Educational institutions are constantly striving to discover new ways of engaging and building a strong emotional connection with their alumni. There are institutions that are more than a century old – some of them have managed to engage with their alumni and there are others that have failed to connect to their alums despite having a rich history and heritage. The old-boys and old-girls networks are built through a conscious effort in strengthening the emotional connection through multiple activities. We also hear from institutions about alum unresponsiveness to various initiatives and the lack of interest from alums to connect to their alma mater. Why does this happen? Is there an alumni engagement model that can be useful in directing our attention to various elements involved in engaging with alums?
Alumni Engagement Model
Many institutions and alumni associations engage in random activities with the hope that something will click in attracting the attention of the alum. After the success of an alumni engagement activity, the activity would be repeated a few times with the quick realization that the activity is no longer exciting for alums and the engagement levels quickly taper down to a minimum. Alumni associations and institutions are seldom very clear about how various activities can be planned to fit into a broader engagement model and how they can generate various ideas to map into the needs of alumni. Most institutions are not even clear about the need to engage with alums and consequently, do not invest time and resources into engaging with alumni. There is institutional apathy to this important activity.
A framework to engage with alums would help in understanding the various components of engagement and would bring clarity to this relationship. As the head of alumni relations in IIMB, I have developed an alumni engagement model that has helped us in deepening and enhancing our relationship with our alums.
The above model is detailed and can be condensed into a simple five D’s model that can be useful in diffusing the idea across an organization. This model summarizes the more detailed framework shown above. The five D model is given below – Discover, Develop, Deliver, Diagnose and Deepen.
Before one begins to engage with alums, there are two basic questions that need to be addressed –
1. What needs of the institute get met by engaging with alums? Or in other words, why does one want to engage with alums?
2. What needs of alums get met by engaging with the institute?
If the “Why” is not clear, whatever one does would be arbitrary, purposeless and a waste of resources and energy.
Customer Value Proposition (CVP)
To deliver value to customers, a series of actions are undertaken based on the skills/capabilities and resources required to deliver value to the alums and other stakeholders. To deliver value, the alma mater/alumni entities adopt strategies that will help meet the alum needs.
Listed below are some of the alum value propositions –
- Professional Knowledge/Skills Enhancement
- Social & Professional Networking
- Career Support Services
- Personal Development Services
- Connection with Alma Mater
- Autonomy in Alumni Operations
- Giving back options to the Alma Mater
- Contribute to Society
- Recognition by Alma Mater
One could use different strategies (products or services) to create value that is derived from the meaning attached by customers to these specific needs. Often, different distribution channels are used to deliver these services. Find below an example of how a chosen strategy can help in creating value for the customer. In the figure below, an offline solution could be setting up a recruitment cell to assist alums find jobs. An online solution could be a provision to post jobs on the alumni web portal, a mobile app that alerts alums on job openings, an email distribution list similar to a google groups, etc.
Many institutions falter when it comes to servicing their alums. For example, some institutions may solicit donations for various causes but may not bother to regularly report the usage of funds. Alumni engagement to deepen the relationship is usually absent. Most alum offices are understaffed and there is inadequate strategic focus on alumni engagement.
The purpose of any entity focused on alumni relations should be on improving alumni engagement and deepening the relationship so as to ensure alum loyalty to the alma mater.
In most leading educational institutions of India such as the IIMs and IITs, alumni outreach happens through two channels that work closely with each other. The alumni office, which is usually one of the departments of the institute, focuses on deepening the engagement levels between the institute and the alumni. The alumni association, an independent legal entity, is run by elected representatives of the alums that focuses on enhancing and energizing the intra and inter alumni networks.
It is important to have some kind of measurable quantitative or/and qualitative unit to track progress of alumni engagement. The measures could be such as widening choices to cover more alums, deepening engagement through increase in participation in activities, tracking consequences of engagement, recording feedback’s, etc.
Note: The above model has been developed by S Parthasarathy, Head – Alumni Relations, IIMB and reflects his personal views on the subject.