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.
Alumni relations and annual giving can be a perfect match. If these units embrace cooperation and collaboration, the university’s alumni engagement efforts will be more seamless and donor-centered.
BWF’s Heather Greig shares 5 ways these external relations units can work together to increase their effectiveness in alumni engagement.
In addition to Heather’s suggestions, consider these managerial approaches to strengthening the partnership:
- Explore areas of overlap that can strengthen each unit, while bolstering the efforts of the other.
- Define the expectations for your partnership; agree on what each unit will contribute, and follow through on that commitment.
- Educate your staff on the unique role each unit plays in achieving the common goal of advancing the university.
- Build in opportunities for ongoing communication, making sure goals and interests are still understood and aligned and that collaboration is active and dynamic.
On Saturday, Carleton College alumni announced a record-breaking class gift of $30 million for their 50th reunion.
Just 223 alumni made donations ranging from $25 to $6 million. Read about this incredible alumni fundraising effort here.