Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group and prominent author and speaker on social media for business, is a candidate for the board of the Harvard Alumni Association. She announced this on her blog recently, and asked Harvard alumni for their support as she seeks to fill one of six elected positions on the board (the majority of members are appointed).
Li's announcement offers at least three lessons regarding the leadership of alumni organizations and their future relevance. There are also good reminders about why busy people volunteer their time and expertise.
[Volunteers want to use their expertise on your behalf.]
1. Just Ask
To explain why she is running for an alumni board position, Li said simply: "I was asked."
Alumni will often volunteer if you simply ask them to.
2. Make It Relevant
Volunteers don't want to do "just anything." They want to use their expertise on behalf of the institution. Li explains that she might be able to "push the alumni more into using social technologies."
3. Let Them Repay a Debt
Finally, volunteers often serve out of a desire to repay the institution. Li writes:
Harvard made a huge difference in my life... [and] continues to wield its influence in my life on a regular basis, from alumni connections to the research the University conducts. I see this as an opportunity to not only pay back my alma mater...but also society and the world in general.
This is an election campaign statement. But it's very valuable when volunteers endorse the organization's positive impact on them and on the world.
[Two critical aspects of alumni service can be hard to balance.]
So Li's election blog post articulates two critical aspects of alumni service that can be hard to balance:
Serving the needs of the institution,
Serving the needs of the alumni.
It will be interesting to see how the HAA ramps up its social media effectiveness should Li be elected to its alumni board, and to assess the outcomes of that effort.
Regardless of Li's future as a volunteer leader, non-profit managers should note the nature of this particular call to action, and actively seek out volunteers whose expertise will help them increase member engagement.
Thanks to Alumni Futures reader John Forbes for bringing this topic to my attention.