Staying Energized Through the Year: Tips for Alumni Professionals

The academic year is in full swing, and with all your alumni events, board meetings, and much more, you might be experiencing some stress.

Reduce 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 or comment below.


Is Your Alumni Program Ready for a “Sea Change”?

A recent Huffington Post article explored changing demographics among alumni populations at colleges and universities.

With students of color comprising one-third of last year’s graduating class, author Marybeth Gasman urges schools to prepare for a “sea change” in their alumni communities, noting that “few colleges are prepared or preparing to engage their very diverse alumni.”

How can alumni relations programs lead their institutions in this process? 

Diverse Graduates png

Credit: Engaging Diverse College Alumni: The Essential Guide to Fundraising, Marybeth Gasman and Nelson Bowman. Routledge, 2013.

Alumni relations programs are uniquely positioned to nurture their institution’s relationships with diverse alumni. One stellar example is the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Spectrum: an Alumni Conference Celebrating Diversity. We spoke with Penn Alumni Director of Multicultural Outreach Nicole Maloy for insight on how the conference began and what successes they’ve seen as the conference enters its second year.

Maloy said that “all wise universities are thinking about what needs to be done to better engage alumni from different populations.” The Penn Alumni Relations program was no different, and as they considered what more they could be doing to engage their diverse community, some alumni suggested doing a large-scale event.

They focused on alumni of color and LGBT alumni, as they had a unique asset in the Penn Alumni Diversity Alliance – a volunteer coalition including alumni of diverse race, ethnicity,  and orientation. With a long history of collaborative events, the planning began. “We were blown away by the support we received from throughout the university and from the highest levels. Our president made this a university priority,” said Maloy.

The conference was marketed to all alumni as an opportunity to rediscover Penn. “It was an important message for historically underserved populations, to celebrate what has been accomplished in terms of diversity and inclusion,” said Maloy.


What happened was remarkable: 450 participants and rave reviews.

With a bevy of programming options, the conference allowed alumni to connect in different ways: by era, racial group, gender identity, and intellectual interest. This year’s conference schedule is full of opportunities for personal enrichment, connecting with other alumni, and learning how Penn is advancing diversity on campus.

Alumni volunteer leaders were the backbone of the conference. The steering committee decided on the conference structure, speakers, topics, and marketing and outreach.

In terms of budget, Maloy compared the conference to a reunion weekend, noting the registration fee doesn’t nearly cover the costs. Corporate sponsors are solicited, and the event is co-sponsored by the Office of the President and Penn Alumni Relations.

Asked how the conference has contributed to Penn Alumni’s overall engagement strategy, Maloy said, “It gives us branding, and an opportunity to go beyond what we’ve been able to do in the past. We’ve launched a regional program called Penn Spectrum on the Road as an extension of the conference. Most importantly, we encourage all attendees to remain involved – whether through Diversity Alliance group membership, regional clubs, class reunions – anything that keeps them connected with the University beyond the conclusion of the conference. We want these relationships to be ongoing.”

Reflecting on Penn’s success with this unique event, here are a few guiding principles for launching a diversity initiative:

  1. Listen to the opinions, insights, and ideas of your alumni as to what initiatives are desirable and welcomed among your alumni community.
  2. Commit whole-heartedly to the initiative and invest staffing and resources accordingly.
  3. Enlist the support of the university community and communicate the value of what your initiative will accomplish for the institution.
  4. Engage alumni volunteers to lead the effort.
  5. Plan well in advance.

BWF helps colleges and universities build alumni relations programs that mobilize alumni as volunteers, donors, and goodwill ambassadors. For more on BWF’s alumni engagement services, click here.

Football Giveaway + Social Media = Increased Alumni Engagement Online

The University of Iowa Alumni Association (UIAA) launched a Football Weekend Giveaway with a stellar grand prize: club seat tickets for the Iowa vs. Wisconsin football game, entrance to the UIAA Tailgate Party, a two-night stay at the Iowa House Hotel, and $100 gift certificate to a downtown Iowa City restaurant. In addition, UIAA members have an exclusive opportunity to win a $250 Hawk Shop gift certificate.

Alumni and friends enter to win by “liking” the UIAA’s Facebook page and completing an entry form. Participants can enter once a day and submit bonus entries by tagging the UIAA in an Instagram photo showing Hawkeye pride with #onceahawkeye in the caption.

