What Today’s Alumni Relations Leaders Can Learn From Lyft

May 31, 2019  |  Tamalyn Powell


Today, getting to a destination without access to a vehicle, there are several choices: public transportation, car rental, traditional taxi service, and now, rideshare. And when it comes to rideshare, there are really two choices: The Big Dog or The Underdog.

Consider how Lyft (aka “The Underdog”) is slowly gaining ground in the industry:

Now let’s apply this Lyft model to the world of higher education, specifically alumni relations. It comes down to understanding your alums (your “riders”) and their needs, then giving them more than what they expect. Simply. Seamlessly. Purposefully. Consistently.


Many alumni departments don’t actually know a lot about their alumni. In the recent past, they didn’t need to. The main function of the alumni department a decade ago was “alumni locators” and “reunion liaisons.” Sure, most alumni departments probably have basic demographic information like name, birthdate, date of graduation, degree received, maybe even a physical and/or email address. Maybe. And they may be scattered across multiple databases.
But when it comes to how each graduate really has engaged with your college or university over the years – or how they would like to – this is generally where the data come to a screeching halt.


For all brands, engaging with their customers is critical to retaining and increasing their loyalty, much like Lyft’s model. It also helps brands identify and define their best customers, so they may successfully seek and acquire new customers sharing similar characteristics.

BVK believes higher education brands should be no different.

In late 2018, we undertook a proprietary alumni research study to better understand how US college graduates engage and wish to engage with their alma maters.

Our methodology included an online national survey of over 2000 alumni who attended all sized non-profit public and private colleges and universities. Recent alums to long-time graduates completed our survey about their college experience, current engagement with their alma mater, level and type of engagement they would prefer, their donation habits in general and donation history with their alma mater. Getting to know your alum at a deeper level will keep the humanistic ties between the university and its constituents.

Based on this primary data and these insights, we were able to identify six key personas that represent the average alumni segments in terms of engagement. Additionally, we have identified how each segment prefers to engage with their college or university.

Understanding which persona best represents each of your alums will help you select the most effective strategy for meaningfully engaging them, allowing opportunity to create a deeper emotional connection with more of your alumni. And deeper engagement will likely also lead to increased donations on the back end, just like Lyft riders tend to tip more. While increasing donations is not the primary focus of alumni relations departments, fundraising is taking on greater importance in higher education as other funding sources decrease and competition increases and now that measurement of the number of alumni who donate plays a part in overall college rankings.

When applying Lyft’s model in engaging a loyal customer base to your alumni, you can easily see how the parallels seamlessly fit together. Understanding alum means more effective engagement, engaged alumni equal more donations, more donations allow for better outcomes for your university. It’s that simple.

Want to know more? Happy to share our results with you – including the six segments of alumni and how to engage with them at every level. We are excited to share this new information in a complimentary presentation for your alumni and development teams. Just give me a shout or email highered@bvk.com to request more information.


Tamalyn Powell
is a Senior VP, Group Account Director at BVK

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