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.
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?
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:
- Listen to the opinions, insights, and ideas of your alumni as to what initiatives are desirable and welcomed among your alumni community.
- Commit whole-heartedly to the initiative and invest staffing and resources accordingly.
- Enlist the support of the university community and communicate the value of what your initiative will accomplish for the institution.
- Engage alumni volunteers to lead the effort.
- 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.
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?
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
BuzzFeed 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.
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.
It’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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