Measuring engagement can answer crucial questions, with a little more work

Measuring alumni and constituent engagement is no longer a new thing. Many Advancement shops do it. Not all of them have settled on a solid key performance indicator, or set of KPIs.

We are still evolving on this front. After measuring consistently for five or six years, now it’s time to consolidate what we’ve learned and align the tool with a new operating model for engagement.

A lot of work got us this far. We laboured over the specific components of engagement (giving, event attendance, volunteering, accepting visits, and other things) and how to weight them. We created a score for each individual, and developed some aggregate reporting.

The work was good, but now we need to understand the significance of our metrics and how they can spur action. More work lies ahead.

What questions to ask of our metrics? A few thoughts:

How deep? How successful are we from year to year in engaging the maximum number of people who were available to be engaged? What is the ratio of engaged to engageable? By engageable I mean all constituents who are contactable and genuinely available to us this year. The exact definition is arbitrary. If a person who graduated 15 years ago has never had any meaningful interaction with us, they are probably not “available”. Including them will dilute the KPI with people beyond the reach of our communication and programs. I suggest a ratio rather than a percentage of engageable; if someone not considered engageable does come to us, we can count them on the left side of the ratio without needing to add them to the right side as well.

How good? How successful are we in engaging who we want to engage? To what extent did we involve loyal donors, engaged alumni, major gift prospects, people with bequest intentions, influential community members, and other preferred, high-value constituencies? This measure of quality can be used to evaluate events, especially when eschewing large social shindigs in favour of smaller, higher-octane gatherings. Quality, not quantity – even in the all-digital era.

How effective? How successful are we in moving people in numbers from one stage of engagement to the next? We need to know what engagement looks like at each stage in order to properly locate individuals.

Getting to these answers requires us to move on from “what’s in and what’s out.” We need to define “engageable,” decide who’s in our favoured constituency, and figure out how to quantify our engagement pipeline goals.

The part of digital engagement Zuckerberg doesn’t own

Are you using social media for engaging with alumni and friends? Sorry, no. It’s using you.

Funny thing. I’ve noticed Twitter withholds notifications about people’s likes and comments on my tweets. It seems I get a batch of them only every few days. Social media platforms have been doing this lately. Some say it’s to deepen our addiction, others say it’s for the mental health of users.

Either way, it’s damned annoying, and inconvenient for engaging professionally in real time with people in my field.

It’s a reminder that social media is the largest experiment on human subjects in the history of the planet, controlled by corporations recognizing few ethical obligations to users and with zero transparency. Your university is just another way to connect users in order to increase engagement with the platform itself.

Avoid social? Hardly. That’s where our constituents live. These platforms put powerful tools at our disposal.

I’m skeptical, though, that social is a trove of engagement data. Operations should not try to build a lot of infrastructure around social platforms we don’t control. I’m also skeptical that broadcasting finely crafted messages alone will lead to engagement. Engagement is a conversation.

That’s what’s most important, isn’t it? Conversation is the piece that Jack and Zuck don’t own. A digital strategy should be readily transferable from Facebook to Instagram to TikTok to IRL. Rather than invest in a platform we don’t own we should invest in the relationships that we do.