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Is Your Association Salt, Pepper or Cinnamon?

Is Your Association Salt, Pepper or Cinnamon?

At the Global Leaders Summit held at UCLA a few weeks ago, we were privileged to hear three of our most prominent alumni thought leaders discussing the biggest trends and challenges facing the Alumni Relations profession.

The three alumni thought leaders were:

  • Howard Wolf, Vice President for Alumni Affairs at Stanford University (chair of the panel)
  • Paula Bonner, President of the Wisconsin Alumni Association
  • Julie Sina, Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Affairs at UCLA Foundation

Please watch the full recording of their conversation below.


There was much discussion about best practice in alumni relations and critical trends in the industry whether it be leveraging technology, working better cross-functionally or improving how we measure and communicate the value of our alumni relations efforts.

However, one moment in the conversation stood out for me when describing the biggest challenge facing alumni relations professionals.

Howard Wolf repeated the question that was asked of Stanford alumni in a recent survey, ”If your alumni association was a spice in the kitchen, which would it be and why?”

The scary but probably typical answer for many of our alumni, is that their Association is probably a spice that they would never, ever, use.

If we tighten the question, and ignore the distinctions between Alumni Associations and the mother institution, the question really is how do we make ourselves essential to our alumni?

Are we a spice that is beyond its best before date and needs to be replaced?

Is it realistic to believe that we could ever be an essential component in the lives of our alumni?

Or do we believe we can be an essential conduit in the lives of our alumni.  A spice that they will use often that brings real value.

The challenge is clear.  Which spice will we be?

I would welcome your thoughts.


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