Alumni Engagement News Roundup

alumni drive

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!

Iowa State Endows Lead Alumni Position

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.

Michigan State Alumni Association Envisions a Future Without Dues

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.

Penn’s Alumni Weekend Draws 10,000 Alumni and $90 Million

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.”

Open-Air Dance Party Rocks Alumni Weekend

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.




Alumni Relations News Roundup

Ohio State Launches Office to Connect Alumni with Volunteer Options

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.

Keep Your Alumni Engaged: Create a VC Fund for Them!

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.

Increase in Student Transfers Worrying Alumni Offices

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 Recieves Largest-Ever Donation

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,, Ohio State University. 

Building Alumni Affinity through Great Customer Service

I recently had a stunning customer service experience. After finishing my purchase, the cashier asked if I was aware of a special discount that I could have applied to my purchase. When I replied that I didn’t know about said offer, she quickly (and happily) processed the offer and issued me a refund of 25% savings! I walked away a highly satisfied customer, with soaring affinity for this retailer.

This experience started me thinking about the role of customer service in alumni engagement. In an age of increasing levels of consumer expectations, alumni organizations need to be attentive to alumni expectations while delivering on our service to the institution. In our high-touch field, alumni professionals are uniquely positioned to build affinity for our colleges and universities through stellar customer service, which strengthens our institutions’ brands.

What are the consequences of poor customer service? An unreturned phone call, a confusing website, or a poor experience at an event will decrease affinity, and others will hear about it. Studies show that after a poor customer service experience, 26% of consumers will post a negative comment via their social networks. Alumni with degrees from other institutions or with children enrolled at other schools may choose to support the alma mater that has given them the best alumni experience. And while not all alumni have the option to take their “business” to a competitor, there are plenty of opportunities for alumni to invest their time and resources elsewhere.

So, taking a cue from my friendly cashier, what opportunities do we have to build pride and spirit in our institution through our service to alumni?

KISSmetrics compiled a fantastic infographic on why companies with great customer service succeed.


Friendly employees, easy-to-find information/help, and personalized experiences top the list. In alumni engagement, these translate into the day-to-day interactions alumni have with our organizations, including:

  • User-friendly websites. How easy to navigate is your alumni organization’s website? Does it have an up-to-date look and feel? Is staff contact information easy to find? A great example is the University of Virginia Alumni Association’s site, which won a CASE District III award after a redesign last year.
  • Easy access to live support. When alumni call your office for help, do they reach someone who can really handle their request? Or do they get shuffled around to various departments? Many organizations are now providing a central email and phone number for an alumni “help desk” that can address any request, even across departments (development, admissions, or alumni relations). Having the right team member working the “help desk” is key to this approach. An engaging, dedicated problem solver will bring more to the customer service experience than someone who will only route calls.
  • Seamless logistics at events. When alumni approach your event site, are parking options clear? Do attendees have to search for the registration line? How are personal touches added to the experience? Walking through the event experience from beginning to end with a few colleagues can help resolve trouble spots ahead of time.

Beyond the day-to-day interactions, our organizations and staff need to be empowered to meet alumni expectations.

  • Do we know what alumni expect? The ever-popular alumni attitude/perceptions survey is one way to gather this information. What programs and services are most requested? Beyond those specifics, what are alumni expectations of the organization as a whole? Take advantage of some of your most engaged stakeholders by seeking input from volunteers and board members. But remember, don’t ask for alumni input if you don’t intend to follow through on their feedback.
  • Are our front-line staff members empowered to deliver quality customer service? Are support staff members empowered to quickly resolve complaints? Or do they need permission to issue refunds or make a special arrangement to win over a dissatisfied alumnus? Ritz Carlton set a gold standard in empowering front-line staff when management authorized every hotel employee to spend up to $2,000 per incident, without approval from a general manager, to not only resolve issues but create an outstanding guest experience. Zappos is well-known for their unorthodox methods of going far beyond expectations to make customers not just happy, but ecstatic.

Lastly, the greatest opportunity to influence a culture of stellar customer service is through our organizational leadership. Alumni executives and directors can set the right tone of appreciation for and service to the alumni community in how they talk about the alumni body, and in particular, alumni volunteers. Further, recognizing the good efforts of program and support staff will reinforce and affirm the value of service. Staff respond as they are appreciated for their contribution to a culture of quality service to alumni that builds great brand affinity for the college or university.

As former Ritz Carlton CEO Simon Cooper noted, “If leadership doesn’t live the values that it requires of the organization, that is the swiftest way to undermine the culture. No culture sticks if it’s not lived at the highest levels of the organization.”

We’d love to hear how your organization is integrating a culture of service in your engagement. Post your comments below, or send your thoughts to

Jamie Hunte is a member of the alumni engagement practice at Bentz Whaley Flessner, where she helps colleges and universities build and grow strong alumni engagement programs. For help with building alumni affinity at your school, contact Jamie here

Photo credit: KISSmetrics,

Alumni Relations News Roundup: Alumni Salaries, Legacy Admissions, and More


Why Alumni Salaries Matter and Why Some Colleges Wish They Didn’t
Lydia Frank, editorial director at, 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.

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.

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?

Alumni Advocacy: Ingredients for Success

Smiling African American businessmanIn last week’s post, BWF consultant Margaret Carlson shared how advocacy mobilizes alumni for impact.

In the follow-up video below, Margaret outlines the ingredients for success and strategies for making advocacy an effective part of your engagement programming.

We’d love to hear about your organization’s advocacy successes. Send us your stories at, and we’ll include them in an upcoming post.