This online campaign has a lot of potential. To increase their social media following, UIAA has targeted a younger alumni audience with a highly desirable offer. And, they’ve incorporated a premium for alumni members (the exclusive opportunity to win the Hawk Shop gift certificate), communicating even in this small way the value of the UIAA membership.

We spoke to Dylan Hendricks, UIAA Web Editor, to find out the goal of this online campaign, the response so far, and what advice he has for other alumni programs who might take a similar approach.

What is the goal of the campaign? The primary goal is to grow our social media following on Facebook and Instagram, to encourage alumni engagement through social media, and to promote alumni membership.

What response have you seen so far? Overall, people have been very excited about our giveaway. This is the third year that we are running this campaign, but the first that we incorporated Instagram. We thought people would enjoy showing all the ways they show their school pride, and we have been thrilled with the results so far.

What advice would you offer to others considering a similar approach?

  1. Make sure the prize is really something your alumni want or need—we have always had success with working with local partners to sponsor our giveaway, which allows us to offer a better giveaway package.
  2. Make sure everything you are doing is mobile friendly. This year we have seen a large spike in the number of alumni who are engaging with us primarily through their tablet or smartphone.
  3. Focus on one segment as your ideal target audience. Our giveaway is open to everyone, but we added Instagram this year as a way to try to engage with more young alumni. We have been more than happy with the response.

Need to Track Your Alumni Instagram Account?
BWF social media consultant Justin Ware says: “Measure, measure, measure. No social media strategy is complete without the ability to test your activity. To do so requires access to useful and meaningful metrics. For Instagram users, a good and affordable (free) option is Statigram.” Read Justin’s intro to Statigram on BWF’s Social Philanthropy Blog.

Alumni Relations and Development Work Hand in Hand for a Big Success

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Alumni Association has a lot to be proud of. Earlier this month, the association partnered with its development colleagues to launch UMassGives, an online fundraising campaign that raised over $80,000 in just 36 hours.

The alumni association staff played a key role in recruiting alumni to be online ambassadors, or influential Internet users who were vocal online supporters of their alma mater.

Beyond increasing support for UMass Amherst, the campaign raised the alumni association’s visibility and social media presence and demonstrated its commitment to serving the university, . We asked Elena Lamontagne, Director of Alumni Communications and Marketing, and Moira Gentry, Associate Director for Alumni Communications, for a behind-the-scenes look at the alumni association’s role in the campaign. Read their answers to our questions and see our colleague Justin Ware’s campaign wrap up video below.

  • How did the UMassGives campaign fit in with your strategy for alumni engagement via social media?
    Our social media strategy is to be a support mechanism for campus partners and an information resource for our alumni. The UMassGives campaign allowed the Alumni Association to inform constituents of the impact of giving for important university initiatives, thereby achieving both goals. It also raised our visibility and social media presence, as it demonstrated our commitment to serving the UMass community.
  • How did the alumni association help identify online ambassadors?
    It was a team effort. We asked all our staff to identify alumni volunteers with strong communication and social media skills that would be a good fit with this effort. We then approached our loyal and passionate alumni with a proposal to become an online ambassador and the rest is history!
  • What trends did you observe (if any) in participation by age group or other demographics?
    Overall, the campaign was slightly younger and more female than our regular social media followers (which tend to be male and a bit older, so the campaign was probably more toward the median).
  • How did you measure your success?
    We measured success by the number of new Likes and Follows and by the engagement levels such as RTs (retweets), favorites, shares, etc., We also tracked the results of our boosting others’ signals to help them win the various challenges. We really think we helped the Permaculture Initiative to win!
  • What would you say to those alumni programs that might be hesitant to participate in a fundraising campaign?
    Alumni Relations and Development really have to work hand in hand to communicate the university’s goals and to provide alumni with opportunities to be involved in the life of their alma mater. The UMassGives campaign demonstrated a coordinated effort across campus to achieve a specific goal, and our alumni were excited to be part of it.

What to Do When the Sky Is Falling: How Alumni Associations Respond in Campus Crises

We often say that alumni associations are the lifetime connection between alumni and their alma mater. Never is this connection Dominoesmore important, or more tested, than in a crisis.

Consider Penn State’s Sandusky scandal (2011), Virginia Tech’s campus shooting (2007), or the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors governance crisis (2012). The alumni associations at these institutions responded, and at the recent CASE Summit,  their leaders shared how they navigated the crises. This article from Diverse: Issues in Higher Education summarizes their key tips.

