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contactable alumni number - decrease?

  • 1.  contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-02-2022 07:12 AM
    Happy Friday, everyone! 

    In calculating our number of "contactable" alumni recently, I noticed that we may have a decrease from the past year. This is likely due to us getting better at properly marking records when we know we have a bad address. Wondering if anyone else has experienced this, and whether it's a cause for concern or just a natural step in the process toward a cleaner database?

    A second, related, question: If you found another variable that would change how you calculate your number of contactable alumni (making it more accurate), would you use it, knowing that it would make year-over-year comparisons slightly less valid?

    Thanks for your insight!

    Jill Doub
    Director of Advancement Operations
    University of North Carolina Asheville

    Mailing address:
    UNC Asheville Foundation
    1 University Heights, CPO 3800
    Asheville, NC 28804

    Physical address:
    118 W.T. Weaver Blvd
    Asheville, NC 28804

  • 2.  RE: contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-02-2022 07:35 AM

    Good morning!  I can only speak to the second part of your question---I would answer YES-absolutely!  I love learning.  Anytime I learn about away to improve a process, I am excited to implement it.


    I do understand your point.  Yet, things change all the time.  I have a somewhat lengthy process for calculating the contactable number, and yet I modify it whenever I learn something new.  


    Tracy Rush

    Otterbein University

    Executive Director, Advancement Services | Institutional Advancement

    t. 614.823.1290





  • 3.  RE: contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-02-2022 07:36 AM
    I think it is imperative that along with coding "lost souls" more accurately, you must ramp up you data hygiene and append services.

    Unless you have a large international population, your contactable rate should be in the high 90% range.

    Also, unless US News changes their definition for contactable alumni (they have not), I would not make any changes.


    John H. Taylor 
    919.816.5903 (Cell/Text)

    Big Ideas; Small Keyboard

  • 4.  RE: contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-02-2022 10:04 AM
    Agreed about appends, John. Yes, our contactable rate is in the 90% range. So, what do you advise if we find that we have fewer contactable alumni using the same US News definition? 


  • 5.  RE: contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-02-2022 11:00 AM
    There are two definitions here - and from a US News perspective, these apply to undergraduate degree holders only:
    • Alumni of Record:  Any alum on the database that isn't deceased or lost
    • Contactable Alumni:  Same as above but exclude individuals who have requested total anonymity or "No Contact."
    You probably need to step up your research efforts if you aren't in the 90% range for either.


    John H. Taylor
    John H. Taylor Consulting, LLC
    2604 Sevier St.
    Durham, NC   27705
    919.816.5903 (cell/text)

    Serving the Advancement Community Since 1987

  • 6.  RE: contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-02-2022 10:58 AM
    Hi Jill,

    Contactable records can drop substantially based on improving data hygiene. In general, email lists decay by over 20%/year. In higher ed, the influx of recent grads each year can really skew the analysis of contactable records, and it makes sense to measure contactability in segments, so that you get a better picture of what's actually happening. 

    With regards to the issue of year-over-year comparisons, you may be able to go backwards and apply the new equation to the old data, so you can create a consistent 'new version' dataset. However, if you're measuring data points that didn't previously exist, or that existed but are not valid because they weren't used, that won't work. You can also try to show values using both the old and new metric for the first couple of years going forward. 

    Just keep in mind the audience for your reporting. If it's operational, accuracy is more important than consistency year-over-year. If your audience is reviewing KPIs at a high level, it's best to keep KPIs static until you have enough data to show a new trendline. Otherwise it's just unclear to the audience whether the change in the data is reflecting something important that they should pay attention to, or if it's just an artifact of the equation used. 

    Thank you,
    Isaac Shalev
    Data Strategy Expert
    Sage70, Inc.
    (917) 859-0151

    Schedule a 30-minute consultation now:

  • 7.  RE: contactable alumni number - decrease?

    Posted 09-06-2022 08:24 AM
    Hi Jill,
    I'm a big fan of footnoting reports when these sorts of issues arise. Footnote 1 would explain that in FY21 you began a project to better track bounces and opt-outs and footnote 2 would explain the calculation change made in FY23 and that previous numbers may have been falsely inflated. We would probably also have someone verbally present this to the President, the Board, or other stakeholders who may pay attention to the numbers, so they understand why the change is a positive even though it makes it look like the numbers dropped.

    Lianna Bodzin
    Assistant Director of Advancement Services
    Colorado School of Mines