Alumni Engagement Metrics

About a year and a half ago, Penn State Dean Danielle Conway invited me to be a contributing author to Incorporating Antiracist Principles in Alumni Affairs and Advancement (Volume 8) of the book series created by the Antiracist Development Institute (ADI). The book series is entitled “Building an Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession,” will consist of eight volumes and will be published by the University of California Press.

“More than 100 colleagues from the legal academy, legal profession, and adjacent organizations are contributing to the book series as chapter contributors, editors, content reviewers, and workshop facilitators, representing 55 institutions across the country.”  

I agreed to write the chapter on “Antiracist Metrics for Alumni Engagement, Fundraising, and Communications.” In so doing, I started by trying to make myself more knowledgeable about the existing engagement and fundraising metrics. That effort led me both to author this series of three blog posts, which I have permission to publish here from the ADI and to author the chapter.

I thank Dean Conway for the opportunity to grow my knowledge of antiracism, alumni relations, fundraising, and communications and think through the intersections among the four from a design thinking lens.

Because the possibilities are so much more extensive than I had imagined, this posting is, by far, my longest blog post ever. In fact, I have divided the information into three posts: (1) Introduction to Advancement Metrics and Fundraising Metrics, (2) Alumni Engagement Metrics, and (3) Communications Metrics. This post focuses on Alumni Engagement Metrics. A previous post focused on Fundraising Metrics.

Alumni Engagement Metrics

Alumni engagement, in significant part, aligns with fundraising in obvious and important ways. Most alumni do not want a purely transactional relationship with their law schools whereby they give money and, perhaps, have something named for them. In most, but certainly not all instances, the pathway to a significant gift starts years before with a panel presentation, alumni board work, a hire of a recent graduate, or a student mentoring interaction. In addition, engagement is an excellent predictor of future donations and therefore influences which alumni gift officers approach, qualify, cultivate, and, ultimately, solicit. 

Moreover, changes to law school accreditation and bar admissions standards to require more practical training and professional identity development instruction have required law schools to align themselves more closely with their local and state bar associations and more intentionally involve alumni in their educational programs.

Board Service. This counting metric, obviously, is capped by the number of board seats a law school has. Many law schools operate a single alumni board, perhaps with geographic region-based sub-groups linked to the alumni board. It is also common to have a board with a membership group that includes significant donors and particularly accomplished alumni (e.e., judges). These boards, typically designated the “Dean’s Cabinet” or “Dean’s Advisory Counsel,” often receive special benefits (such as private lectures from faculty and alumni experts) and are asked for strategic advice.  Some law schools have created additional advisory boards that align with institutional priorities represented by the law schools’ centers (e.g., an advisory board for a law school’s center for advocacy).

Experiential Engagement (e.g., simulation courses, field placements, and internships). The ABA’s recently enacted experiential education accreditation standard, 303(a)(3),[1]has heightened the need for alumni to be engaged in helping deliver law school curricula. These engagement opportunities include teaching simulation courses, defined as classroom courses, such as  a course in Negotiations, where students develop their skills by engaging in mock lawyering experiences. [2] Even more significant and critical are alumni who serve as field placement (A/K/A externship) supervisors; field placements are real-world lawyering experiences, such as working for a judge researching and writing memos and drafting opinions and decisions on motions, in which the student engages in meaningful lawyering activities under close supervision of a site supervisor. [3] This form of engagement allows the law school to offer its students a wide variety of experiential learning opportunities and, in many instances, to align those opportunities with students’ career goals.

Other Volunteering.  The other service metric is another counting metric that captures engagement in the form of alumni who serve as adjunct faculty [4] or competition team coaches, those who serve as mentors to current students, and those who speak on panels. It is not clear that many institutions track these data, but, as detailed below, tracking a wider variety of data is critical to an antiracist strategy of engaging a broader segment of law schools’ alumni populations. [5] 

Moreover, even among law schools that track these data, it is not clear that institutions have systematic mechanisms for capturing volunteer contributions of time to support student organizations by advising student leaders, attending events, or speaking on student organization panels.

The foregoing alumni engagement metrics can be readily combined into a single metric, Volunteering, as suggested by a 2018 information report from CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education). [6] CASE is generally considered to be an authoritative source. 

Philanthropic Engagement.  This metric is addressed above under fundraising and is measured by calculating the number of alumni who give and then calculating the percentage of the total alumni pool who are donors.

Alumni Events Sponsored. One of the best ways to connect with alumni is via alumni events. Many alumni are willing to host these events in their offices and cover the cost of food and beverages. This is, of course, a type of philanthropic engagement, but separating it out encourages such generosity, and it allows alumni who might not yet be willing to make a direct contribution to a law school to be engaged in a way that also benefits the alumni.

Events Attended.  CASE uses the term “Experiential” to refer to this metric, which includes alumni attendance at reunions, homecomings, speaker events (in person or online), and other events.  It can simply be a counting metric that helps institutions understand all the ways in which alumni are engaged with the law school.

It is also possible to calculate an event evaluation metric, the Percentage of Attending Alumni.  The percentage of attending alumni is calculated by diving the number of alumni attendees at an event by the number of possible alumni attendees (i.e., those in class(es) having the reunion or those in the geographic region) and then multiplying the result by 100 to get to a percentage.

All of the above combined.  With attention to avoiding double counting alumni who engage in multiple ways, this metric allows the law school to add together each of the above counting metrics and identify the total number of alumni who are engaged in any way with the law school. That total number of engaged alumni can then be divided by the total number of alumni to calculate the percentage of engaged alumni

The addition of email and social media as tools for connecting with alumni is forcing institutions to reconsider their definitions of alumni engagement. Is opening an email from the law school a form of engagement? Is reposting a LinkedIn posting about a law school moot court success a form of alumni engagement? Is liking such a post also engagement? How about just viewing the post?  After all, LinkedIn tracks “impressions” and the younger generation alumni are digital natives whose interactions include substantial social media communications. The metrics are segregated from the engagement in the discussion below but could be aggregated with the engagement numbers described above. In fact, the CASE information report takes the position that these metrics should be counted in engagement numbers. [7]

[1] Standard 303. CURRICULUM

(a) A law school shall offer a curriculum that requires each student to satisfactorily complete at least the following . . .

(3) one or more experiential course(s) totaling at least six credit hours. An experiential course must be a simulation course, a law clinic, or a field placement, as defined in Standard 304.

[2] ABA Standard 304(b): “A simulation course provides substantial experience not involving an actual client, that is reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks in a set of facts and circumstances devised or adopted by a faculty member.”

[3] ABA Standard 304(d): “A field placement course provides substantial lawyering experience that (1) is reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks in a setting outside a law clinic under the supervision of a licensed attorney . . . .”

[4] There is nuance in treating compensated adjunct faculty as engagement. On the one hand, the alumni adjunct faculty are paid so adjunct teaching is not strictly volunteering.  On the other hand, nearly all, if not all, adjunct faculty are paid much less than their regular hourly rates; in fact, the author of this chapter has seen calculations at as little as $20/hour. If income were a determining factor, adjunct teaching would not be the chosen mechanism to do so.

[5] There is an argument to be made that hiring new graduates is a form of engagement given the significance of job placement data in U.S. News rankings.

[6] CASE, Alumni Engagement Metrics 6 (2018),

[7] Id.