announcing the 2015 homecoming dates. While the big homecoming banner used significant digital real estate, it offered immediate context for the focus of the newsletter.

In the meat of its Hark! newsletter, William & Mary includes five main stories, each with a large image that makes the story resonate. While this approach limits the number of articles that can be highlighted, it also limits the sprawl of the email and helps readers focus on the most notable stories each month. Each highlight includes a brief summary description and a link to a larger piece on the W&M alumni site, while the left column offers a series of promotional ads and information. The ads shown here include reminders to update personal information and Save the Dates for upcoming school events. Somewhat surprisingly, this email also included an ad for GEICO, which feels out of place.

In addition to the nice layout and graphic design of the newsletter, W&M also provides useful links to further resources within the newsletter. Every story highlight offers links to related information or stories, and the left column offers connections to the school’s social media platforms.

Finally, the subject line for the email offers a very to-the-point title of “[Alumni-News] Hark! The Monthly Newsletter For All W&M Alumni.” There is no chance of confusion when seeing that in an email inbox and we were happy to see the school resist the impulse to make the email seem more personal by including the recipient’s name. In another best practice implementation relating to the overall email header, the college clearly identified its alumni association as the sender in the “From” line of the email.

Overall, the email newsletter from The College of William & Mary offers a lot to like, and many of the design elements and labeling conventions used by the school could be appropriated by other universities looking for ways to improve their own alumni outreach efforts. All institutions, regardless of their feelings on the W&M Hark newsletter, should keep in mind clean design (with photos), succinct story summaries (with links) and clear email headers when considering the look and feel of their own newsletters.

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Hark! Email Header

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.

About The Author

Doug is the Director of Research for Banking and Brokerage at Corporate Insight. Read more