Having an updated alumni database is a massive asset to any alumni program. Unfortunately, very few schools actually have a database that they’re proud of. While we all understand the herculean task that is to keep track of thousands of our graduates across the decades, we cannot ignore how pivotal a role it plays in our alumni engagement process.
Having observed hundreds of institutions around the globe take up various approaches with respect to updating their alumni databases, we’ve compiled for you a complete list of all the techniques that are typically employed by schools and their relative benefits.
Address Finder Services
Address Finder Services look up publicly available information on individuals and match those against your database. Typically these services are charged on a success fee model – so if they help you find new data then you pay for it, otherwise, you don’t. Some of these services are integrated into your database, and some are independent. A few popular service providers are — LexisNexis, AlumniFinder, Raiser’s Edge Address Finder.
- Affordable for low volume data appends: For organizations that work with low volumes of data, Address Finder Services can be affordable but the costs are high if you have a large alumni base.
- Quick results: Address Finder Services eliminate the need to manually collect data, thereby saving time and resources.
- No user consent: Since you are not asking your alumni for this information, they are not giving you explicit consent to use their information to communicate with them. The recommended practice here is to get consent from your alumni once you get new contact information, but this is a separate effort you’ll have to take up.
- Incomplete data: Since these services compile data based on publicly available information, more often than not, you may find yourself dealing with incomplete information as it is likely for people to limit their personal data online.
- Inaccurate Data: As these services extract data from various public sources, you might often come across outdated alumni data. While some of the data may be accurate, it is highly likely that all of it isn’t.
- No ongoing updates: In order to keep your alumni database updated, you will have to run this service regularly.
Include a form on your website
This is an easy option and almost every school includes a form on their website requesting alumni to update their information using that form. Within the alumni page of your website, this is a key section. However, the challenge that every school reports is that very few alumni actually fill it. Think about it — what is the motivation for alumni to go to your website regularly and fill a long form to update their information?
- Data accuracy: Since your alumni are providing this information voluntarily, it would be accurate at least for then.
- Easy to setup: Setting up a form on your website that captures information from your website visitors or in this case – alumni, doesn’t take much time or effort.
- User consent: Unlike address finder services, forms collect information from only those who are willing to provide their information, thereby establishing user consent.
- Low volume: Without an incentive in place, very few alumni actually fill the form.
- Manual efforts: While setting up a form may be easy, the challenge lies in entering the data collected by these forms into your database.
- No ongoing updates: Most updates are not captured on time. For eg: if an alum finds a new job and moves from Boston to San Francisco, how likely are they to immediately update you via the form?
Have a staff member scour through LinkedIn
LinkedIn being a great source of information, some schools turn to the social media platform to capture relevant alumni information. LinkedIn has an alumni tool which you can use to find your alumni who have indicated an education at your school on their profile. You can either have a staff member use their personal LinkedIn account and browse through alumni or create a separate account using your school’s name only for this purpose. The major problem here is that beyond a point LinkedIn will detect that you are browsing through too many profiles and will block you.
- Data Accuracy: LinkedIn being a professional networking platform, alumni are much more likely to keep their profiles updated here.
- Beneficial for smaller institutions: For smaller organizations, with a smaller alumni base, capturing alumni data via LinkedIn is feasible.
- Limitations by LinkedIn: Since LinkedIn only allows a fixed number of searches, upon exceeding that limit, you will be either blocked or would be asked to shift to a paid account.
- No user consent: Similar to address finder services, the data collection process is discreet and user consent is not involved.
- Expensive & time consuming: You would need to appoint designated people to solely do this job which can make this process rather time-consuming and expensive.
- High risk of error: Where there’s manual extraction of data involved, there is always a high risk of error.
Gather updated information at events
Events are wonderful opportunities to re-engage alumni and offer a chance to gather relevant information from event attendees. The data collected from these event registrations is highly accurate since it’s provided by your own alumni who are actively engaging with you.
- Data accuracy: Since the source of this information is your alumni, there’s no doubting its credibility.
- User consent: Since the information collected via events is provided by your own alumni, user consent is established.
- Low volume: If your institution doesn’t see a lot of alumni participation at events, you might not be able to capture enough information to update your alumni database.
- Manual effort: While alumni information collected from events can be highly useful, this information needs to be manually entered into your database, thereby increasing the risk of errors and time taken.
Get updated information from Facebook & LinkedIn
For a large number of schools, social media plays an important role in capturing alumni information. Social media platforms aren’t just useful when it comes to building alumni engagement, they can also be highly successful for tracking your alumni. For instance, an alum may move from one city to another. In such a scenario, they’re more likely to update it on their Facebook or LinkedIn profile rather than fill up a form on your website.
- Automatic updates: When alumni update their profiles on social media, it gets automatically captured and updated within your school’s database, thereby always keeping your database updated.
- Efficient tracking: Since you would be notified of all updates, tracking your alumni becomes much more efficient.
- User consent: Users provide you consent for the information that they’re choosing to share with you so consent is not an issue here.
- Accuracy: Since the information is being gathered from a person’s social media profiles it is accurate.