Many institutions are laser-focused on affinity communities (such as student groups, varsity sports, or regional chapters) because it’s a critical step towards the nirvana of personalized engagement.
Quite a few universities I have spoken with are building affinity discussion groups that alumni can join to meet like-minded alumni with one admitting they had “hundreds of groups to choose from.” While the intent here is fantastic, the administrative effort and the paradox of choice probably render that scale totally ineffective.
Our new Affinity Matching feature not only makes capturing and leveraging affinities simple for institutions but meaningfully elevates how alumni and students connect around who they are and what they care about.
Today in Protopia, alumni are prompted to update their data after they respond to a personalized volunteer opportunity delivered via email (a question from a student or fellow graduate).
Each time the alum engages (whether she agrees to help or pass) we ask her to review & update a small part of her data, rotating through employment, address, skills, and other information that we use to match them to relevant needs (and of course share with customer institutions).
Since we “strike while the giving iron is hot” (the alum understands that better data will allow us to send them even better volunteer opportunities right into her inbox), about 25% of alumni that engage via Protopia update their data.
We have now enhanced profile updates to get alumni and students to share what they care about so that we can use that information to find like-minded alumni and supporters.
Alumni are can choose our default impact affinities (such as “Racial Justice”, “LGBTQ+” and “First Gen”) or values shared by our customers (such as “Women In Business” or “Black Alumni Association”).
Our AI uses this affinity data when matching needs to the best alumni when we either detect a student is foremost looking for an ally or we have an abundance of highly-relevant alumni and use affinity to further narrow down the audience to the 20 best matches.
If you’re interested in seeing this live (demo), reach out.
Why was this important to us and our customers?
We know that underrepresented groups engage at a much lower rate in networking and mentorship (critical to academic and career success) than students and alumni with an abundance of social capital.
We collaborated with researchers focused on informal mentoring within underrepresented groups to better understand barriers and then held multiple focus groups with diverse students to hear directly from them why / why not. If you are interested in the “why not”, we actually wrote a research summary that reviews the key barriers.
Here’s what we learned:
(1) Students (and alumni) are okay sharing sensitive demographic data (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) as long as it is clear what it is being used for: “We don’t mind, we get asked for it all the time.”
(2) It’s less about “same” and “shared experiences”, students are foremost looking for allyship. We heard “I don’t care if the alum is transgender or not. I want to know that she/he/they care about and support me.”
That fired us up because (a) collecting demographic data is messy and (b) most universities already support allyship in some capacity through affinity groups. Not as refined as we believe is necessary, but often a good stop-gap when you want to understand what someone cares about.
So we mocked something up and did more focus groups and user testing, especially around those initial affinities that we heard over and over again are more important than others. Not just because we’re “in the moment” but also because they are much harder to capture.
One highlight was a call with an associate general counsel at a large institution who loved what we were going for, shared constraints / legal framework, and offered the positive view that long-standing concerns and restrictions on demographic data are thawing because (a) there’s a growing awareness of the opportunity for more connectedness and (b) the definition of privacy is changing all around us.
As with everything, this is a journey. We’re collecting actionable data and user / customer feedback, and excited where affinities will lead us.