Alumni Pitfalls And Cleanup: Steps To Avoid Costly Mistakes.

The Pitfalls Of Alumni Engagement 

Wait. What? There are pitfalls when alumni are engaged with their alma mater?

The utopian view is that university development/engagement offices are brimming with requests from alumni who want to be actively involved with their alma maters. Reality is a completely different story.

We Shudder To Think That Sometimes Alumni Can Hurt Rather Than Help

At a higher education conference I recently attended, and after talking to a few professionals, I noticed some interesting and similar stories were starting to emerge. It was pretty clear that some alumni who – at first – seemed eager to impart their wisdom and work with current students – had acted of their own accord with unintended consequences and damaging effects as a result.

  • A colleague talked about alumni who agree to advise groups, but who don’t make the time to meet with the students or take their roles as advisors seriously; leaving students ignored at exactly the time they expected assistance.
  • Volunteer alumni advisors were “helping” students by teaching them how to circumvent university risk management policies so they could still hold a previously unapproved event.
  • Despite efforts that a university was making to rebuild its brand and reputation and improve the quality of students admitted, well-intentioned alumni, remembering the “good old days” were inadvertently sabotaging the school’s efforts at recruiting events by perpetuating the old stereotypes (of a non-academic party atmosphere)… leaving students puzzled and administrators wondering how to bridge this gap.

Be Proactive To Mitigate Or Eliminate Their Mistakes In Advance

Of course, alumni are valuable to every university – they enhance small and large-scale development efforts and under the right circumstances can be great marketers for a university. BUT, as the examples above illustrate, alumni can be detrimental or counterproductive to efforts without proper oversight.

The good news is that there were a number of lessons that came from these situations that will allow a university to train, manage and monitor valuable alumni volunteers.

  • Attain buy-in on branding/re-branding efforts so alumni can be effective marketers
  • Train alumni volunteers and student advisors to encourage healthy student-alumni relationships and prevent risk management issues, have back-up plans in place.
  • Know your alumni and suggest the best engagement strategy for individuals
  • Use alumni engagement surveys and student surveys about their experience with Alumni as an excellent tool for learning – and monitoring – their shared experience
  • Redirect alumni efforts when things go sour, to help resolve a situation, but not lose the goodwill of the alum

Proactive university staff are looking to engage alumni in constructive ways and they’re learning how to effectively straddle the line between help and hurt. The Melior Group works with large research institutions, regional public universities and small private colleges to improve alumni relations.

To learn more about our work with colleges and universities, visit our Education page or please contact Elizabeth Foley at [email protected] / 215-545-0054 ext 111 or Linda McAleer at [email protected] / 215-545-0054 ext 104.