December 16, 2013 1:04 pm


This year I’m playing Clark Griswold at the Catherwood household by hosting eleven adults and five children for Christmas dinner. The roster includes my 90-year-old grandfather who likes all of his food to be plain and his portions not touching each other on his plate. So, wish me luck.

Last night, I was outside in the cold until 3:00 a.m. decorating the house with twinkling lights so I can have a bonafide National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation moment. God, I love that movie.

Just kidding… (about the lights)

But, since everyone is going to be on vacation the next couple weeks and the natural inclination will be to contemplate alumni engagement strategy, I want to end the year with a post about a few of the processes and systems we’ve deployed here at U.Va. that seem to be working. We’re up by 2K registrations (#humblebrag) for our UVA Global Network and Lifetime Learning events year-over-year, so I feel confident that the below ideas are helping out our cause.

1) Not all events are created equal, so we don’t treat them as such

We deploy a different set of processes based on an event ranking system. Level 3 events, our most important (think natural disaster rankings – higher number more significant), include a traveling faculty member or key administrator as a guest speaker. We schedule reminder emails for these events well in advance, and they are also advertised on the University Page on Linkedin, the primary University of Virginia Facebook Page, and on multiple twitter accounts. Level 2 events are those we think of as “Signature Events” organized by our UVaClubs. They get a different email template and a slightly decreased emphasis using social media compared to the Level 3’s. A Level 1 event, like a Happy Hour or Board Meeting, receives a single email and we rely on the UVaClubs themselves to market locally.

2) We focus on content reflective of giving and receiving advice

Last week we published a style post called “10 Ways to Spot a 1st Year” authored by my talented work study. It received three times the web traffic than anything we’ve ever posted on the UVA Global Network website. The key is to pair humor with humility, but to also make sure the crux of the post is to ask the reader for advice. I’m a firm believer that advice as a paradigm is the most crucial element of an alumni engagement communication strategy. We ask our alumni, parents and students to supply “Wahoo Perspectives” – advice based editorials about the work world, graduate school or work/life balance. The idea is to replicate the informational interview and/or the act of networking with the content.

3) We communicate a lot and use as an internal communications tool

My team and I communicate constantly throughout the day. Three days a week we have a 15-minute morning briefing to discuss what’s hot and what’s not. I meet individually with all team members for a hour each week. We also converse throughout the day using to share documents, links to articles, ask questions and share successes. If the communication is of good quality and not jibber-jabber, then I don’t think you can have too much of it… ever. Plus, it builds camaraderie when we all know what each person on the team is working on. We also just launched a group for all the Advancement/Engagement Social Media Managers from around the University to share content.

4) We use screencasts for internal knowledge management and volunteer training

We built a “Video Resource Library” as a tool for both our Regional Engagement Officers as well as our volunteers so they can access information that is easily digested and sharable. We’ve found that creating screencasts with instructions or advice generates a show-and-tell system rather than just tell. In October we aired live training sessions for volunteers using Google Hangouts On Air and have a cool digital event series upcoming called “HoosNext” featuring talks from several PhD students.

5) We are crazy diligent about collecting registrations and walk-up lists for all our events

Remember the ending of the G.I. Joe cartoon when they did the “Knowing is Half the Battle” thing? Refresher below (you can really find anything on Youtube)…  Although my team manages the registration process for most of our 1,200 events, we also collect walk-up lists and diligently keep track of who is coming to our events. Our registration data is critical and we are always in relentless pursuit of it.

Happy Holidays to you and yours! Remember to tune-in to Advancement Live, bi-monthly on Tuesdays at 1pm starting January 21st.

Ryan Catherwood is the Director of Engagement Strategy at the University of Virginia and Co-Host of “Advancement Live.” You can follow him on twitter @RyanCatherwood and connect on Linkedin.


Ryan Catherwood

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