Using Gamification to Engage Alumni

By Andrew Davies

Cover photo by Katrin Bolovtsova

Let’s face it, keeping alumni connected and engaged with their alma mater can feel like an uphill battle. Traditional emails and newsletters often end up buried in inboxes, and alumni events are getting harder to pull off. But fear not. There’s another tool in your toolkit. Let’s explore how you can use gamification to engage alumni.

What is Gamification?

Basically, it’s the art of applying game-like elements (points, badges, leaderboards) to non-game contexts like, you guessed it, alumni engagement. Think of it as sprinkling some pixie dust of fun and competition onto your alumni programs to make them more engaging and motivating. According to the gamification platform Scavify

“Gamification techniques leverage our psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. They tap into the basic desires and needs of the users for achievement, status, and self-expression, driving them towards specific behaviors.”

How can Gamification be Useful for Alumni Engagement?

Gamification brings fun and interactivity to the table, but it also goes deeper. By playing together, alumni can reconnect with their shared experiences and build a stronger sense of community. It’s like reliving the good old days, but with a fun twist facilitated by their alma mater. Here’s what gamification can do for your alumni engagement:

Boost participation

Who doesn’t love a good challenge? Gamification adds a layer of fun that can encourage alumni to participate in events, volunteer opportunities, and other engagement initiatives.

Increase motivation

Earning points, badges, and climbing leaderboards can motivate alumni to stay active and connected with their alma mater. Remember that feeling of accomplishment after finally beating that level in Candy Crush? Gamification taps into that same sense of achievement and keeps alumni coming back for more.

Build community

Healthy competition (think friendly, not Hunger Games) can foster a sense of community and connection among alumni. It creates a shared experience and encourages interaction, whether it’s bragging rights on the leaderboard or collaborating to win a team challenge.

How to Use Gamification to Engage Alumni

So, maybe you’re sold on the idea of using gamification to engage alumni, but getting started might seem a bit daunting. But fret not! We’ve got your back. We’ve boiled down the whole process into four straightforward steps. With these, you’ll be well on your way to turning your alumni connections into a thriving, interactive community that’s buzzing with excitement. 

Step 1: Start with a Purpose

Before you unleash the power of gamification on your alumni engagement efforts, it’s crucial to define your objectives.  This acts as your roadmap to make sure your efforts will work. The best place to start is by taking a hard look at your current alumni engagement strategies.  What’s working well, and what areas need improvement?

Some common problems gamification would be a good solution for are:

  • Low event participation: Are alumni skipping events? Gamification can incentivize attendance and make events more interactive.
  • Limited volunteer participation: Struggling to recruit volunteers? Gamification can turn volunteering into a rewarding experience and track contributions.
  • Decreased alumni communication: Is there a lack of back-and-forth with alumni? Gamification can encourage alumni to connect and share information.
  • Falling alumni donations: Looking to boost alumni giving? Gamification can incentivize donations and create a sense of friendly competition.

Step 2: Choose the Right Playground

Knowing your goals helps you choose the perfect platform for your gamified experience. For in-person events, remember, not everyone thrives on intense competition or has the same physical abilities.  So for example, instead of a high-energy scavenger hunt, integrate QR code scanning to make participation accessible for all.

If you’re using digital gamification to engage alumni, choose platforms that are convenient for everyone.  Look for platforms that are easy for you to manage and for alumni to access.  Consider digital alumni management tools like Alumnireach or Almabase, which offer built-in gamification features.  Additionally, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are great for not just promoting your gamified campaign but also hosting it (think hashtag competitions or tag-a-friend contests).

Where else can you inject a dose of gamification into your existing programs? Here are some ideas:

  • Events: Award points for attending events, sharing photos on social media using a specific hashtag, or completing surveys.
  • Volunteer opportunities: Offer badges or points for completed volunteer hours, positive feedback received, or mentoring sessions.
  • Networking: Create a gamified networking platform where alumni can connect and earn points for attending virtual events, making introductions, or participating in discussions.
  • Donations: Offer challenges that boost the donor impact when certain targets are reached.

Step 3: Choose the Right Gamification Toys

Now that you’ve chosen your playground (in-person event or digital platform), it’s time to design the challenges!  These challenges should be engaging and tailored to your alumni’s interests.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

A classic motivator, rewarding participation with points allows alumni to track their progress and strive for higher scores.

Awarding badges for specific achievements (e.g., “Super Volunteer,” “Event Enthusiast”) adds a sense of accomplishment and recognition.

A little healthy competition can go a long way! Leaderboards let alumni see how they stack up (in a good way!), adding a fun layer of friendly competition and motivating participation. 

Emory University’s Day of Giving campaign is a great example.  They used multiple leaderboards to showcase regional giving, making it a fun competition to see which alumni group showed the most school spirit through donations. The variety of ways to contribute kept things interesting for everyone.

Emory University used leaderboards as part of their fundraising gamification
Emory University’s use of leaderboards on the Almabase platform gave donors plenty of opportunities to shine.

Hosting auctions is a tried and true method for fundraising. As an additional way of involving the alumni community, think about having attendees bid on items donated by other alumni.

Donor matching
Challenge your alumni to boost their impact by offering special matching bonuses when certain goals are reached. For example, Thomas Aquinas College had a phenomenal Alumni Giving Weekend in 2021 thanks to over 600 enthusiastic alumni donors and the power of gamification. They surpassed their fundraising goal by a whopping 142% by adding donor-matching challenges to their fundraising page, keeping alumni engaged and excited to contribute.

Thomas Aquinas alumni fundraising used gamification to improve results by 142%
Screenshot from Thomas Aquinas College’s Giving campaign from Almabase

Special Challenges: If good old-fashioned community-building is the goal, sometimes just challenging participants to a fun activity is enough. Take Lethbridge College’s annual Kodiak Coke Cake Contest for instance. Participants receive a recipe kit with all the ingredients. The challenge? Bake and decorate a delicious cake, using a can of Coca-Cola as a surprise twist! The creations are then judged on social media by the entire alumni community.

Lethbridge College's use of gamification came in the form of a Kodiak Coke Cake Contest.
Lethbridge College’s alumni used the Cake challenge to show off school spirit.

Step 4: Choose the Right Rewards

Sometimes the points and badges aren’t going to be enough. So what are you going to offer them in return for them playing your game? Provide virtual or physical rewards to incentivize participation. Exclusive alumni merch or early access to upcoming events can be an attractive draw. But sometimes a memorable event that’s unique to your school is a good idea.

Take Butler University for example. As part of their annual fundraising campaign, the alumni association offered new grads the chance to break the rules and take a selfie in the iconic campus fountain – all if a specific fundraising goal was met!  Here’s their Dean of Libraries explaining the rules. 


Using gamification in alumni engagement is the equivalent of discovering a hidden gem in a treasure chest; it offers tremendous potential to boost participation, foster unforgettable experiences, and cultivate long-lasting connections among alumni. It’s time to press the “start” button on gamification and level up your alumni engagement game. We invite you to share your thoughts, feedback, and success stories in integrating gamification into your alumni programs. Because at the end of the day, who doesn’t enjoy unlocking a hidden achievement?

Additional Resources:

Gamification platform Xperiencify has a list of gamification examples

Scavenger hunt app Scavify has a list of 18 more gamification techniques you could try.