Alumni Relations News Roundup


‘Inspired by Yale’ Video Showcases Alumni Groups and Engagement

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.

‘Will they switch off Game of Thrones for this?’ The Art of Alumni Communication

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).”

After Unrest, Mizzou Alumni Association Revives Black Alumni Network

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.

Alumni Giving Study Affirms Connection between Engagement and Giving

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.


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,

How to Use LinkedIn for Alumni Engagement

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article on how alumni offices are using LinkedIn.

As the online networking site gains popularity (259 million members and counting), alumni relations programs are using the free tool to enhance their engagement efforts. With LinkedIn, programs can update alumni employment and contact info or see high-level statistics on where and in which sectors alumni live and work (see example below from my alma mater, the University of Miami). As a more direct engagement tool, alumni career services offices have long offered alumni training webinars on how to use LinkedIn effectively in their employment search.

Miami profile

While some alumni programs fear LinkedIn’s free perks may detract from the exclusive networking benefits offered through their paid membership programs, it’s not a tool to disregard. Like email, Facebook, and much more, LinkedIn is one of the many tools in the evolution of alumni engagement that can help our programs fulfill their historic role – connecting alumni to the university and each other.

We asked BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication, Justin Ware, for the top 3 things alumni professionals and programs can do to make the best use of LinkedIn, given limited time and resources.

  1. Use your personal “brand” to share your institution’s content: LinkedIn is unlike most other social networks (Facebook and Instagram, for example) in that its content is heavily weighted toward a person’s professional interests. If you’re reading this blog, you likely work for an alumni association or related organization, so your community of connections on LinkedIn expect to see content about or from your alumni association, via your personal profile. This gives you free license to use your profile or personal “brand” to talk extensively about your institution – something that is less appropriate on more personal, family- and friend-focused networks like Facebook. Of course, this only works if you are connected to your institution’s alumni via LinkedIn. Reach out and connect with as many alumni as you can on LinkedIn and share the best content your alumni association has to offer via your profile. Your alumni connections will see it and interact with it, because they expect to find that type of content, from you, on LinkedIn.

  2. Identify advocates or online ambassadors: Highly active and social media savvy LinkedIn users often link to other social networks via their LinkedIn profiles. Just below the header on their profile (the area that includes their profile picture), one can find links to Twitter profiles, blogs, email addresses – you can get a real sense of just how active and influential your alumni are across social media by the networks they list on LinkedIn. This is important as you build online ambassador programs, since identifying truly active and influential advocates is a crucial component of an ambassador program.LinkedIn box
  3. Create communities to help your alumni network: LinkedIn’s groups are an increasingly common space for users to gather and exchange ideas. Create a group for your alumni where they can openly discuss items relating to your institution. If such a group already exists, contact the administrator and ask how you can help. DO NOT try to shut the group down against the administrator’s will unless the group is severely detrimental to your alumni association’s mission or highly offensive.The group you create or join could be a professional network space that connects employers with potential employees or mentors with mentees; it could be more focused on initiatives at the institution; or it could be an exchange between alumni about the news of the day, athletic events, other on-campus events. Think about what your alumni would like more of from your alumni association and deliver that via a LinkedIn group.

Jamie Hunte and her colleagues at Bentz Whaley Flessner help colleges and university build and grow great alumni programs. Learn more about how we can help your program by clicking here.
Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Learn more about how he helps clients use social media to enhance their engagement efforts by clicking here.

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.

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.