Alumni Survey - Manchester


Manchester University Alumni Survey Case Study

Manchester University.The University of Manchester is one of the largest universities in the UK and wished to communicate with its alumni in order to understand their attitudes and views and to update their alumni contact information. The University required to issue a well-designed and accessible communication that would combine a message from the head of alumni relations and a questionnaire and would be attractive to the 270,000 alumni involved. Not all alumni could be contacted by e-mail and the challenge for the survey was to communicate with 97,000 via an on-line survey and 177,000 via a paper questionnaire.

The Business Requirement

The University of Manchester conducted a procurement exercise for a survey partner that offered a full survey service. The competition was won by Sigmer Technologies which provided a high-quality service at a competitive cost and was able to offer:

  • In-house team for technical survey design for on-line and paper modes
  • Graphic and accessibility design for on-line and paper questionnaires
  • A robust 'industrial strength' survey system hosted from our highly-secure data-centre in London
  • Low-cost printing
  • Low-cost national and international mailing
  • Cost-effective and secure data management, data entry and confidential recycling
  • Flexible data import and export in formats designed to simplify university effort in the extraction of invitee data
  • Updated alumni contact information in formats ready for systems such as Raiser's Edge
  • Pre-population of both on-line and paper questionnaires with data particular to each invitee.
  • Provision of an on-line reporting portal which provides real-time access to summary statistics during the survey.
  • Ability to conduct complex analysis and reporting of attitudinal responses

All of this delivered within an adaptable and transparent project management environment; with full quality assurance at each stage and of every deliverable

The Sigmer Solution

The initial project initiation process introduced the teams and clarified the schedule for the survey, the deliverables expected and the frequency and type of project reports to be issued.

Designing The Survey

The Sigmer survey design team worked with the staff of the Alumni Relations Department of the University to develop the master questionnaire and associated communications. Once approved these were turned into the paper and on-line surveys. All survey artefacts were branded to comply fully with the University's tight guidelines for branding

For postal invitees, the survey communication consisted of a covering letter followed by three sides of questions and a 'thank you' statement. These were combined onto a single sheet of A3 folded to make 4 A4 sides. Personalisation was provided for the covering letter and certain pre-populated alumnus information.

For on-line invitees the survey consisted of an e-mail invitation, a welcome page, the questionnaire and an exit page.

Developing The Survey

The on-line survey was created within Sigmer's robust on-line survey system which is hosted from a high-availability and highly secure data-centre in London. Draft on-line versions were provided for the Alumni Relations Team to allow full quality assurance of the survey.

The paper questionnaire was laid out for print as were the outbound envelope and the post-paid return envelope that was provided for the UK recipients.

A novel feature of the survey was that on-line and postal questionnaires would be pre-populated with certain information which would be updated by respondents. The personalisation of the invitations, together with the pre-population of alumnus information, also had to be developed and subjected to rigorous quality assurance both in terms of accuracy and also for position within the on-line and postal questionnaires.

The outbound mailing to UK alumni was to be charged to the University's own Mailsort 3 account and Sigmer arranged for the appropriate authorisations to be made to allow the Sigmer mailing to be appropriately charged. The post-paid return envelope (provided for UK respondents) was also to be charged to the University and Sigmer liaised with the University and Royal Mail to obtain the necessary licence.

Approximately 470,000 questionnaires, outbound envelopes and return envelopes were then printed ready for personalisation and mailing.

During the development of the survey Sigmer also provided the Alumni Relations staff with an on-line reporting portal that allowed them to monitor overall statistics for the survey and to view a standard summary report of the attitudinal responses.

Managing the Data

While the design and development of the survey artefacts progressed, Sigmer data analysts worked with the University's Data Manager to agree formats for the export of invitee data from the University's alumni record systems (Raiser's Edge and SITS). The aforementioned pre-population of alumnus information required an export of much richer invitee data than normally required for such surveys.

In order to minimise postal and data entry costs, all postal invitees were, in their covering letter, also given a personal link to an individual on-line questionnaire so that they could enter the survey without having to return a paper questionnaire. This survey, while identical to the on-line survey, ran as a separate survey database.

A third survey database was used for data entry and was optimised for that process.

The data analysis process also agreed the format for the updated alumni data that would be returned to the University to update the alumnus records. Update information would be generated from the three survey databases and would be consolidated into one update file in a format suitable for processing by the Raiser's Edge software.


Launching The Survey

The on-line survey was launched to 97,000 alumni at various times in order to coincide with the optimum mailing-time for the particular time-zone of the alumnus. All on-line invitations and questionnaires were personalised and pre-populated.

The paper artefacts were delivered from print into the mail process where they were overprinted with personalisation and pre-population information and were then folded and inserted into their outbound envelope. A post-paid return envelope was inserted into the outbound envelopes for UK invitees. The outbound mailing was then delivered into the postal system with 130,000 mailings within the UK and 40,000 throughout the rest of the world.

Dealing With The Responses

All paper responses were routed directly to Sigmer's Data Reception Centre where they were received and logged. The type of response information, and the projected volume of responses, required manual data entry and the questionnaires were then processed by the Data Entry Team. Data-sampling and comparison with original was part of the data entry quality control process. The management of received questionnaires was conducted under strict confidentiality conditions. Processed questionnaires were subject to confidential destruction and recycling.

Regular data updates were supplied to the University via Sigmer's secure SFTP data exchange site allowing the University's Alumni Database on Raiser's Edge to be kept up to date.

Analysis and Reporting

The University provided Sigmer with a complex specification for the analysis and reporting of the attitudinal data collected.

The Result

The survey has been a considerable success for the University and it has provide a valuable insight into the attitudes and preferences of their alumni. It has also allowed the updating of alumnus personal, contact and business information.

Visit The University of Manchester website at

Contact us NOW

To find out more about asking the right questions in the right way.

Call 01273 669 710 or e-mail

customer services staff

We don't have all the answers,

Your respondents do.

Find out how to gather relevant information and make sense of the results.

Book a demo

Or contact us on:

0207 183 5389 or