Take a peek at Yale’s alumni relations successes from the past year, and learn some interesting trends and approaches. Among them: Reunions today are more vibrant than ever, setting new records in 2015 for overall attendance. More than 7,000 graduates, family, and friends returned for Yale College reunions in the spring of 2015.
The Guardian’s Higher Education Network offers this great article on communicating with alumni. The bottom line: “You’re up against Twitter, text messages and diminishing attention spans, so make it snappy (and not about strategic plans).”
The University of Missouri’s alumni association has re-instituted its Black Alumni Network in response to numerous requests made in the weeks after racial tensions exploded on the school’s campus.
Corporate Insights recently reported that although nearly eight in ten alumni “feel positively” about their alma mater, only 22% have donated to their college or university in the last year. The report explored characteristics of donors vs. non-donors, and a key finding was that eighty percent of alumni donors indicated they have benefitted from their association with their alma mater. Among others, this finding underscores the new framework for alumni engagement: providing lifelong value for lifelong loyalty.
This month’s news roundup reflects the ongoing juxtaposition of tradition and innovation in alumni engagement. We’re seeing reunions integrate rich, new programming with long-standing offerings, associations adapt their membership programs, and the addition of a philanthropy component to one of the biggest alumni parties of the year. Read on!
In a time when alumni associations are being “folded in” to university development offices (UConn, for a recent example), Iowa State has just endowed its association’s President and CEO position, the first non-academic endowed position of any kind at ISU.
The MSU Alumni Association joins other alumni organizations like those at Ohio State, Illinois, and the University at Buffalo in dropping its dues-based membership program. “As of July 1, 2016 the MSU Alumni Association will eliminate the dues requirement for membership in recognition of what many alumni have been telling us for a long time – dues are a distraction,” wrote Scott Westerman, Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations.
The University of Pennsylvania’s alumni weekend drew a record number of alumni back to campus for a weekend packed with educational programs, an All-Alumni Party, parade, picnic, the Taste of Penn Spectrum (celebrating Penn’s cultural diversity), a screening of Pitch-Perfect 2 (which features a Penn a cappella group), and the Perelman School of Medicine’s black-tie gala featuring Harry Connick, Jr.
In addition, the school’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships links alumni with volunteer opportunities, following a request from alumni who “wanted another reason to exist besides to plan a party every five years.”
Up to 5,000 alumni will attend the University of Delaware’s annual Dela-bration, an open-air dance party with such high energy it required a city noise waiver. This well-attended event will include a VIP area near the stage, exclusively for alum that donate at least $1,000 per year.
Thoughtful Experiment: HarvardX for Alumni Rethinks Engagement in the MOOC Era
In the spring of 2014, Harvard launched HarvardX for Alumni, an initiative to create a unique online experience exclusively for alumni. Almost a year later, leaders from the Harvard Alumni Association took a close look at the successes and challenges of its first iteration.
Engaging nearly 15,000 alumni, the program drew mixed reviews but shows promise, especially as a way to engage local chapters and clubs. In their summary article, the program’s leaders wrote that “twenty-eight Harvard Clubs hosted, or pledged to host, a discussion group on a HarvardX for Alumni topic or segment. A number of Clubs, including Houston, Minnesota, Shanghai, Chicago, and Cape Cod, hosted more than one discussion. Five Clubs also brought in faculty speakers from the program.”
In the fall of 2014, the University of Pennsylvania launched its own alumni-exclusive online course via Coursera. In contrast to Harvard’s program, Penn offered just one course, a modified version of its popular online class “History of the Slave South.” Drawing nearly 700 alumni, the course garnered positive feedback, with over 85% of participants indicating that the course strengthened their connection to the university.
In both cases, one of the best outcomes of the programs seems to be the support it lends to connecting alumni with each other, acting as a vehicle for local alumni groups to gather and engage.
Are alumni-exclusive online courses for you? Before launching a new initiative, answer 3 questions:
1) How does this type of programming support or align with your current strategic goals?
If you can’t come up with a good answer, just don’t go there. Getting distracted by the latest programming idea is a sure way to derail your success.
2) Will this resonate with your alumni?
