Ask a sample of Alumni Associations to name their key objectives for the year ahead. I guarantee you that engaging alumni, in one form or another, will likely appear at the top of the list.
It seems self-evident that Associations would and should be doing everything in their power to maximize alumni engagement, right?
But I do not remain completely convinced.
I think all Alumni Associations are of course interested in engaging alumni but some are sometimes held back because they are concerned about:
- Complaints from their alumni
- Negative comments being made about them or the alma mater
- Or maybe the need to centrally control that engagement
Yes, they want alumni engagement, but there may be some Associations who only want it if they can be guaranteed of zero negativity.
This fear of taking risks when engaging alumni may mean that alumni engagement can never reach its full potential.
Let me provide some examples to illustrate my point.
Alumni Associations may be nervous about ‘over-emailing’ their alumni for fear of a minority of their alumni reacting negatively.
Or take a second example. Should alumni professionals allow an open discussion among alumni about what they would like to change?
Yes, there may be criticism and negativity, but it may also be the first important step in engaging alumni and taking them on a journey to becoming active volunteers who care about the direction of your association and are willing to get involved.
A successful alumni engagement strategy may require that we cease fearing our alumni.
All engagement, even negative responses I believe will ultimately be positive.
We need to encourage and empower our alumni to take leadership roles and feel like owners.
We need to shift our thinking from risk-free alumni engagement to alumni empowerment.
The authentic voice of your Alumni Association is not the controlled alumni engagement that we may feel comfortable with.
The authentic voice is the combination of all those diverse voices and opinions.
The role of alumni professionals is to encourage all those voices to be heard, to empower those voices and converge them into one beautiful melody.
The role of alumni professionals is to be the conductor.
It’s time we fully gave the microphone to our alumni. This is the bedrock of engaging alumni.
I would welcome your thoughts.
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