This summer, Rutgers University announced that, for the first time in its history, the university raised more than $200 million in an academic year—11 percent higher than the previous record set in 2015. Rutgers’ record-breaking fundraising year was achieved, in part, because of a record 49,736 donors to the university. The Rutgers University Alumni Association’s (RUAA) vision of instituting an individualized alumni relations program was critical to this effort, but with 480,000+ alumni, it’s fair to question how such an approach was feasible—or even realistic.
The answer is that a strategic commitment to market research enabled the university to develop alumni programs that better met the needs and interests of graduates, ensuring relevance to Rutgers alumni, friends, and donors. The Rutgers University Foundation partnered with SimpsonScarborough on a comprehensive four-part research effort designed to strengthen alumni connectivity to the university and each other. After two quantitative studies, the RUAA used the data to make programmatic and communication shifts that aligned with alumni preferences and can be tailored for an individual approach. Here are just a few examples:
- Data showed that Rutgers alumni had strong preferences for specific days and times. The RUAA acted immediately to shift from early-week events to Thursday nights and weekends. The findings also identified specific cost thresholds, so the team now looks to provide more entry-level events.
- The research findings provided insights into desired event topics. The association developed an entirely new series, Alumni on Location, that combined many of the features toward which alumni responded favorably.
- Career development was identified as a missing benefit for Rutgers alumni. In response, the association is building out, in concert with University Career Services, a new Alumni-Career Development program. The program deliverables are also being built using the results from the research studies.
- The data was clear: Millennial and Gen-X alumni want to volunteer, and in very specific ways. Currently, the RUAA is working to develop opportunities for these cohorts that match the interests demonstrated in the research findings.
- The data showed that one of alums’ core expectations of the association is relevant and timely information-delivery. By investing in marketing automation resources, the organization is now positioned to better serve alumni in this priority area.
Rutgers continues to use market intelligence to fuel its momentum. The university is currently in the midst of a third quantitative study, this time focusing on the highest-rated engagement activities from the earlier research to better understand “first-time” and “regular” engagers, the value their relationship with Rutgers provides to their lives, and how those opportunities make them feel.