In early 2010 I asked, "What big issues are alumni professionals facing?" Here's a quick look back at how the answers played out during the year (with helpful comments from astute Alumni Futures readers).
What – if anything – has changed in a year?
Worth noting: When I wrote my original article, I was the alumni director at a private university; in March I moved into independent consulting full time. My perspective has changed a little, but the issues have not disappeared.
Faced with external and internal changes (e.g., competition for scarce resources), do alumni organizations continue to matter?
This question arose in some form everywhere I discussed alumni relations in 2010: conferences; private workshops; blogs; discussions in Asia and in Europe; and among CASE's Trustees and Commission members.
Awareness of the need for relevance generates valuable discussion and healthy debate. And as Willa McCarthy pointed out in a comment on last January's posting, it begs the question, "to whom must we be relevant?"
Short answer: less and less to alumni at large, and more and more to the institution, as well as to alumni who are either already engaged, or most likely to engage. And that means playing an explicit supporting role for fundraising.
2. Organizations as conveners
People self-organize more and more. What is alumni programming's role beyond brokering people's mutual interests?
The broker role seems to be growing. Professionals understand that the institution's resources and community form a referral network that steers students and alumni to resources that address the individual's need. Willa's comment includes some great case study programming directions:
- student-alumni mentoring
- showcasing alumni outcomes (i.e., alumni as "brand ambassadors")
- lifelong learning (to highlight institutional funding priorities in teaching and research)
- driving alumni giving
Other more traditional activities overlap with several of these areas (for example, mentoring is one form of volunteerism, but so is alumni admissions work, and so is legislative advocacy for public institutions).
3. No more monopoly over data
People are almost universally findable online, via search and social networks. Can you deliver information that alumni need, and that they cannot easily find somewhere else?
I see increasing willingness – even enthusiasm – for using third-party platforms to connect alumni to each other and to the institution (almost entirely via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but with some groups moving to open platforms such as WordPress to replace their traditional online community).
The remaining challenges are to assess the resources needed to manage the network, to map this work to your organizational chart, and to assign it to staff – if you have the staff. The "community manager" role is now better-known in education, but as the 2010 CASE Social Media survey revealed, there is no clarity around how advancement shops will build social media management into their strategy for 2011 and beyond.
How are you going to do it?