SVA Alumni Engagement Tracking Strategy
The Alumni Affairs and Development office at SVA works to maintain an active, ongoing relationship with alumni. Engagement is the word we use to describe the activities and initiatives we implement to achieve that.
Raiser’s Edge is a fundraising and donor management software program used widely by nonprofit organizations. For my team at SVA, it serves as our database of donors, alumni, friends and other types of constituents we have interactions with. We keep track of over 35,000 alumni. We track their contact information, career announcements and other important interactions we have with them, as well as their philanthropic giving to the SVA Alumni Society, an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that administers scholarships and other financial awards to current SVA students.
While our team has been tirelessly tracking some very vital data about alumni, we had not been tracking our engagement activities in a comprehensive way, which meant that we had no way of knowing if the events and programs we spent so much of our time and resources planning and implementing were successful in engaging alumni and building a thriving alumni community. We had a way to track the large-scale events hosted by our department, but what about our smaller events, like coffee dates and lunches? What about events hosted by other departments? If viewed all together, these were all data points that could give us useful insight into an individual alumnus’s level of engagement, and ultimately the overall level of engagement of our entire alumni community.
In addition, the best tool I had to achieve this, Raiser’s Edge, does not have a dedicated feature that tracks this information. The solution would have to be a work-around, a manipulation of the features we did have to work with, to give us the information we wanted.
My approach was to first imagine what I wanted the end result to look like, to establish a set of objectives, of boxes I could check as I explored all my options. First and foremost, I wanted my solution to allow for smooth, intuitive entry and extrapolation of data. I also wanted my solution to be as comprehensive and centralized as possible. I wanted to be able to tell a big picture story: about the success of our engagement efforts
My first step was to define exactly what we were tracking in a fiscal year, all of the activities and interactions that made up our definition of engagement. My next step was to decide which features in Raiser’s Edge could be used to track this information. There were two key functions that stood out to me: the Raiser’s Edge Events Module, and a function called Attributes.
The Events Module tracks all essential details about an event: whether or not a constituent has been invited to an event and when, whether they’ve RSVP’d and when, what their participation in the event is (i.e. what they are in relation to SVA and the event. Examples are alumnus, panelist, student, sponsor, board member, staff, etc). The Events Module allows you to create a record for each event you host. Then, each constituent record of each constituent who is invited or attends is linked to the respective event record, which allows you to see what events a constituent has been invited to or attended if you are viewing the constituent’s record. Every constituent record has an Events tab, where a list of the events they’ve been invited to lives.
In the Events Module, in each event record, all constituents who have been invited or attended are listed.
Attributes are used to track qualities that describe an alumnus’s relationship with SVA. Attributes are kind of like labels or tags, and each constituent will have anywhere from one to upwards of 10 different attributes, depending on their specific relationship. Attributes can be applied in a general way to an entire constituent record. They can also be applied to relationships between constituents and event records in the Events Module.
I went through several rounds of trial and error, experimenting with different ways of configuring records and attributes in the Events Module. I would take a small chunk of data and track it one way, then test how easy it was to query on that data and retrieve it from the database. I assessed the results for how much manual reformatting and reorganization would have to be done to be able to analyze it, a result of using a “work-around” to achieve the desired outcome.
I settled on the Events Module as the Raiser’s Edge function that would afford us the most flexibility and specificity.
I created four major categories of events. The first two, Primary Events and Small Group Events and Engagement, accounted for all events and interactions with alumni. Primary Events the big, annual events our department hosted every year. These Primary Events each have their own event record in the Events Module, because we use these records to track RSVPs and attendance throughout the event planning process.
The Small Group Events and Engagement were smaller scale, one-off events and interactions hosted by our department as well as other SVA departments. They are not necessarily guaranteed to take place each year in the same ways or in the same places, but several always do. Each fiscal year, there is one Small Group Events and Engagement event record created that encompasses all of these small events and points of engagement. **quotes around "Small Group..."**They are distinguished by attributes within the event record itself that indicate what the event or interaction was, when it happened, and what department it was hosted by. We don’t typically require or track RSVP numbers and attendance in real time, so I decided that for these events and interactions, we just wanted to know that the alumnus attended or participated.
The Career Development and Model Drawing categories accounted for two types of events we had been tracking consistently in the Events Module for several years, but in fairly different ways. They have remained separate from the other two types of events temporarily, as we asses the success of this new strategy.
I applied my final engagement tracking solution to the current fiscal year of events, to get a preliminary view of the data.
I outlined this solution in a document for my teammates, explaining it clearly and providing instructions for how to implement it. They have absorbed the procedure and have been able to apply it to our events and engagement points throughout the current fiscal year.
Throughout this process, one of my goals was to remain open to making adjustments to the procedure as we encounter scenarios that we hadn’t anticipated. It has so far proven to be malleable, and I expect that we will continue to make improvements as time goes on.
Now that there is a solid tracking procedure in place, the next phase of this project will be to begin analyzing and visualizing the data, with the goal of producing an annual engagement report and using our findings to help optimize our efforts.