Fostering Athletic Connections - How Decades-Worth of Cornell Football Alumni Reconnected

April 2022 — By Keith Hannon

Anyone who played sports in college can tell you that your team is your family, and your school feels like home. No matter how many years you play the sport, the athletic connections you build feel unbreakable.

Fostering those bonds after graduation always starts as a priority. However, just like any other family, college sports teams can grow apart and lose touch. Alumni engagement is not only key to maintaining those athletic connections, but it’s also crucial for driving continuous alumni loyalty and donations.

In the case of Cornell’s football alumni, it took an online family reunion of sorts to bring the family back together.

Cornell’s History of School Spirit

Cornell University is an Ivy-league school with a rich history and deep bench of notable alumni. The private university opened its doors in 1865 as “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Today, the school offers more than 4,000 courses to tens of thousands of students from around the world.

Cornell alumni have always been active and dedicated to the school. The university was one of the first to have representatives on its board of trustees that are alumni-elected. Many of the university’s alumni include students who became Rhodes Scholars, world leaders, CEOs, innovators, and more.

While the university enjoys high alumni engagement overall, there are areas that have a higher bar because alumni support is crucial to their annual budget. One such area is athletics.

How Cornell Football Alumni Lost Touch

Cornell football has a proud tradition that includes three national titles. However, some tough years for the team, combined with less resources for Ivy League football, made it more difficult to inspire alumni engagement.

Understanding the importance of alumni and athletic connections, the Big Red knew they had to find a new way to unite their football family and help them remember the profound impact the team had on their lives.

Fostering Stronger Athletic Connections

Cornell tried several ways to improve alumni engagement, specifically with football alumni. They hosted tailgate parties, phonathons, and on-campus networking days. Each event was an effort to connect students and alumni. While these initiatives offered value in their own way, they didn't elevate the power and breadth of the entire football community.

Other departments within Cornell were showing success in improving alumni relations through BrightCrowd. The staff in charge of inspiring relations with the football alumni decided to give it a try with the hopes of:

  • Uniting the football program alumni
  • Connecting current student-athletes with alumni
  • Updating contact and employment info on alumni to correct records
  • Increasing fundraising leads

They not only accomplished all of the above, but they also ended up creating one of the best college alumni networks amongst all their departments.

BrightCrowd’s Success with Cornell Football Alumni

Cornell Football was delighted by BrightCrowd’s customer service and the simplicity of launching unique memory books for multiple departments with zero IT work required. The book serves as both a snapshot in time and a social directory in which people get to connect or reconnect no matter their geographic distance or age.

Cornell Football gave their current players and alumni an opportunity to create pages in the book. Members who accepted the invitation received a set of questions that prompted engaging answers in a private environment (no one other than the participants and the organization can view the data).

The service instantly aggregates all of the profiles into a comprehensive online book. Participants can easily browse through the portfolios and connect to one another in new and meaningful ways.

BrightCrowd also provided Cornell Football with consulting support along the way. This helped the alumni group increase engagement and understand their members better. Despite a lack of football skills, BrightCrowd became part of the team. As the book participants grew, BrightCrowd continued to offer insights into Cornell's broader alumni relations strategies.

The Half-Time Score from BrightCrowd and Cornell Alumni

Though we’ve only hit half-time (about four months since launch), Cornell Football and BrightCrowd have proved to be an unbeatable team. The relationship between alumni and Cornell has improved. Better yet, the organization has become one of the best college alumni networks once again.

Just four months from the program’s launch, more than double the number of alumni who typically engage with the alumni association have created a page in their football book. It’s not just the recent graduates that have created pages either. Alumni from as far back as 1945 have shared their stories in Cornell Football’s BrightCrowd book!

Many current players have also signed up, including members of the class of 2025 who have been able to connect with history while beginning their own legacies. In total, 600 (and counting!) Big Red players and alumni have made a page.

People aren’t just creating and viewing their own pages either. More than half of the alumni who signed up have visited the book at least once in the past month. On average, these members visit a whopping 19 pages, and at least 100 members have clicked to see another person’s contact information. That’s what BrightCrowd’s all about: connecting people in the most authentic way possible.

The weekly who’s new to the book newsletter that members receive from BrightCrowd has an open rate of 66 percent - that’s more than 2.5 times the average email open rate for education. Engagement rates like this speak to the power of affinity being stronger than the opinions about a university or its administration. Cornell Football alumni are once again banding together with that unbreakable team bond.

Use BrightCrowd to Encourage Stronger Connections With Your Alumni Association

Cornell Football is just one example of how BrightCrowd can bring people together. The challenge of reengaging those who have lost touch is no easy feat, especially for universities with limited staff and a limited budget.

That’s where the power of BrightCrowd benefits your alumni association. Whether you’re looking to foster renewed general alumni or athletic connections, we can help you drive engagement that will build steady donations in an incredibly compelling and cost-effective way.

Contact us today to see our tool in action and learn what makes BrightCrowd better than any other alumni engagement service on the market.

Keith Hannon