Hopefully, you have an effective alumni council or advisory body that is informing your programming and engagement methods. Before launching, vet this idea with the appropriate committee or council members and explore the level of interest and commitment. As with any successful venture, you need buy-in from your lead volunteers to champion the program and move it forward.
3) What resources can you deploy toward this effort?
If the program aligns with your goals and has buy-in from your leaders, craft a plan for the program that aligns with your resources, including the staff, funding, skills, and expertise needed to deliver a quality program. Find a champion among your staff team to lead the effort and collaborate with your key partners across campus.
As you move forward, define your objectives, understand how you will measure success, and, like Harvard and Penn, take time to evaluate your progress.
Social Media + Analytics for Alumni Engagement
The New York Times recently profiled EverTrue and Graduway, two start-ups that use social media analytics to help colleges and universities discern the giving preferences and likelihood of their alumni. While the approaches may be controversial, some institutions are jumping on board. In a related blog post, the Times also featured the increased use of LinkedIn’s University Pages to drive alumni career services.
Alumni Give Nearly $10 Billion in FY 2014
Alumni made 26% of all contributions to colleges and universities in FY2014, according to the latest Voluntary Support of Education Survey. With an increase of nearly 10% since 2013, alumni were the second largest source of contributions, just behind foundations, which gave 30%.
Image: Harvard Alumni Association website.
Ohio State University has launched a new tool to connect alumni and members of the Buckeye community with volunteer opportunities. This new portal (Volunteer Match) will enable alumni to choose specific areas of interest and allow for more extensive outreach, improved communication, and automated follow up.
Josh Cline, President and CEO of The Cline Group International, discusses the effect of student loans and the decline of alumni engagement. To help improve the relationship between alumni and their institution, Cline suggests the creation of university-affiliated investment funds.
About 1 in 4 graduates will have transferred schools by the time they finish college. As the number of students transferring increases and the number of alumni decreases, what does this mean for alumni affinity and giving?
Harvard alumnus Gerald Chan co-directs the Morningside Foundation, which donated $350 million to the university, making this the largest contribution in the institution’s history.
Image republished with permission of The Lantern, thelantern.com, Ohio State University.
Why Alumni Salaries Matter and Why Some Colleges Wish They Didn’t
Lydia Frank, editorial director at PayScale.com, shares in a Huffington Post blog why alumni salaries are a useful metric. “As long as attending college costs money (and a lot of money, in many cases, even after financial aid is considered), students have a right to expect their school to prepare them to earn a decent living in their chosen field,” she writes.
Europe: Tapping the Potential of Graduate Ties
With little history of alumni engagement, universities in Europe are starting from scratch. “Before, alumni relations might have been seen as a nice thing to have…Now, universities are fundamentally rethinking their relationships with students and alumni.”
Michigan Defends Legacy Admissions Practices After Affirmative Action Arguments at Supreme Court
The University of Michigan defended its practice of giving preference in admissions to the children of alumni after the state’s solicitor general told the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday that eliminating the tradition would improve the university’s diversity.
Indiana University’s GLBT Alumni Association Launches $1Million Campaign for Student Scholarships
The IU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Alumni Association launched what is believed to be the nation’s first-ever university-based scholarship campaign devoted to assisting GLBT students and promoting leadership on GLBT concerns. Bolstered by an anonymous $500,000 challenge gift, the campaign kicked off with more than $200,000 in cash and pledges.
Officers, Board Members Resign from Baylor Alumni Association
Finding new leaders has been added to the to-do list of the Baylor Alumni Association, which is in the process of charting its direction since the university announced plans last month to formally sever the group’s rights to serve as Baylor’s official alumni organization.
Western Michigan University Alumni Board Commits $1Million for New Alumni Center
All 22 members of the Western Michigan University Alumni Association board have made a personal financial commitment to the renovation of East Hall as an alumni center. The board also has approved another $1 million in association funds for the work.
BWF helps colleges and universities build and grow successful alumni relations programs. For more on BWF’s alumni engagement services, click here.
The academic year is in full swing, and with all your alumni events, board meetings, and much more, you might be experiencing some stress.
In the video below, BWF’s Jamie Hunte offers her favorite tips for staying energized and focused through the year.
What are you doing to beat the stress and keep your alumni program operating at top quality? Email us your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.