Over on the Minary-L email discussion group, people were talking again (as they do) about alumni travel programs. The question was about formal partnerships among alumni travel programs - how should they be structured, what are the pitfalls, and are there lessons to be learned?
University of Rochester's Kevin Wesley had some good common sense observations about forming alumni travel partnerships with other institutions. In a prior job at another institution, Kevin had formed partnerships with some nearby schools. "This was a natural fit for several reasons," he says:
None of our populations had a large enough base to easily fill trips alone, all these schools had both geographic and academic "proximity," and our alumni had an implied connection to each other because of the history of interaction among the schools.
Kevin mentions some of the challenges the schools faced when partnering:
- Balance: "The same school generally had the most travelers. Often the other schools’ groups felt lost, especially if they only had a handful of passengers."
- Faculty selection: "We negotiated who sent faculty members on each trip. We initially toyed with a "two profs per trip" model, which worked for awhile but presented logistical problems."
- Faculty ratio: "Sometimes a school committed to sending a faculty member, only to have few to no passengers. Awkward all around."
- Amenities: "One of the partner schools was much better than I was about bon voyage items, sending banners on trips, arranging for group photos, and other important stewardship activities. This can cause disparities if one school doesn't seem as organized or prepared."
Worth noting: an additional school was added to the group, but was not a geographic partner, raising still more challenges. But it sounds like things have smoothed out over time and overall the system works.
Here's an observation based on my own experience. At schools with a low "rah rah" factor while traveling (we know who we are), alumni shops can strengthen the group's apparent affinity by partnering with museums, natural history groups, conservation orgs and other institutions where membership is open to the general public. This creates a more exclusive bond among the alumni who become the only ones with a true affinity group identity.
Other questions remain...Are there other ways to handle these issues? What are the other pros and cons of partnering with other institutions? Should it all be done informally, or is it better to have explicit or written agreements? Any major successes or true horror stories?
Photo above: Caltech alumni meet the president of Iceland, 2006