4 New Ways to Encourage Alumni Engagement

Over the last year, I’ve served as an Alumni Board member for my alma mater, Roger Williams University. As a young alumni, the appreciation for the experiences that RWU afforded me are still fresh, and inspire an investment in maintaining my connection with campus. In particular, my involvement began because of the opportunity to engage evolved beyond donation phone calls.

In conversation with my friends and colleagues graduating from colleges and universities all over the country, that’s not always the case.

These are alumni who were involved in orientation, campus life, serving in student organizations, residence life, and their university community through programming and beyond at their respective universities. It seems that too often the relationship channels that might function as a gateway into formal post-graduation engagement with the university are lost after the last senior week events.

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Worse, so often the programming efforts themselves are siloed such that the collective expertise is isolated from one another, and alumni serve the role to connect the dots between efforts coming from alumni relations, advancement, campus life, or beyond. Alumni relations and advancement efforts are often disconnected from campus activities, and as a result often from the very campus engagement activities that defined a student’s connection to the university in the first place.

A collaborative effort between student activities and alumni relations can serve as a valuable bridge for connecting with recent graduates in authentic ways that create a sustained relationship of engagement and stewardship.

Think of alumni engagement in incremental progress. Initially alumni engagement can look like engaging on social media, Skype-ing into a class, or serving on a panel, talking with prospective or incoming students, or connecting with soon-to-be grads. By allowing recent graduates (with jobs and a willingness to donate time) to engage in ways that are familiar and continue their affinity, it sets them up for the long haul, and recognizes their unique “ways of giving” based on their stage of life. After, they’re alumni forever!

With most graduates carrying more than $35,000 in student loan debt, it’s not a surprise their instinct isn’t to pull out their wallet once they get their degree. But by keeping a connection to the institution through the networks that connected them in the first place (their student affinity groups, staff/faculty, other alumni), when they run out of time to give, there’s a higher likelihood they’ll reach for their wallet instead.

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Since graduation is right around the corner, here are four ideas to get a cross-campus conversation with alumni started:

1. Offer to make introductions to (potentially) interested alumni.

In the spirit of maintaining the networks that a student built while they’re on campus, why not use it as an opportunity to stay in touch in meaningful ways, and to give an alternative way to stay involved with the university besides giving dollars to the University. When the Director of Student Programs and Leadership at RWU reached out to participate in their Roger Ready campaign, how could I say no!?

2. Outline campus events that benefit from alumni presence.

Whether they’re panels of graduates, judges for events, student organization retreats, or opportunities to mentor current students, consider ways to incorporate alumni into campus programming. What better way to help students understand the skills that they’re developing through involvement on campus than from a recent graduate?

3. Brainstorm roles that alumni will be able to serve in as graduates.

Might an organization benefit from some alumni support? Are there strongholds of graduates all moving to one particular area of the country that might be ripe for a new alumni chapter? Bring your new grad intel and consider alongside alumni relations what a volunteer role for a new grad with a full-time job might look like– not to mention offer up other ways to “give back” to the University besides serving on the Alumni Board.

4. Share resources or tips to help to build engagement from alumni “ambassadors.”

In student activities, you know retreats, group development, and you know engagement (and of course that’s just the start, but particularly relevant to an alumni-run “organization”).

You’ll see more from me about silo-busting by considering the student experience of your campus, and this is certainly only one isolated way.

Thinking about alumni engagement in this way might be a change, and one that feels slightly out of scope for a campus life or student activities office– but you (likely) know the alumni that would benefit a group of current students best, and by working with alumni relations, it’s a win-win. Alumni engage with students and see what life after college might look like, and alumni begin to establish the critical relationships that will pay dividends in the years to come. All without that student “phone-a-thon.”

How do you work with Alumni Relations to engage recent grads? We’d love to know. Tweet us @HelloPresence.

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Brian LeDuc

About the author: Brian helps design education for the future of work with Education Design Lab. Follow him on Twitter @BrianFLeDuc! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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