Community Building

How to develop efficient alumni relations?


As the president of your alumni association, you are doing your best to strengthen relationships between your members. In every alumni association, developing relations between members remains the key component that brings value to your association and makes your members more and more engaged.

Building sustainable relations is not an easy job and you are probably using many tricks to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, your insights can be biased by your personal opinion. Maybe it’s time for you to put your approach into question and ask yourself: is my approach really matching my alumni needs? How do they want to engage and support the institution? Am I using the right tool and providing them with the right information? What do they think of what I implemented so far?

Implementing a strategic plan

The first step is to plan your future growth, set goals, and define a right approach to reach them. In a blog post from CASE, Jody Donaldson, Scholarship and Alumni Officer at the Kirkwood Foundation, and John Fellas, Director of Alumni Relations at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y. both say: “plans that clearly identify goals and outline approaches to reach them are essential”.

But beware! You cannot build your plan based on your personal hunches however true they may seem to you. As for every product or company launch, you have to understand your market beforehand: start by studying what the specificities of your target are, what it is looking for. Only then will you be able to properly answer their needs.

  • Get feedback from alumni: understanding the way in which the association is perceived by an alumnus is a first step. A good way to do so is to organize a survey. Ask your alumni what they think about the association, what benefits they get from it, and what their expectations regarding the association are.

  • Understand the administration’s goals: Even if your association is mostly focused on the alumni, do not forget the institution too. Administration and alumni are linked together by the purpose of the institution, and a strong collaboration should exist between them. Pay attention to what the administration thinks: how do they want to engage with the alumni? What support are they looking for? How could the institution benefit from reconnecting with the alumni? It’s good to talk with the administration after you’ve gotten feedback from the alumni. It allows you open the discussions, telling them what the alumni are looking for on their end as well.

  • Combine: bring together the alumni and administration viewpoints, and come up with your strategic plan that outlines the institution’s priority for its alumni program.

Following a strategic plan

Now that you have a clear idea of your goals and identified an approach to reach them, you can start following your strategic plan. Remain careful about the way you implement your approach and always keep in mind what your goals are before making any decision. Stay focused on your vision.

The alumni’s needs can be rather different depending on the size, , purposes, and fame of the institution. Some may be quite basic, such as keeping a student email address, or accessing the university library. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s not that simple. Most alumni’s needs relate to communication outreach with members, institution recognition, or networking for instance.

Whatever needs you have identified, and whichever tools you decide to use to execute your plan, There are a few very important points to remember:

  • Interaction with the administration: Administration is your biggest ally, they can help you on many points, and you can always refer to them for any request. They have at their disposal several tools you can rely on to reach your goals. For instance you can use their database to launch e-mail campaigns toward the students, relay a message on the institution website etc. You can also negotiate any alumni’s requests with the administration. Whether it is for specific services such as an e-mail address for life, a newsletter featuring the top students of the year, or about bigger issues such as the strategic position of the institution.

  • Endless feedback loop: you gathered the alumni’s feedback once. Great. But it’s not over. As in any other project, one should always gather feedback, assess the situation, and adapt the goals in an endless loop. Monitoring the success of your execution is paramount. For instance, if you develop an online platform for alumni to network more, you can fix quarterly goals in terms of interaction on the platform and organize a follow up every 3 months. This is the only way to ensure the success of your plan.

Improving alumni relations sounds quite difficult. Thankfully, it’s much easier with a plan in mind. Reaching your goals can take time, so try to go step by step, goal by goal. Having a vision is good, but to get there, you’ll need to break it down into small bite-sized elements.