March 28, 2023

Badger Connect: How Communities Drives Alumni Engagement & Giving

How Communities is driving engagement, connections, and giving at scale

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About the University of Wisconsin’s Career Leadership Department

The UW-Madison Athletic Department is committed to ensuring each student-athlete transitions to a successful post-collegiate athletic career. The Career & Leadership (C&L) Department, led by Brittany (McGowan) Root, is empowered to think outside of the box to make the department’s ambitious priority a reality. C&L works closely and collaboratively with the Badgers’ Letterwinner Club (W Club) and together they have reshaped the program over the years. The W Club is now part of a cohesive strategy to engage letterwinners and connect them with student-athletes regularly. The University of Wisconsin’s C&L department began using Communities in 2019. 

Key Takeaways

“Communities has provided an innovative solution to accomplishing our goal of 100% meaningful career outcomes for all graduating student-athletes."
- Chris McIntosh, Deputy Athletic Director

The University of Wisconsin’s Career & Leadership (C&L) department wanted to engage former student-athletes in a more meaningful way to help open doors for current student-athletes and increase alumni giving.

To scale their efforts, the C&L team wanted a platform that student-athletes and alumni would want to use, was highly secure, and provided an excellent user experience. Only one product met their needs.

Using Teamworks’ Communities, the Badger Connect mobile app was launched to directly connect letterwinners with current student-athletes and provide exclusive opportunities for alumni to engage with the program.

The Opportunity

The C&L team saw an opportunity to engage former student-athletes (“letterwinners”) in a more meaningful way and help open doors for current student-athletes. While having letterwinners and employer partners come to campus and share their perspectives is something the athletic department will continue to invest in, it doesn’t scale. Even for locals living in Madison, aligning schedules and getting on campus requires a lot of work for both parties—but that’s only half of it. Getting student-athletes to show up is even more challenging.

“Everything we were doing between student-athlete development and alumni relations was somewhat siloed, despite our letterwinners being perfectly positioned and willing to help our current student-athletes. We had to do something.”
- Bridget Woodruff, Assistant Athletic Director for Organizational Effectiveness

The Challenge

To have the desired impact, the C&L team needed the right technology to facilitate engagement among letterwinners and student-athletes. “You can’t just pump more content at these kids. You’ve got to connect them to people who can help. Even with a team of 10, we can’t do it all on our own,” said Woodruff. “The needs of our student-athletes are increasingly diverse, and we have to work smarter to properly serve each one.”

The C&L wanted a platform that student-athletes, letterwinners and employer partners would want to use since they were not in a position to mandate utilization. They also needed a platform with robust permission sets that adhered to the highest security and compliance standards without compromising the user experience. But after evaluating dozens of tools, including those already being used at UW-Madison, they did not find a single one that met their needs. 

The Solution

In October 2019, in partnership with Grafted (now Teamworks Communities), the C&L department launched the Badger Connect mobile app with the primary goal of empowering its community of student-athletes, letterwinners, and employer partners to help each other achieve success.

Valuable Connections

A core driver for the Badger Connect initiative was the department’s goal to function like a platform by connecting its members rather than trying to meet the individual needs of all 800+ student-athletes by themselves.

Communities sits entirely behind the scenes so student-athletes and letterwinners view the front door (mobile app icon) to their community through the lens of their university’s branded initiative. Badger Connect is a holistic student-athlete wellness program, and mobile app helps members pursue their personal and professional development goals. 

“It’s no secret student-athletes have extremely demanding schedules. Rethinking how our student-athletes can get the same information from letterwinners and employers but without the logistical barriers is one of the core purposes for leveraging Communities,”
- Brittany Root, Director of the Career & Leadership Department

Engaging Alumni at Scale

UW-Madison is using Communities to facilitate live broadcasts through the Badger Connect mobile app. This reduces the barriers for letterwinners and employer partners to engage, dramatically increasing the volume of people who can get involved. Not only can they schedule anyone in the Badger Connect community to host a broadcast for others; that host is now available to answer questions via in-app messaging which creates unique connections that open the doors to opportunity.

“I thoroughly enjoyed hosting a broadcast. It was awesome to be able to help fellow Badgers by sharing what I’ve learned from my professional and personal experiences."
- Jonathan Orr, former UW-Madison football and CEO of Athlete Transition Services

The Impact

The Badger Connect community has consistently grown since its launch in 2019. Today there are over 1,800 people in the community consisting of 650 current and 1,025 former student-athletes. Letterwinners have created over 2,314 videos that have generated more than 50,000 unique plays within the community. Letterwinners also account for 1,256+ unique in-app conversations

In the Spring of 2021, the University of Wisconsin athletics department launched a giving campaign offered to its former student-athletes. The campaign resulted in 104 first-time former student-athlete donors who were Badger Connect community members. These individuals gave their time and talent first which ultimately led to giving financially.

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