Transfer Alumni Networks: Your Next Fundraising Focus

The tumult of the pandemic, enrollment shakeups, concerns over tuition costs—all these factors have forced a significant shift in donor and alumni fundraising. Engagement needs to be more immediate and personal. Alumni and donors have more clarity on what is important to them. And underdeveloped donor bases are coming forward ready to give.

Alumni giving and participation are potentially powerful yet underdeveloped tools for fundraising. Students who feel more connected to their alma mater are more engaged as alumni in the short term and have more fiscal impact in the long term. Connected students, connected alums: It’s an effective cycle of giving and receiving. We may take this cycle for granted, yet there is a student community we are not talking about: transfer alums.

Research across sectors found that community college alums with an associate degree were twice as likely to give compared to alums who did not. And alums who gave to their four-year institution were four times more likely to give to the community college they attended. Alumni and donor relations are essential to both community colleges and four-year universities. Engaging transfer alums can help build and sustain a pattern of giving over time that can benefit both institutions.

As the Director of the UCLA Transfer Student Center, I was fortunate to work with senior leaders from the UCLA Alumni Associationand other divisions to develop one of the first transfer alum networks in the country. Today, over 53,000 UCLA transfer students who have graduated since 2000 have an opportunity to engage and give back to their community through the Transfer Student Alumni Network (TSAN).

Below are four recommendations from my experience working with students and senior leaders on transfer alum engagement:

“Start with your transfer alumni: listen and learn.” – Dr. Julie Sina, Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Affairs at UCLA,

Dr. Sina underscored the importance of connecting with and hearing directly from transfers about their unique experiences.

How can you do this?

Short-term:

  • Host regular listening sessions with current and former transfer students.
  • Identify transfer champions (eg, faculty, staff, active alums) to support the connection and conversations.
  • Collaborate with campus divisions that work directly with transfer students.

Longer-term:

  • Discover committed transfer alumni leaders.
  • Offer lower commitment opportunities to transfer alum (eg, volunteering for one-off events, virtual mentoring sessions).
  • Create a process for and culture of including transfer alums in general alumni-centered programs and events.

Example in Action:

At UCLA, leaders heard how disconnected transfer students felt from the institution post-graduation and how transactional experiences with the university kept them from deepening their allegiance. In response, Dr. Sina and her team collaborated with student affairs to establish a few low-commitment opportunities for transfer alums to connect and give back, such as a transfer scholarship review board and transfer alum networking nights.

Pardees Fassihi, TSAN founding president, reflects, “At events like these, you can see the waves of relief as new transfer graduates connect with transfer alumni. Knowing there is a transfer support net after graduation and that folks with shared experience have our backs as transfers and act as mentors—this sense of connection and community creates incredible confidence during the transition out of UCLA. This engagement with the alumni association shows transfers how important they are to the institution.”

Collect Transfer Alumni Data Post-Graduation

How many of your transfer student alums go on to graduate school? What number remain employed locally? How do you contact them? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you may need to collect more transfer alum data.

How can you do this?

Short-term:

  • Collect transfer alum feedback, stories, and qualitative data through regular listening sessions, surveys, and other creative methods such as video campaigns and scholarship application prompts.
  • Code for transfer in all CRM and other data collection strategies.
  • Engage your institutional research office in prioritizing transfer data.

Longer-term:

  • Remove barriers to transfer student and alums data collection (join forces across divisions to streamline any information collected on campus-wide transfers).
  • Collaborate with local community colleges on data collection and sharing.
  • Disseminate transfer alum data to appropriate stakeholders.

Example in Action:

At UCLA, once students graduated, they were simply coded as “alum” –their transfer identity and previous college experience were not included with their contact information. The UCLA Alumni Association couldn’t see who was a transfer –let alone which community college they came from. They had to negotiate across divisions to gather the necessary information and ensure it’s tracked and shared in the future.

Use Transfer Data to Appeal to New Donors

Once you have compelling data and stories on the transfer experience, you can make a stronger case to donors, local employers, and others that investing in transfer students can have a significant impact that aligns with their interests and goals.

How can you do this?

Short-term:

  • Collaborate with development teams to connect the transfer student experience to donors, grantees, and local industry interests—show that by supporting transfers, your college can increase enrollment, diversity, degree completion, and deliver needed talent to the community.
  • Spotlight transfer successes and stories in alum newsletters, official institution social media outlets, and other campus outreach.

Longer-term:

  • Embed transfer into the alumni engagement and donor relation strategies.
  • Embed transfer into the larger institutional mission, vision, and goals.

Example in Action:

At the Aspen Institute, we work with college presidents and senior leaders who utilize data to demonstrate the power of engaging the transfer community long term. For instance, in some cases, presidents who collected transfer alum data were able to raise funds from and collaborate with local employers interested in addressing outmigration and diversifying the workforce.

Celebrate Transfer Success and Cultivate Community

Being an alumnus can be an identity, a life trajectory— a sense of belonging that can be nurtured before students enroll and can last a lifetime. Transfers have a strong and unique identity, and this provides an opportunity: Alumni groups can create a space, a place, and an appreciation for that identity to thrive.

How can you do this?

Short-term:

  • Share your transfer story and other stories of transfer success.
  • Collaborate with affinity groups with intersecting identities to transfer (eg, first generation, Veteran, diversity alumni networks).
  • Establish opportunities for college presidents and senior leaders to participate in the transfer community.

Longer-term:

  • Provide space for authentic connections between transfers and alums.
  • Systematize more inclusive infrastructures for transfer alums.
  • Start before transfers get to your institution, as you might for first time in college, full-time and residential students.

Example in Action:

New admit events increase students’ likelihood of enrolling and help to create a sense of belonging before students even submit their intent to register. This early connection is particularly impactful for first-generation college students and students of color, which are common intersecting identities to transfer. In a recent study of the UCLA new admit events, researchers found that African American, Chicano/Latino, Native American, and Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander students are twice as likely to enroll when engaging in new admit events.

To connect with transfers early in their experience, UCLA hosts annual transfer-specific admit events. These events by student and alumni volunteers give admitted students and their families a holistic view of UCLA and its supportive community as it relates to their identity.

A successful transfer alum network requires a successful transfer experience. The recommendations above are a good place to start. And for more, you can always review the complete Beyond Transfer blog series.

With fundraising and new donor interests shifting to more personally meaningful and impactful investment opportunities, there is no better time to realize the unique potential of the transfer community.

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