20 Forecasts in Alumni Relations for 2020
It’s a new year and we’re all strategically trying to plan our activities according to our respective goals and targets.
- Alumni Relations + Recruitment (Enrollment) – Alumni Relations programs will become increasingly and strategically linked to enrollment/recruitment outcomes. More and more institutions will mobilize their alumni army as Admissions volunteers to help recruit new students. Tuition revenue is critical.
- Alumni Relations + Career Services – Alumni Relations programs will establish closer partnerships with Career Services offices and break down the historical gaps that exist between them. I am talking about staff playing nice in the sandbox so that alumni and students can benefit from this obvious collaboration (but, honestly, this is pretty rare to find out there!)
- Career Communities – Advancement professionals will learn the value of building a career community for their institutions. Alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff all play a role in helping to create this. It is not just about “career placement” (finding a job)… it is about launching a student on the right career trajectory based on their interests, skills, and experience supported by a network of people who support and guide them on their journey. Our new collaborative partnership with Career Services (#2 above) will be vital to this.
- Alumni Relations + Retention – Alumni Relations programs will become more strategically linked to retention efforts (partnerships with Student Affairs and Career Services for mentorships, internships, externship programs, etc). Keeping enrolled students enrolled (and paying tuition) will be another area where all institutions will need to use their alumni to have an impact. And, in this case, that impact is on the bottom line. For some institutions, this could mean the difference between keeping the doors open and going out of business.
- Value Added Programming – Industry based affinity groups will become (or stay) the rage for alumni programming. Class year and zip code (regional clubs) will continue to be less relevant. Professional industry sector (tech, health care, finance, entrepreneurship, etc.) will drive alumni engagement around communications, volunteerism, event attendance, networking, mentoring, and more. The big question is whether you have the necessary tools to easily segment your alumni. Do you work with an alumni management platform?
- To Pay or Not to Pay – I believe that dues-based Alumni Associations will continue to disappear. A few (very few) exceptions will stand the test of time for a while but we will see these continuing to disappear. When the best dues-based program in the country is at 23% (meaning 77% are NOT members)… the average dues-based program is in the single digits… and many of these programs hover around 1-3% of the alumni… it is clear that alumni are voting with their feet. Time for a new model that embraces ALL alumni as members of the alumni association.
- Amazon vs Pentagon – Websites, online communities, and all things digital will increasingly become more “Amazon” and less “Pentagon”. Security will always be important but user experience has a place too. We shouldn’t need launch codes to search an alumni directory! Add value and lower the barriers to engagement and alumni will… guess what?… ENGAGE! *** I am now officially on the “Most Wanted” list for all IT Security Officers and General Counsel!
- Data Protection – While the above is true, GDPR in Europe will bleed into our work globally – like it or not, data protection is coming. How we balance data protection and security with ease of use and lower barriers (see above #7 above) will be key to establishing, building, and maintaining relationships with our alumni. Is your alumni networking solution up to data protection standards.
- Integrated Advancement Models – Alumni Relations programs will continue to be more connected, integrated, and aligned with advancement programs. There is no getting away from it. The Alumni Relations industry will continue to have to show impact and ROI.
*** To my AR purist colleagues out there… yes, I am talking to you Howard… there are definitely exceptions to my prediction but the majority of programs will need focusing on Advancement in order to survive.
- Perfect Union – We will continue to see legal mergers – in some form or another – between separate/independent Alumni Associations and University Foundations. This is inevitable. The University of Wisconsin led this charge, Oregon State University went on to take this route last year, and there are many other examples. Expect more to come in 2020.
- Bye-Bye-By-laws – Alumni Board by-laws will fade out and simple operating guidelines will take their place. Too many alumni volunteers and far too much time has been spent on struggling with unnecessary by-laws and Robert’s Rules of Order. Yes, they have their place, but the VAST majority of alumni boards out there are advisory bodies with zero fiduciary responsibility and don’t need this level of bureaucracy. Keep it simple and make the volunteer experience enjoyable!
- Volunteer Pipeline – Just like a pipeline for your donors, institutions will continue thinking about the management of alumni volunteers in a more strategic and professional manner. They will also sometimes assign dedicated staffing to manage key volunteers on their journey from admissions volunteer to bigger and broader leadership roles.
- Meaningful Measurement – Alumni engagement metrics will be taken seriously, the eye rolling will finally stop, and the results will become eye popping. We don’t have a choice. We may have senior leaders who understand the long-term value of alumni engagement but we still need to demonstrate to all key stakeholders (think Boards of Trustees) that what we do actually has a measurable impact.
- Non-Spoiler Alert – In a surprise to absolutely no one in the advancement industry, annual giving rates will continue to drop, actual donor numbers will hold steady, and total dollars raised will creep slightly upward. Generally speaking of course, there will always be exceptions to this but the majority of institutions are seeing this trend. This reality will make it more important than ever for our industry to demonstrate impact in all areas – including fundraising – but also recruitment, retention, and placement.
- How Many and How Much – More and more institutions will announce capital campaigns with both an alumni engagement goal along with a fundraising goal. The average alumnus/a doesn’t see themselves in a billion-dollar campaign… but they do understand the importance of taking action and being counted.
- Step Up the Game – Our workforce is changing, new types of jobs are being created every day, and many students are going to look outside of traditional four-year degree programs for the skills they need to succeed in this changing world (think community colleges and trade organizations). Along with this changing reality, the advancement shops at these institutions will need to step up their games and help establish a career community among their vast network.
- Living together in perfect harmony – alumni, student and prospect databases, CRM systems, third party software, event and volunteer management systems – all will- FINALLY start “talking to each other”! (A guy can dream, right?!)
- Outsourcing may be the answer – Standard or basic Alumni Relations business functions will increasingly be outsourced to companies outside of universities. Think FAQ’s, administrative functions, event planning, and much more NOT living in your shop. AR programs will then use their resources for the most impactful and high touch forms of engagement.
*** Again, purists will cringe at this notion but I think we will see this grow in the next year. Many schools are already using services like these!
- Value in the Virtual – Digital engagement will take its appropriate place as a legitimate approach to alumni engagement. Online event attendance, virtual volunteers, social media supporters, and digital donors are becoming the new normal. How we track and measure the impact of this activity will be the key to our future success.
- Rankings Reform – US News and World Report will STOP using the “average alumni giving rate” (the two-year rolling average of the percentage of undergraduate alumni who made a gift to their alma mater) as a proxy for alumni loyalty. Our industry will finally convince the publishers to move to a basic alumni engagement score based on CASE standards.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you see coming down the road and/or issues that you are currently wrestling with in your program. Let me know whether you agree, or disagree, with my thoughts. Let’s talk about where we are headed this year!