What Do Alumni Want?

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Study indicates alumni want help in the transitions of their lives!


About 10 years ago, a firm founded by professors from Harvard and Penn State, the Olson Zaltman Associates, was commissioned by the American Insurance Association (now called USI Affinity) and NEATrust to help alumni associations better understand the existing relationship between colleges and their graduates.  Click to watch webinar presentation

The professors had developed an interview technique that gained deep seated insight from subjects by having them select 6 to 8 photographs from which the professors would ask them to describe their current and desired relationship with their alma maters.

Alumni associations that participated in the research were interested in gaining this insight so they could build stronger relationships and engagement with alumni in the future.

The findings of the research were somewhat predictable.

Alumni felt that the alumni association’s sole purpose was to raise money for the college. They cited mail, emails, phone calls and events from the alumni association focused on fundraising. They shared that this constant “ask” was rarely balanced with offers to help them.

The study suggests that the transformation from college to career will set the stage on how alumni will view the college for decades to come. If the first contact from the college after graduation is a fundraising request, it will essentially cast in stone the prevailing attitude that the alumni association is only interested in getting money from the graduate.

It also suggested that alumni will be more likely “give back” to their universities when they feel there have been fair exchanges.

But what is a fair exchange?

The next question alumni professionals needed answered was, “What can we offer alumni they would consider as fair exchanges?”  The study showed that alumni viewed their college experience as a transformative stage in the journeys of lives. This was followed by their first jobs, careers, marriages, families, finances, empty nesting, and eventually retirement. The research indicated alumni wanted the alumni association to help them in the transitions in their lives.

The firm suggested that alumni associations use this information and find a way they could provide information and guidance and help alumni as they passed through each of these phases. Alumni indicated they would value this information as they have a high degree of trust in the information the college provided them in their undergraduate years.

Alumni associations were advised to gain a better understanding about how they could:

  1. Help with the transformation from student to alumni.
  2. Be helpful to alumni on their journeys in life.
  3. Provide valuable information and resources to alumni.

Let’s look at the first suggestion!  The easiest place for alumni associations to start implementing these strategies is with helping students migrate from campus to their first professional jobs.

In my blog posts, I frequently share a survey of nearly 600 college career directors conducted by the Career Advisory Board that suggests:

  • 48.1% thought students did not have the knowledge they needed to find jobs.
  • 55.7% felt students resumes were not professional enough to use for their job searches.

It’s no secret that few students take ownership of their careers while in college. A NACE survey found that during their senior years, over 61 percent of graduating students either never visited the career center, or visited only once, or twice. It’s no wonder that career center professionals cite the above issues.

The good news is that this represents a tremendous opportunity for the alumni association to step in and provide career networking and training.  A number of new opportunities are becoming available to help.

A growing number of alumni associations are adding staff to focus in this area and others are working more closely with their career centers to help them develop programs focused on the needs of working alumni. Now entering their 8th year, the Alumni Career Services Network is a rapidly growing group of dedicated alumni career services professionals who are reaching out to their alumni to provide career assistance.   I urge you to join this valuable group and support their cause!

One way you can immediately start to help the Class of 2013 and alumni in their career transitions is by adopting our Alumni Career Speaker Series.   This program brings the top career authors and experts to alumni via monthly webinars.  We’ve created a unique branded technology that makes the program appear as if the alumni association created and is hosting the event.  But they don’t.  We do it all.  It’s a tremendous program that has been well received by alumni.  A number of our clients have over 1,500 alumni registered for the monthly career series.

This is an easy way for alumni associations to start the process of giving back to alumni!

What are you thinking of doing to help your alumni?

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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

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