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.
Community service events unite alumni around a common cause and provide a platform for alumni as goodwill ambassadors for the university. But, they can easily become just another task for your organization if they aren’t well conceived and effectively administered.
Here are our top tips for creating quality events that add value to your organization and local communities.
- Know what you want to accomplish. In hosting community service events, what are you hoping to achieve? Are you fostering relationships among your alumni body? Trying to increase visibility for the university? Providing a volunteer base for a worthwhile, designated charity? Whatever your goal, ensure that it stems from a strategic objective.
- Plan well in advance. Many alumni organizations host multi-city or month long service events, and coordinating these takes 3-4 months of planning to do them well. More ambitious projects may take a year of planning. Consider timelines for working with designers, communications staff, purchasing departments, and partner organizations.
- Recruit volunteers to lead the charge and take ownership of the activities. Volunteers are the backbone of any successful event, so engage them early and often in the planning process, and identify a lead-volunteer to serve as the point person on the day of the event.
- Mobilize a team of staff to assist with the effort. Appoint a team leader to provide overall direction, but designate individuals to communicate with volunteers, send email reminders, oversee event registration (if applicable), or disseminate supplies. Don’t let the responsibility for planning and executing your service events rest on one person’s shoulders.
- Have fun! Remember the spirit of the service you’re doing and enjoy the camaraderie of serving others alongside your alumni and staff.
- Communicate your results and say thanks. Report your accomplishments to your alumni body, partners, staff, and volunteers, and celebrate your successes!
Here are a few examples of community service events and programs from alumni organizations around the country.
- Princeton combines community service with its class reunion program, with various classes hosting their own special projects.
- Iowa State’s “Cy’s Days of Service” runs for the month of April. A photo gallery captures their alumni’s 1,500 hours of service across the globe. They also do a great job of communicating their results.
- The University of Michigan promotes spirit and pride by hosting its “Alumni Community Service Day” on graduation day.
- The Pacifica University Alumni Association launched its first community service project in 2012 in conjunction with the Alternatives to Violence Project.
- Oregon State University hosted a multi-city day of service at 43 sites in 2102, including one in Ethiopia.
- Santa Clara’s “Alumni for Others” service program allows alumni to initiate projects year-round and provides tips for planning a service project.
In a previous post, we shared that the Carleton College class of 1962 had given a record-breaking $30 Million gift at their 50th class reunion. We know a gift of this size does not raise itself, so we asked Mari Aylin, Carleton’s Director of 50th Reunion Programs, to tell us how it happened.
Watch this video to find out what the key factors were and hear Mari’s advice for those who work in reunion giving.
An effective chief volunteer is vital to your organization’s success, but staff sometimes struggle to partner well with this key player. How do you define roles, manage expectations, and build an winning working relationship?
Watch the videos below for sage advice from BWF Senior Associate Margaret Sughrue Carlson and Bob Stein, former executive director of the American Bar Association and chief volunteer of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.
Margaret shares 10 tips for mobilizing and empowering your chief volunteer, and Bob follows with tried and true advice on how staff can effectively engage their top volunteer.
Whether you’re looking for new ideas for engaging your alumni or want to catch up on alumni-related news, you’ll find some interesting stories in the sources below.
Coming soon, we’ll be wrapping up our Board Development series with a video interview with Bob Stein, former Executive Director of the American Bar Association and chief volunteer of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. Bob will share his insights on how alumni staff can effectively engage their top volunteer leaders. Don’t miss it!