Happy Hour on the Hudson: A Missed Opportunity for Alumni Engagement?
What better way to spend a Thursday night than on a boat in the middle of the Hudson River with live music, unlimited snacks and drinks, and 600 alumni, friends, family and university supporters?
On July 20, Bucknell University, Wake Forest University, the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, University of Louisville and University of Virginia did just that, offering a joint boat cruise, Happy Hour on the Hudson, for their New York City alumni. Bucknell alumni received emails and could view posts in the regional alumni Facebook group that marketed the alumni cruise. However, despite being marketed through alumni channels, once on board there were few reminders that it was, in fact, an alumni cruise. With little in the way of a structured program or socializing schedule, people primarily appreciated the live music, took pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline, and enjoyed the refreshments, making the cruise successful in providing entertainment, even if it did not fully live up to its potential to facilitate cross-school connections more actively.
Bucknell Happy Hour Cruise Email Reminder
Bucknell Club of NYC Happy Hour Cruise Facebook Post
With their schools’ alumni populations combined, attendees had the unique opportunity to meet and network with graduates outside of their own alumni base, which could be especially beneficial for schools with a smaller Greater New York presence or schools with fewer alumni in general. While Bucknell provided stickers to identify its alumni, no other school participated in a branded giveaway or way of readily locating its members, leaving most alums without a means of identifying their peers or intentionally starting conversations with those from other schools. In addition, the event would have been a great way to increase alumni engagement with their schools through university speakers, memorabilia or even a friendly competition between the schools on board, such as by having the band encourage cheering for each school or by displaying photos of each school throughout the years.
While engaging alumni after such an event could help generate excitement for future events, engagement after the cruise was minimal as well. Bucknell reached out to alumni with an emailed survey asking for suggestions for future events. No schools, however, promoted the success of the event on their social media channels. A photographer took pictures during the cruise, but schools have not yet published those photos on their alumni Facebook pages.
Colleges and universities should use their alumni events to promote their school and to increase alumni engagement. Treating events as both social gatherings and networking opportunities could be much more beneficial to alumni and the schools themselves than events that are solely entertainment focused. Alumni events provide schools the opportunity to connect once again with their former students in person, furnishing unparalleled opportunities to provide campus updates, promote capital campaigns and encourage school-based socializing. After they set the proper tone, alumni, in turn, can also treat these events as the networking opportunities and chances to give back that they should be, rather than just a fun Thursday night with college friends.
- Alumni Engagement