Creating an engaged, supportive alumni network is crucial to an institution’s success. If communication stops once graduates leave an institution, their understanding of the university will become stale. Instead, they should be kept informed so they can remain engaged and keep abreast on the progress of the university.
Good alumni relationships bring many benefits to both the institution and the alumni. Here we speak to HE professionals who work in Alumni Relations about the benefits of maintaining an engaged alumni network and how the market is changing.
As graduates of the institution, alumni have a special connection with the university and as a result are likely to be some of its more loyal supporters. We spoke to Molly Southwood, Head of Alumni Relations at the University of Bath who expanded on this: “An engaged alumni network allows the University to benefit from the skills and experience of our graduates, by offering their support to our students, to the institution and to each other. If we keep them properly informed and engaged, alumni are our most loyal supporters and our best ambassadors, offering invaluable marketing and promotion across their personal and professional networks.”
Talented alumni will likely have a wealth of experience and skills to share with current students via talks and newsletters. In certain cases, this could go even further with alumni offering to practically support students in work placements and help them launch their careers. Peter Lock, Alumni Relations Officer at Bournemouth University told us: “Creating an engaged alumni network is beneficial for us because engaged graduates are much more likely to want to “give back” to the University; that could be, for example, by coming back and sharing their experiences with prospective and current students – there are no better ambassadors for your university than your alumni!”
Molly Southwood from the University of Bath told us about a trip to New York and Boston she is currently organising for the winner of their Students’ Union Business Plan Competition. The competition was judged by a selection of panel experts including alumni, and alumni have also played a big part in the prize trip: “the winner will have the opportunity to have meetings with alumni at locations such as Google NYC and Harvard Business School as well as have sessions on brand building and working with investors. All of these meetings are made with, or through, our alumni, who are willing to help because of the work we do keeping them engaged with the University and ensuring they understand the value of their time.”
In many instances, like the trip mentioned before, alumni are in a position to become international ambassadors to the institution. This is certainly true of City University London. We spoke Celia Enyioko-Hanniford, at the Alumni Communications Office who told us: “Over 45% of City’s students come to us from outside the UK. Our International Alumni Ambassadors, former students who have volunteered to be a point of contact for City in their home country, support our recruitment activity. They are invaluable in helping us provide prospective students with real insight into London-living and, hopefully, help them confirm their decision to study with us!”
Celia also explained that their alumni network has a real life benefit for current students: “Alumni also donate their valuable time to offer careers support to current students through innovative schemes such as our accredited Professional Mentoring Programme, work shadowing and professional networking opportunities. These enhance the students’ experience and give them that competitive edge in today’s tough jobs market.”
As for the results of this programme, Celia told us: “It is through this support from alumni that we are also able to retain our place as one of the highest ranked institutions in the UK for graduate employability and starting salary.”
Because of the dedication and gratitude many Alumni have for the institution, they are often generous with fundraising efforts. Celia told us how invaluable this philanthropic support can be: “Financial donations enable us to offer life-changing scholarships and bursaries to talented students who may otherwise have to give up their studies. They also enable City to provide students with advanced facilities and equipment for teaching and pioneering research.”
Whilst having an engaged alumni network is beneficial the institution, the benefit to the alumni themselves should not be overlooked. Celia from City University explained: “As Kenneth Okoroafor (BSc Economics and Accountancy 2005) said in a recent interview for our annual alumni magazine: “My [professional] mentoring journey has been very rewarding. I have learnt a lot about myself and my own career trajectory.””
A changing market
As graduates have grown up and new alumni have emerged, the market has naturally evolved. There is now a whole new generation of alumni to consider and what once worked well, may not now. In short, tactics may need updating and modifying for a new audience.
Peter from Bournemouth University told us “We try and engage our alumni through different means depending on their skills, interests and where they are currently in their life.” With that in mind, Bournemouth University are embracing technology as an effective means of communication, Peter explained: “Things like birthday emails are easy to set up but we have had some wonderful responses from alumni who have received them and been grateful that the University still thinks of them. We also use social media extensively to engage with our alumni, with photos and quotes from the past proving especially popular. We also celebrate the successes of our alumni as much as we can and we have a dedicated alumni blog which shares alumni stories, triumphs and news.”
Molly from the University of Bath explained how they are using technology to increase connectivity between current students and alumni: “We have a very popular e-networking system, Bath Connection. One of our second year International Management & Modern Languages students used the system to identify an “Alumni Expert” who helped her to prepare her CV and cover letter in order to secure her ideal work placement. The alumnus’ particular experience directly matched the advice the student needed, and they were able to find each other through the system.” The system was launched just 10 months ago, and has already seen 90 connections between alumni and current students or recent graduates seeking advice.
Innovative, tech-friendly advances like the examples above are likely to appeal to millennials, and appealing to them is becoming increasingly important. Millennials – those born in the 1980s to the 2000s – now make up a significant portion of today’s alumni. Many universities are utilising digital marketing to get their attention, paying particular attention to mobile marketing – as 91% of UK millennials, and 76% of millennials globally own a smart phone. Social media presence is a must too, with 92% of millennials on Facebook, 42.1% on Twitter and 37.5% on Snapchat. An emphasis on experience, such as the Alumni Blog mentioned by Peter above, would also be useful, as millennials often value experiences over possessions.
We recently spoke to Charles Hardy at LinkedIn about how universities and in particular alumni offices are using the LinkedIn Higher Education Platform.
Our Alumni Experience
“We chose Red Brick as our preferred research partner for a major alumni survey. They came highly recommended and with significant experience of the sector. We found them a pleasure to work with. I particularly valued their strategic insight into how we could better measure our alumni relations impact, which we used when designing the survey. Red Brick were supportive and efficient throughout the process and we were delighted with the response rate.” Trudy Monk, Head of Alumni Relations, University of Surrey