This week's post is written by Scott Mory, CEO of the USC Alumni Association at the University of Southern California, and addresses the importance of strategically connecting alumni relations and the academic side of your institution.
[Update April 7, 2010: Scott Mory was interviewed by Paul Clifford. Click this sentence to load the mp3 audio podcast.]
Many of us already link institutional advancement with "the academic side of the house." But do we really think of ourselves, or talk about ourselves, as responsible for supporting our institution's academic mission?
My administrative home at USC is the division of university relations. Our senior vice president for university relations, Martha Harris, describes our division's core mission as "Good Works Made Visible." Those good works are typically the academic and professional accomplishments of our faculty, students, staff and alumni. And if you think about much of the work an alumni association does throughout the year, we focus a lot of effort on making good works visible.
- Publishing communications that publicize the institution's academic priorities and achievements
- Planning lectures with faculty members presenting their latest research
- Identifying alumni who can promote the institution's reputation in specific industries
- Recruiting alumni as expert advisors or guest speakers
- Recognizing graduates' professional accomplishments
- Marketing the institution's lifelong learning opportunities that are available to alumni
- Building a strong alumni network to help alumni and students find jobs, internships and career advice or support
Your alumni relations program probably has most of these features already. But are you presenting them as crucial support for the academic mission? If not, you could be missing a chance to make an effective case to volunteer leaders and campus colleagues about your program’s relevance and value. (And it’ll make for a nice change of pace from being evaluated on how we support fundraising.)
Now you may be wondering how your alumni will respond to this focus. Trust me, they’ll love it. We recently surveyed our alumni, and they told us the most important factor in their relationship with USC is their perception of the value of their degrees – also known as degree equity. Their perception of the degree’s value is informed by the accomplishments of alumni, faculty, and students, as well as USC’s rankings in various surveys. Alumni also told us that one of the most important drivers of their loyalty is how well USC prepares students for a variety of activities, including responding to new career opportunities, deepening a commitment to personal development, and instilling a commitment to continuous learning.
For me, these findings are a roadmap on how to take USC’s alumni engagement to the next level – by connecting our work to USC’s academic mission, by making USC’s good works visible.