Using The Power of Affinity Groups to Propel Alumni Engagement

May 2022 — By Keith Hannon

Many universities and alumni associations revolve reunions and other engagement activities around a graduating class. While your alumni relations department may feel like organizing efforts based on classes is the most sure-fire way to reach the largest group of alumni simultaneously, it’s typically not the most effective. Many alumni actually feel little connection to the majority of their graduating class. Instead, they feel a greater connection to the various affinity groups they belonged to during their time on campus.

Shifting from Graduating Class to Affinity Group Engagement

While class reunions are still a productive way to engage alumni for some schools, an increase in affinity programming offers can boost ROI for all schools. And with the growing concerns surrounding shrinking budgets and limited staff, it’s more important than ever to see returns on alumni engagement efforts.

So, how do you define affinity groups, and why should schools leverage affinity groups to get better outcomes from their alumni engagement strategy? Let’s start at the beginning.

What is an affinity group?

Affinity groups in schools provide a built-in network and support system amongst students with similar interests, backgrounds, beliefs, or identities.

Some of the best affinity groups examples include:

  • Sororities or fraternities
  • Heritage and diversity groups
  • Intercollegiate and intramural Sports teams
  • Degree or specialty-specific associations
  • Campus clubs and academic competition teams

Affinity groups in schools are even more central to your university than they were two decades ago. Universities have evolved their priorities from being exclusively classroom-centric to overall experience-centric, and affinity groups are a large part of that.

Affinity groups don’t just provide a fun group of friends for current students; they often provide much-needed support during a student’s time on campus. That shared identity helps make member students feel welcome and connected with their peers. Those ties don’t fade in the same way the years since graduation do.

Why Affinity Groups in Schools Should Be Central to Your Alumni Engagement Strategy

The shift to affinity-based engagement is crucial to ensuring:

  • Better attendance at alumni events
  • Deeper connections to the university and fellow classmates
  • Stronger lead funnels for major gifts and annual giving campaigns

When alumni associations segment people based on interests and how they intentionally chose to congregate as students, they can more purposefully engage them through more tailored outreach efforts. Alumni may not return to your generic graduating class event, but they will be more likely to return for a sports team dinner, celebration of Black alumni, or fraternity tailgate. Why? Because their engagement with your event, and its attendees, will be much more meaningful.

Consistent alumni engagement is at the core of fundraising. People have many options for charitable giving, and alumni are more likely to donate to causes that feel meaningful and purposeful to them. Alumni that are actively engaged within affinity groups feel like they’re advancing a cause they truly care about.

The importance of affinity groups in increasing alumni engagement is clear. So, how do you expand affinity-based engagement at your university?

Drive Affinity-Based Engagement with BrightCrowd

Often universities use affinity-based engagement as a secondary tactic for alumni engagement rather than a powerful primary one. To drive annual fundraising, alumni associations typically rely on generic email blasts and snail mail to engage donors, instead of using more personalized information and affinities to generate new leads. By prioritizing affinity-based engagement, universities can create new, more targeted outreach campaigns with higher participation and conversion rates.

However, with limited staff and budgets, universities must get creative with their alumni engagement strategy and their dollars. That’s where BrightCrowd comes in.

With BrightCrowd, university alumni relations departments can expand their outreach and drive more meaningful engagement at a fraction of the cost of typical fundraising programs. Schools can launch their custom digital memory books in as little as one day, without any training or setup required from university staff.

BrightCrowd books are the perfect complement to any affinity-based reunions or events as they help drive expanded participation regardless of previous commitments or geographic boundaries. BrightCrowd is not a mentoring platform or another social networking community alumni need to keep up with, so it appeals to a much wider audience than other technologies.

Plus, with BrightCrowd, both universities and alumni benefit. When alumni create pages in their dedicated digital memory books, they’re not just reconnecting with the affinity group that meant the most to them at such a pivotal time in their lives – they’re rebuilding a strong network across the world.

Simultaneously, alumni associations are building powerful databases of relevant and updated contact reports to generate a robust lead funnel for future university giving campaigns. On average, 30-50% of alumni invited to join a book create a page, while only about 10-15% of invited alumni attend in-person reunions. Unlike with attendees at in-person events , when a person creates their page in a BrightCrowd book they’re effectively providing their own contact report as part of their participation, giving alumni associations valuable information for more personalized and targeted engagement in the future.

If you’re looking to increase alumni engagement at your university, then you need a tool that does the work for you without cutting into your budget or limited staff resources. Request a demo today, and we’ll show you how other universities are using BrightCrowd to build powerful databases of engaged affinity groups with high-giving capacity.

Keith Hannon