What are Grinnellians’ favorite alumni events?

May 17, 2023 — Attending a class reunion tops the list of programs/activities that Grinnell College alumni are most likely to take part in, followed by summer picnics and lifelong learning events with faculty. 

These were among the findings from the 2022 Alumni Pulse Survey, which also delved into news preferences, trust, connectedness, social media participation, and other topics. 

In 2019, Grinnell College began a partnership with Performance Enhancement Group for a series of four surveys. The first one, a comprehensive survey, was completed in March 2020. The second one was a pulse survey. It was launched in October 2022 and was open for six weeks. A total of 2,200 Grinnell alumni responded.

Two Infographics: 1) Speech bubbles next to text. Text: 2,200 respondents ranging from class of 1945-2022. 13.65% Response Rate. 2) Circle chart showing current opinion of Grinnell. Excellent 1,178 (54%), Good 806 (37%), Fair 171 (7.8%), Poor 26 (1.2%).

A vast majority of respondents (91%) described their overall opinion of Grinnell College as excellent or good. When asked “how connected do you feel to Grinnell College on a 1-10 scale?” (with 10 being most connected), 7 was the most popular response (21%) followed by 8 with 19 percent. Overall, more than 70 percent of respondents rated their level of connection between 6 to 10 on the scale.  

“It was encouraging to learn that most alums feel relatively connected to their alma mater,” says Adam Laug, director of development and co-interim vice president for alumni and development. “Belonging and connection are priorities for the College’s strategic plan, so this will no doubt be a point of emphasis in the future.” 

Another survey question asked what sources do alums trust for news? College faculty and students were the top two answers with alumni volunteers (class agents, class fund directors, etc.) coming in third. 

The next question asked survey takers to rank up to five preferred sources for receiving news about the College. The Grinnell Magazine was marked by 1,643 respondents, (about three-fourths of all alums answering), followed closely by emails from the College (1,638) and class messages (1,518). 

Bar Graph. Title: Respondents ranking of the top five Grinnell College News sources. Grinnell Magazine 1,643, Emails from College 1,638, Class Letters and Listservs 1,518, College Events 949, Alumni-managed social media 873.

Younger classes more often indicated that social media (both alumni-managed and College managed) as well as news from College events and the Scarlet & Black newspaper are their preferred sources.

“There are obviously a lot of different ways to hear about what’s going on at Grinnell, and the survey showed that alums rely on many sources to stay connected to what’s happening,” says Jayn Bailey Chaney ’05, director of alumni and donor relations and co-interim vice president for alumni and development. “Our strategy has been to share Grinnell news and stories in a variety of formats, an approach that I think is validated by these findings since there’s no one dominant place alums get their news.” 

In terms of what social media platforms alums regularly use, Facebook was the top answer with 58 percent of alums active on it at least once a week. Instagram (37%), LinkedIn (28%), and Twitter (22%) were the next three most frequent responses. 

There are numerous ways for alums to engage in College social media. Alumni and Friends accounts for Facebook and Instagram have more than 3,600 combined followers. A LinkedIn Grinnell College Alumni group has more than 4,300 members. 

Those are just the tip of the iceberg though in terms of Grinnell’s social media presence. The Be Social webpage has links to 42 social media pages and groups, both College and alumni managed. 

“Breaking down survey data further, we see that about 70 percent of alums from the classes of 2010s and 2020s are routinely on Instagram,” Chaney says. “With leadership from Sophie Neems ’16, our office launched the Alumni and Friends Instagram a year ago in large part to feature content that young alumni will find compelling. It’s encouraging that it’s quickly become a popular way for Grinnellians to stay current with what’s happening at the College.”

Likewise, Chaney notes the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) is eager to do more with LinkedIn as that platform is used by at least 30 percent of survey respondents in classes from five different decades (1980s-2020s). 

Bar Graph. Title: Respondents who answered "Very" or "Somewhat" likely to participate in these alumni programs. Class Reunion 1,582. Picnic, Meal, or Happy Hour 1,447, Faculty learning event 1,241, Networking event 1,239, Event with activity 1,176.

Another goal of the pulse survey was to see what programs and activities appeal most to alums. While the pandemic prevented reunion gatherings in 2020 (and forced 2021 to be shifted online), in-person alumni gatherings returned strong in 2022 with an all-alumni reunion, a Young Alumni Weekend, and a Golden Reunion bringing a total of around 1,800 alums to campus. Another large contingent of alums will be back on campus June 1-4 for Reunion 2023.

Summer picnics roared back to life last year as well with a record 30 picnics taking place in cities across the country. It will be another record year this summer as plans for 37 picnics are underway.

In addition to Reunion and summer picnics, alumni of color answering the survey also were more likely to participate in attending a networking event or an identity-based reunion. The fourth annual Multicultural Reunion will take place in November with virtual events leading into an on-campus experience.

Another survey question gauged interest in virtual events. A total of 691 alums were interested in virtually watching speakers, lecturers and performances held on campus while more than 500 alums would be likely to participate in a lifelong learning event taught by a Grinnell College faculty member, such as Virtual Alumni College. Meanwhile 451 respondents would likely attend a lifelong learning event taught by a fellow alum (such as the Alumni Experiential College held in 2020 and 2021).

Prior to the pandemic, Alumni College was held in person leading into Reunion. After moving online in 2020, the program has flourished. A total of 871 alums have registered for Virtual Alumni College during the fall 2022 and spring 2023 sessions. 

“We are continually evaluating our virtual event offerings and will carefully take into consideration the data yielded from the pulse survey,” Chaney says. “We appreciate all the alumni who took the time to fill out the survey to help inform our future programming and communications. We’re eager to put the findings to use as we consider opportunities to further strengthen our community and create stronger pathways for alumni to engage with each other, our students, and the College.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

There are so many ways alums can get involved with their alma mater. See ways to get more connected with Grinnell College.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.