27.May.2020

Drew Sottardi

Maintaining Traditions In A Global Pandemic

Creating Community By Embracing Change

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person learning on campuses across the U.S., many of higher education’s rituals and traditions were canceled as well. This spring, there will be no large gatherings for commencement ceremonies, senior toasts, or class reunions. Gone, too, are athletic events, volunteer drives, and fundraising galas.

But one thing that hasn’t been canceled is the human need to connect with one another.

So how can universities bring together students, faculty, staff, and alumni at a time when people can’t gather? By innovating around the need to connect, embracing change, and reaching out to people in new (and old) ways.

A Virtual Congrats

While many schools have already held online spring commencement ceremonies, others are planning remote celebrations for later in the year. If you’re working on an upcoming virtual event, look at what other institutions have done. A group of Bay Area students built a replica of UC Berkeley in Minecraft called Blockeley University, and they streamed a virtual commencement ceremony live on Twitch.  It has been viewed over 20,000 times.


Blockeley University 2020 Commencement Ceremony on Twitch

Miami University is another great example. They created a fully immersive experience to allow graduates and staff to interact with each other in an even more personalized way. Students created their own avatars and entered the virtual world through “The Hub,” a place on campus that is representative of beloved Miami traditions. The university then launched the hashtag #MiamiOHGrad, which now has over 4,700 posts on Instagram. A snapchat filter  also was created that allows users to take selfies in their virtual cap and gown in different locations on campus to share with family and friends.

Miami University Custom Snapchat Filters

Make sure to use your institution’s commencement as a way to drive home the importance of community. This is a great way to make a unique connection with current students, alumni, and donors alike.

Back In The Day

On-campus class reunions didn’t happen this spring, either. And many fall events—including homecoming—appear to be in jeopardy, too. But you can still bring scores of alumni together through technology. If anything, the need to connect is even greater now, as so many around the country are self-isolating.

Colleges have upped their creative games on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and other leading-edge platforms to connect with their alumni. Team members who would otherwise be on the road are devoting their time to online communication—mastering new interfaces and taking advantage of alums’ plentiful availability. So spend some time online to find a little inspiration for your upcoming class reunion. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your graduates will engage with you.

Sincerity Matters

When communicating with donors, you need to be open and honest. Share how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your finances and fundraising priorities, as well as the mission that they believe in. Maybe you had to convert your signature gala to an online event, or you changed your Giving Day plans to focus on an emergency fund for students in need.

We’re seeing an encouraging participation rate when alumni are offered a clear and direct way to help. Whatever you choose to do, remember that this is a time to strengthen relationships the old-fashioned way: through phone calls and thank you notes. Let your donors know that you’re thinking about them and remind them how their support over the years has had a powerful impact on others. Use these simple strategies to communicate with them effectively.

How We Can Help

Lipman Hearne’s team of strategists—from enrollment to philanthropy to digital marketing—can help you navigate these uncertain times. We do this work because we, too, love connecting, learning, and celebrating others. We are experts in finding solutions to difficult problems—creating more innovative ways to serve our clients every day.

Send us a note at info@lipmanhearne.com to learn how our digital toolkits can help your institution stay connected with the current graduating class and other alums.