Why should a disengaged alumnae work your initiatives into her busy schedule? Many universities have great alumni networks and the reason to engage seems obvious to us administrators. But for many alumni the school must work to further convince them the network has value and is worth their time and energy.
When we rebuilt our W&L alumni website last year we did some homework and checked out lots of alumni websites. They are filled with amazing news stories about what successful alumni are doing. Many have compelling alumni career resources like job postings, a strong regional chapter/group presence, and that all-important alumni database.
During our search we could find very little content that was designed to convince an alumnus that he can and will form highly valuable relationships by participating, and that those connections often lead to business partnerships, marriages, or lasting friendships. By not actively selling our alumni networks we’re saying the strategy is, "You went here so you should because our name is still on the invite." That's not really a strategy at all, is it?
Every university has a group of alums that have your school's colors running through their veins. At W&L these folks are our bread and butter. They don't need convincing to attend an event or volunteer in some capacity. But to grow attendance at reunions or chapter events, our contention is that we're going to have to sell it to get those alums who haven't recognized the value potential.
Our alums are busy people! I know from my own schedule that maybe I've got an hour or two each week to do something "extra." And yes, participating in alumni activities is decidedly that.
Why is being an active member of an alumni association a better use of time than joining a civic group like the Rotary Club, participating in church activities, or volunteering at a museum?
Here’s what we’re doing...The jury is still out, so to speak, as to how this marketing tactic will increase actual digital and event-based engagement because this is a new initiative. But we believe that to get new alums into the folds again, we need to tell them what they'll get by actively engaging with the university and its initatives.
At Washington and Lee University we've started telling Alumni Network Success Stories. They aren't news in the traditional sense. This isn't alumnus "x" has achieved milestone "y." I'm talking about relationship stories. We want our alums to know they might meet their future spouse at an alumni event or connect with someone who will later offer a job referral. Our stories tell of alums helping each other out in a pinch. We tell a variety of stories because not everyone is looking for the same thing by participating in the alumni network. But we believe everyone is hoping to develop new and meaningful relationships.
Ask your alumni for their stories about:
1) Alumni who met their spouse or partner through the Alumni Network (after graduation);
2) Alumni who developed a business partnership or other professional relationship (long term or transactional) as a result of continued networking within the alumni chapters;
3) Alumni who were referred to and landed a great job as a result of networking efforts with another alum;
4) Alumni who helped each other with a unique life situation like finding a place to live in a pinch, with respect to a challenging medical situation, an interesting philanthropic effort, or a helpful referral for a child related issue;
5) An interesting “door” that opened as a result of knowing another alum.
Read a few of our Alumni Network Success Stories!