Ryan Catherwood recently posted an article “Why Alumni Network Platforms Will Likely Fail Us All”, but the article actually points responsibility to both the platforms promoting best practice and the organizations building communities. Ryan, I challenge you to re-title it “Why Everybody Could Win with an Alumni Community”.
The “Big Launch Brigade” is hype over sustainability, marketing over value. It’s about numbers rather than truly understanding and serving your alumni.
Thank you, Ryan, for having the good heart to share your learnings with the industry. The 'failure' you speak of is actually a win. Now 360Alumni, Graduway, Almabase and others can confidently shift the conversation from “What percent of alumni come back?” to “What value are alumni gaining with their continued presence and participation in the community?”
I’d take it one step further and encourage Alumni Relations teams to ask themselves these questions:
- Did we identify alumni who were disengaged and create value for them?
- Did we help any alumni find new jobs and/or develop relationships with mentors?
- Did we start conversations and new relationships with our young alumni?
After that, our advancement colleagues can ask related questions about the same community: How many new donors did we find? How many dollars did we raise?
An alumni community isn’t a product, it’s a program to achieve long term objectives.
Alumni Relations professionals are pressured to generate numbers that justify their investments, budgets, even jobs. I am not saying that metrics and measurements are not important. But is the goal to get numbers or meaningful engagement? Organizations, and people, must serve first and from that the numbers will follow. It's moving from a transactional way of doing business to one of relational engagement.
An alumni community isn’t a product, it’s a program to achieve long term objectives. It requires strategy, tactical planning, leadership, administration, email marketing, content, features that solve real problems, and an amazing user experience. Appropriate expectations and budgets need to be set to achieve the engagement, goodwill, data quality and fundraising results that are possible with an online community. Alumni Relations teams build the most successful alumni communities when they start with why.
Slow and steady definitely wins the race when it comes to alumni engagement and donor cultivation. Your platform is an important piece of your community program, but it’s just one piece. “Is it us, or is it the platform?” distracts us from the one true path: Put your alumni first.
To all the Alumni Relations Directors, Assistant Directors, Directors of Advancement, Young Alumni Engagement Managers, Social Media Managers and Community Managers out there -- no, we won’t fail you. Our job is to create an engaging, intuitive home for you to deliver value on many levels to serve the needs of your diverse constituencies. And if you deliver value to the alumni first, you’ll empower your team to achieve amazing results.
Christina Balotescu is the Founder and CEO of 360Alumni, whose mission is to build the most effective alumni engagement platform in the world. Learn why she started the company at 360Alumni.com/our-story.