NU recovers 30,000 ‘lost’ alumni files

Dan Strumpf

Northwestern’s department of alumni relations unearthed about30,000 ‘lost’ alumni — about 16 percent of its known, livingalumni population — for whom NU had incorrect contactinformation.

The update, finalized earlier this month, clears the way for NUto reconnect with this omitted segment of alumni via mailings,telephone calls and the alumni magazine, said Sarah Pearson, vicepresident for alumni relations and development.

“We began to see mail returns, for instance,” Pearson said. “Wewould get returns for huge chunks of, say, reunion letters that gotsent out. We decided that for NU not to have information for allits alumni was not acceptable and was something we couldcorrect.”

But personal information for another 20,000 alumni remains hazy,said Jim Conway, associate vice president for alumni relations anddevelopment, who began the $10,000 update project about a year ago.Officials haven’t determined whether the information is up-to-datefor those graduates.

NU now stands a step closer to solving an ongoing problem ofdisappearing alumni, Conway said. When he undertook the update, theuniversity had lost track of about 60,000 alumni altogether — orabout 27 percent of all alumni on the university’s database.Although NU has now cut that number by two-thirds, a large portionof alumni remain missing.

Conway contacted a service called AlumniFinder, a Wickford,R.I., company that specializes in tracking down lost graduates forschools and nonprofit groups.

He gave AlumniFinder the 60,000 lost graduates and the companypored through its 400 databases, checking and cross-checkingbetween “pretty much all the public databases that are availablearound the country,” said Richard King, AlumniFinder’spresident.

The company returned to NU 30,000 alumni with up-to-date contactinformation, 20,000 alumni with uncertain contact information andbetween 7,000 and 9,000 alumni who were found to be dead, Conwaysaid.

“All the years I always wondered how companies that I left, thatI purchased things from in the past, how they always find me,”Conway said. “I believe corporations do the same process.”

The next step is two-pronged: track down the 20,000 alumni whosecontact information is still uncertain and make sure NU never losestrack of so many alumni again, Conway said.

NU will accomplish this goal by checking every piece of mailreturned by the post office with AlumniFinder, he explained.

Although Pearson said the update probably won’t bring more fundsraised to NU anytime soon, it will re-establish contact with amajor portion of alumni, which is the foundation for all of NU’salumni relationships.

“These databases are big and complex and the goal is to reallymake sure we keep current info on as many alumni as possible,”Pearson said. “Now for some sets of alumni that’s prettychallenging. The first 10 years out for example, the age we callthe younger alumni population, it’s not unusual for younger alumnito move two, three, four times.”

NU’s goal is to be as meticulous with its alumni as peerinstitutions such as Duke, Princeton and Stanford, which keep theirpercentage of lost alumni in the single digits, Conway said.

“Our goal is to be equal to Duke, which we think has an amazingnumber for percent (lost),” Conway said. “Somewhere around 4 or 5percent is what we’ll try for. It will take some time to getthere.”

Reach Dan Strumpf at [email protected].