Most striking about what they shared is how basic their advice was. There was no reference to elaborate PR strategies. Rather, transparency, teamwork and trust were the guiding principles.

  • Roger Williams, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, emphasized the need to be straightforward with alumni. “Give them the honest scoop. If your trust and credibility go up in smoke, then it’s ‘Game over.'” His comments echoed what he shared with BWF in a video interview after the initial crisis had subsided.
  • Tom Tillar, vice president for alumni relations at Virginia Tech, recalled that the association “didn’t wait for instructions” in responding to the shooting. “We just acted on our own, but we also had an enormous sense of trust with colleagues.” The alumni center became the hub for media activity, which allowed privacy for families of students in other parts of campus.
  • Tom Faulders, president and CEO of the UVa Alumni Association, noted the tension between their obligation to both the alumni and the university amidst the university president’s resignation. “Lots of people wanted us to pick a side, but we didn’t. We went down the middle because that was where we decided we needed to be.”

It may sound like simple advice, but if our organizations don’t have these day-to-day basics down, we will falter when we are most needed.

Here are a few questions to ponder before a crisis hits:

  • Does your alumni association or alumni relations program have the courage and leadership to speak out when crisis issues arise?
  • What can you do today to strengthen the relationships with your institution’s leadership so that your organization is a trusted partner or leader in the response?
  • How would your institution’s leadership respond if you carried an alumni voice to an issue?
  • How effective are your alumni communication channels? Are they trusted information sources?

The Smell of Support, and Other Alumni Engagement News

Here’s a roundup of recent alumni engagement-related news.

The Smell of Support: Notre Dame Unveils Fragrance Line
Notre Dame alumni and fans have a new way to show their enthusiasm for the university. The Notre Dame fragrance line will be available this fall in his and hers fragrances: ND Gold Eau de Toilette and Lady Irish Eau de Parfum. Could this be a new gift idea for alumni volunteers?

Vanity Fair’s Alma Matters Poll
The May 2013 Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll surveyed alumni about their college days and their current views on the college experience. Of note:

  • 40% wish they had done more networking, and 48% wish they had done more studying. It may not be a coincidence, then, that networking and lifelong learning programs are often among the most requested alumni services.
  • Most college grads can’t name the current dean or president of their alma mater.

Read all the fun facts here, including which movie alumni wish their college experience had resembled.

The Most Academically And Athletically Dominant Colleges In America

BuzzFeedBuzzFeed plotted Forbes’ academic rankings of colleges and universities against USA Today’s tally of total athletic expenses (which doesn’t include private schools like Stanford or Notre Dame) to determine which schools value both athletics and academics. The University of Michigan tops the list, with the University of Florida and the University of Texas ranking 2nd and 3rd. See the infographic here.

The Alumni Reaction to MOOCs
A recent survey showed that more alumni than current college students think Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a good idea. But this support won’t necessarily translate into more donations. Just over 25% of alumni in the survey said they would be less likely to donate if their alma mater offered a MOOC, while only 13 percent said it would make them more likely to donate.

@WorkingOrange – How to Manage a Higher Ed Twitter Account

Alumni Career Services on little to no budget? Here’s one FABULOUS thing you can do.
Our colleague Justin Ware uses the Syracuse University @WorkingOrange account to illustrate 3 tips for managing your Twitter account.
Bonus: We love their content! Syracuse’s Career Services department runs the @WorkingOrange account. They feature a weekly alumnus who guest-tweets about their careers and industries throughout the day. Lots of activity and interesting content for the online alumni audience.

The Social Side of Giving

@WorkingOrangeProfilePicIt’s an age-old (in social media time) and still relevant question – “what do we tweet?” The easy answer is, “something that’s useful, valuable, and fun for your audience.” For a specific example of a Twitter account that covers those three things and more, check out Syracuse University’s @WorkingOrange. The @WorkingOrange Twitter account is run by Syracuse’s Career Services department and is awesome, because…

First, it provides valuable information about a hot topic, especially for younger grads. Those of us who work in higher ed know there’s a lot more to a four-year degree than simply landing a job. That said, it is a big reason why many people attend college. Which means, finding a good and rewarding job is part of the “product” that colleges and universities offer. And successful brands provide adequate stellar customer service around their products. In large part, that’s what this Twitter account amounts…

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