Alumni Association Steps Up Digital Engagement During Lockdown

By Joanne Norell

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Notre Dame campus in mid-March, students, faculty, and staff quickly pivoted to adjust to a new, digital normal. From online instruction to Zoom meetings and upticks in the use of various messaging platforms, even the least technically savvy among the campus community found ways to stay connected and maintain their academic and professional development.

At the Notre Dame Alumni Association, the transition to a virtual work model meant also replacing the myriad in-person engagement opportunities it hosts throughout each spring and summer. After the cancellation of events such as the Alumni Association Leadership Conference (scheduled for mid-April), Reunion (slated for early June), Family Volunteer Camp (planned throughout July) and a host of Hesburgh Lectures and UND Celebrations with local clubs across the country — among other smaller events — the association endeavored to find fresh ways to engage with its alumni, parents, and friends, albeit digitally.

“I have been humbled by the breadth of opportunities the Alumni Association has been able to offer our students, alumni, parents, and friends since many of us were sent home from work and school in March,” said executive director Dolly Duffy. “I’m grateful for the work our team has done to bring Notre Dame into the homes of the ND family in the face of so many unknowns.”

The Alumni Association connects with the Notre Dame family on a number of fronts, from relaying campus news to supporting local clubs, fostering spirituality, and aiding career and alumni education efforts. The onset of the pandemic necessitated a digital shift in all of these areas.

These are just some of the ways the NDAA has adapted to a virtual approach:

  • Weekly Digest: In an effort to keep alumni, parents, and friends apprised of updates coming from campus, the association shifted its monthly email newsletter strategy to a weekly digest sharing news, stories, things to do, and resources for career, education, and spirituality. With an audience of nearly 200,000, the weekly update provided a regular window into the campus response and kept its recipients connected to the University during a time of isolation.
  • Be The Light: To recognize the many members of the Notre Dame family fighting on the front lines of the pandemic, the NDAA solicited nominations and ultimately highlighted 65 alumni, parents, and friends through long- and short-form features. 
  • Weekly Masses and Rosaries: As the pandemic kept many at home, the association — in partnership with Campus Ministry — live streamed Dillon Hall’s weekly Milkshake Masses and offered a Rosary at the Grotto each Friday.   
  • Club and Affinity Group Efforts: The NDAA has supported the individual efforts of its clubs and offered digital resources, such as Alumni Association Leadership Conference content, virtual networking meetings and gatherings, and a virtual town hall with Duffy, for club leadership. The association has also supported initiatives such as Dial-A-Domer, a program to check in with members of the Notre Dame family to fight isolation during social distancing. Additionally, a yard sign initiative supported by more than 40 participating clubs allowed alumni, parents, and friends to support the Class of 2020 by displaying an NDAA-designed sign in their yards. Clubs and affinity groups have also hosted other virtual events, such as trivia nights and Zumba classes.
  • Grotto Prayer Requests: Though the NDAA fields Grotto Prayer Requests throughout the year, the association saw a nearly 50 percent increase in average monthly submissions between March and June.
  • ThinkND: The NDAA continued to promote this online learning community, sending out a weekly digest to a growing audience of 9,600, and launching a LinkedIn page that has grown to nearly 500 members.
  • Kylemore Book Club: In partnership with Kylemore Abbey Global Centre, Keough Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, ND International, College of Arts & Letters, Keough School of Global Affairs, and ND Learning, the Kylemore Book Club is an open, multimedia, educational enrichment program featuring Notre Dame’s expert faculty. The debut program, “Literature and Film in Lockdown,” has attracted more than 500 registrants.
  • Reunion: With the 2020 Reunion postponed until 2021, the NDAA has found other ways to acknowledge this year’s graduation milestones, including offering virtual Masses for each five-year class and a commemorative gift for the Class of 1970 on the occasion of 50 years.
  • Career and Professional: As many in the ND family struggled with the realities of the economic recession related to the pandemic, the association partnered with the University’s human resources department to offer career services including interview prep, career consults, and resume, cover letter, and profile reviews. The team also redoubled its efforts to grow its IrishCompass platform, the online networking platform for Notre Dame students and alumni.
  • Digital Community-Building Tools: The NDAA also sought to connect with alumni, parents, and students by providing digital affinity resources via social media. Around Commencement, the association provided frames for Facebook profile pictures as a way for the ND family to digitally support the Class of 2020. The frames bore messages such as "I support the class of 2020" and "Class of 2020 #NDalumni." Other frames allowed alumni and friends to show their Notre Dame pride with frames that read "ND Mom," "ND Alumni," and "We Are ND." Additionally, the team created an “Irish Family Fun Pack,” a digital PDF that provided activities for alumni and friends of all ages. It included coloring pages, crossword puzzles, word searches and jumbles, and ND trivia.

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