Treat Homecoming Like Your (Professional) Life Depends on it
From mid-September through about mid-November, Homecoming weekends will occur across the country. This longstanding tradition may be the most personal experience a school delivers to alumni that keeps them connected (especially to each other) and informed.
It’s primarily a social immersion for alumni. They “come home” to be with people who were important at a formative time in their lives. Alumni often stay in touch with classmates, teammates, friends, and professors, but the occasion to gather again at the place where “it all started” is momentous. And people love celebrating it together.
Question: what’s the half-life of Homecoming? How long does it take for the average alum to forget half of what happened? Is it two weeks? Three days? Or…an hour?
Schools generally do a good job of capturing Homecoming images and posting them for the world to see, extending the memory (and individual alumni post a lot themselves). Schools may also offer a view into “alma mater today” through offerings like campus tours, or faculty-led seminars/classes, or opportunities for alumni to interact with current students. These moments tend to evaporate quickly, though: they are minor parts of a larger event in which friends-reconnecting-with-friends is the dominant theme.
Homecoming is judged mainly by one metric: the number of alumni that attended. Let’s unpack that:
- Why does the number matter? If the number is 10% higher this year than it was last year, is that an achievement? If yes, OK, but why?
- Every alumnus/alumna doesn’t have the same experience. Even if you know the details about individual attendance at all sub-events, those activities aren’t uniformly “consumed”. So who loves Homecoming…and who doesn’t?
- What happens with attendees after they leave? Conventional wisdom (supported by data) says alumni who return to campus are more inclined to support the school. So the fund-raisers will be ready. But, is “You were here, so you must be more inclined to give…” the only call to action?
I raise these questions because for many schools, Homecoming is the most heavily attended alumni event of the year. And given such a large, captive audience, there should be opportunities to create additional value for the school over time (beyond understanding survey reviews of the all-alumni clambake).
We need to call the value question on Homecoming, because it’s not enough to simply host the weekend and count who comes. There needs to be more at stake. Like what? Well, consider these extensions to the three items mentioned above (in bold):
- Alumni who take a campus tour. 1) know which alumni took a tour (not who registered but who actually toured); and then 2) within three days, send an email message to each individual alum who toured, thanking them AND asking them to share the name of a prospective student they think could be a good fit for the school; and then 3) follow up that message with a phone call to the alum. Set a goal for the number of recommendations. Example: suppose the goal = 1 name of a prospective student from 30% of the number of alumni who toured. So if 100 alumni toured, the goal is to surface 30 prospective student names.
- Alumni who attend a faculty-led seminar. 1) know which alumni attended; and then 2) have the faculty member send a follow-up email message (here, a group message is fine) thanking attendees AND asking a question whose answer will help the faculty member. Example: “The discussion during our brief time together was terrific. As I think about sharing your thoughts with my students, I would like to know what additional questions or comments you had that we didn’t get to?”; and then 3) ask the faculty member to let the Alumni Office know which alumni respond to that question. NOTE: Ideally, topics and presenters are chosen strategically and well in advance, as a goal should be to identify alumni who have an interest in a topic that is or will become significant for the school.
- Alumni who interact with students. 1) know which individual alumni connected with which individual students. HINT: make a game of it, with a prize drawing for alumni who “play”. And then 2) reach out to the alumni (because you know who they are from the drawing) AND ask them to send a message to a student who impressed or helped or informed them; because 3) you explain that a short message from an alum to a student can be very powerful for the student (think retention); and 4) provide an example of such a message. Again, set goals.
These can be easy adaptations to activities you already have planned – even if your Homecoming is only a month away. They have potential to increase the value of the enormous investments of time and money required to execute your event(s). Start small. Set realistic goals. And then commit to improving in 2019!