Alumni Personas and their Implications for Schools
In the September-October issue of Currents, Alberto Cabrera and David Weerts write about the Four Alumni Personas and how to keep them connected. This research, starting back in the early 2000s, maps the likelihood that college students will make a significant impact on their future alumni associations, given key indicators. The article – “Natural Instincts,” which, if you haven’t read it already, please click now – has compelling implications for schools, and while focused on higher education, this research can help independent and international school advancement professionals become more targeted in their work with alumni.
Whether your alumni program is thriving or fledgling, whether it’s 300 alumni of record or 3,000, there’s something here for you to learn.
As Weerts and Cabrera note, “the seeds of alumni support are sown even prior to enrolling in college.” Therefore, what we do to cultivate our students – both from a curricular and extracurricular standpoint – make a difference to the eventual contribution those future alumni will make.
The findings, summarized:
- The authors classify alumni of higher education institutions into four personas: Eagles, Hummingbirds, Cheetahs, and Koalas.
- In short, Eagles and Hummingbirds are the populations most likely to volunteer with or make a gift to the school, while Cheetahs and Koalas have other aims. Cheetahs generally have politically-based philanthropic or volunteer motivations if they interact at all with an alma mater, while Koalas are unlikely to be involved whatsoever.
- High test scores are not a predictor of future alumni involvement or impact.
- The most important predictor of future involvement is, essentially, current involvement; the leadership opportunities a student becomes involved in at school from ages 12-18, combined with the family’s philanthropic or volunteer leanings, are likely to indicate what that student will eventually do for a university (and by extension, a school).
- Hold onto your hats: how positive an experience is with a four-year institution is NOT all that important to future volunteer potential or inclination to give. What matters most is how much exposure to leadership opportunities a student has early-on.
When I reached out to the authors, both were eager to explore how this ground-breaking research and associated data can be applied to school alumni offices. “As much as 80% of what we are talking about here could be decided before a student ever walks on a university campus,” says Weertz, “so the way a school would interact with this data is well worth exploring.”
During our conversation, several things became clear. First, as stated above, there is certainly a parallel between universities and schools, given that the likelihood for involvement is formed so young. Second, in addition to the student’s number of opportunities for leadership, family dynamics are at play as well. “Early pro-social behaviors influenced by parents play a role in future pro-social behaviors,” says Weertz, “therefore what the school does to empower parents to empower their kids will likely have an impact on future advancement work.”
Questions We Should Be Asking:
As a result of these findings, there are three key questions schools (and your partners here at CASE) should and will be asking:
- What would it look like if we tagged the super involved kids in our database now as future Eagles, Hummingbirds, Cheetahs, or Koalas? Or at least tagged the first two?
- What kind of curricular or extracurricular collaboration is possible between Advancement and Academics that would contribute to future philanthropic outcomes?
- What possibilities are there for training parents, not only as our own volunteers, but to empower their children to explore leadership and volunteer opportunities?
These last two questions are not meant to create an army of future advancement volunteers, but to encourage more broadly the kind of societal change each of our missions underscore. Both at our schools and in NGOs globally, we need philanthropically minded future leaders to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. After all, CASE exists to transform lives and society through advancing education.
While persona-based marketing has made its (slow) way into school enrollment and advancement offices, we haven’t yet fully tapped the potential of persona-based, predictive modeling. With this new research in hand, we might have the power to truly match capacity and inclination in the future in an increasingly data-driven way.
About the author(s)
Ann Snyder has served as Director of Independent Schools at CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) since March of 2020. Prior to joining CASE, she was Director of External Affairs at Stuart Hall School in Virginia. With more than a decade of experience in student and family marketing, school leadership, enrollment, fundraising, and external affairs, Ann is a seasoned school leader and industry expert.
In her role at CASE, Ann serves as the industry insider, expert, and thought-leader for schools globally. Professional facilitation and speaking engagements include serving as a key speaker and collaborator for the Canadian Association of Independent Schools, the National Association of Independent Schools (US), the Association of American Schools in South America, and regional associations throughout the United States.