There are a number of key stakeholders that have an important say in the relationship between an educational institution and their alumni; Career Services, Development, Alumni Relations, Communication, Marketing and Admissions to name but a few.
However, there are two departments where at times I see some professional tension over alumni, namely Career Services and Alumni Relations.
I believe this tension is driven by two different viewpoints on student-alumni interactions
Career Services is understandably focused on the student. In particular how to help students enter the career of their choice while using alumni as an important resource along the way for mentoring, internships and employment.
Alumni Relations, on the other hand, is focused on the wider alumni body. Graduating students, although an important segment, will only make up around 5% of their total alumni. Their focus is much more on how best to engage all alumni and provide them with valuable career and social community.
In short, for Careers Services alumni are a resource, a means to an end. For Alumni Relations they are the end.
These two legitimate yet different philosophies regarding alumni can create professional tension if not managed properly.
Moreover, ultimately the danger of these tensions is the negative impact on alumni through miscommunication and duplication. Neither department wants to alienate what is both a valuable resource and an important end customer.
We have seen in recent years the emergence of a new department, Alumni Career Services as a natural response.
But for most institutions, they do not have the luxury of this new department, so how to get the balance right?
Here comes the controversial bit
I believe some schools solve this tension through compromisìng between the two departments without ever properly defining who has the actual ownership of communication with alumni. The approach could be described as ‘lets both own interactions with alumni and try hard to coordinate where possible.‘
I think this approach is a mistake.
It results in duplicate systems, confusion, wasted money, and suboptimal student-alumni relations.
Even worse, what if alumni start to feel like a resource rather than a customer in their own right?
I believe schools need to clearly define who owns alumni. I also believe that it should be Alumni Relations.
At the end of the day, the alumni are the more important partner in the student-alum relationship. Students are the ones who need something from the relationship (contacts, introductions, advice, etc). Alumni are there simply to give back and help.
As such the focus needs to be on:
- making the relationship as easy and straightforward for alumni as possible
- all communication to alumni should come via Alumni Relations
- the home for student-alum interactions should be the alumni portal (and not a student-centric one!)
Alumni Relations need to own the alumni relationship in order that it always remains a healthy resource for everyone, including Alumni Career Services.
Who do you think should ‘own’ the alumni relationship?
I would welcome your thoughts.