"The Alumni Conspiracy." How High Schools and Colleges Can Connect In The Future: Put Down The Stamp and Start Producing. Let's Go Digital and Promote Some Serious Possibilities.
How connected are you to your college or high school? That's the question of the hour. Myself? I'd like to say I'm "actively associated" with both Whitfield and Westminster, my two Alma Maters. I mean, I spent three years at one and four at the other, and I'd like to say my experience at both instituitions shaped me into the person I am today. So why this blog? What's the problem?
The problem lies in the fact that a lot of alumni are "associated," but institutions are missing out on the whole "active" part; an extremely important piece of the puzzle.
The first thing a college asks Alumni for is money. Same goes for high schools. What are we paying for? We're paying for the future of the institution. What are we getting back? A monthly newsletter, an invitation to an event, and our names printed in a book. If that's your idea of staying active as an alumni, you might as well quit reading now.
I'd like to pose an idea that I have for alumni relations in colleges and high schools, and propose some solutions that I think could help connect, communicate, contain, and retain an abundance of alumni.
I don't believe schools think too hard about what students actually want out of an institution once they've graduated. At the most basic level, as alumni, we want to stay connected. I do think that schools get that. What I don't think they are up-to-date on is the mediums in which we want to connect, the messages we want to communicate, and the content that will drive us to maintain a connection with their institution.
I want to propose an Alumni Action Campaign for schools around the country. Below are some of the key strategies behind the plan.
A portion alumni endowments will go towards the Alumni Action Campaign.
Yes we want our money to go to the school, but why can't it go to the school in ways that will help us stay connected.
Where will this money go?
This is the portion of Alumni Action Campaign that really hits home with me. This money will go towards a newly established department on campus - a multimedia production department.
What will this multimedia production department do?
It will be led by a chief multimedia officer. The department will be in charge of producing creative campus content and distributing it to students, alumni, and family members through all social media networks.
What does that mean?
The opportunities here are endless, but I'll give a few examples of different content that could be produced.
Example 1: Homecoming Weekend at a high school
What do we typically get as alumni when homecoming rolls around? We get an invitation in the mail to come to a party. Now this is fun, and I guess technically it is enough to "keep us connected," but as I've said before, it leaves me somewhat underwhelmed.
Send us an e-vite. Produce a short video tying in the homecoming theme and promote it through social networks. Make a facebook event outlining each day's events, games, and parties so that Alumni can plan ahead for the event and see who will be attending. Basic stuff that could make much more of an impact in terms of connecting with alumni. We want the news, but direct mail isn't the best method anymore. Half the time, my parents get the mail and don't give it to me anyway. The communication is interrupted!
Example 2: Career Corner
The production team could be in charge of doing a monthly production called Career Corner. With this, they could have a student attend work with either an alumni or a parent for a day and document the footage on video. The video could then be distributed through the schools website as well as social networks. What would this do? It would let viewers connect with current students and the alumni who were hosting them for the day. It would give us something to watch, something to talk about, and something to spread to others.
Example 3: Big Event Broadcasts
The production team would be in charge of photographing, creating multimedia and videos, and broadcasting footage from the big events on campus. If there is a dinner, record the president speech and send it out. If there is an auction, take pictures of the winners with their prizes and post them on flickr. If there is a student performance, capture it on video and allow users all over the country to see if from the comfort of their own home. We shouldn't punish people for not coming to see things in person, rather communicate to them regardless of if they're able to make it or not.
Example 4: Up-to-the minute Athletic Coverage
If there's one thing that alumni stay connected to most, it would probably be sports. I love to know how the Warriors and the Blue Jays are doing in soccer, baseball, and basketball. So do others. Take pictures of the players and ned it out so we know who were rooting for when we attend games. Tweet schedules and create facebook groups for big games. Send out links to STL Sports websites that gives us up-to-date information on how our teams are doing. Don't make us search. That's when we start to lose interest. We'd rather have the message relayed directly to us.
How would this benefit alumni?
I'm a huge advocate of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. These sites let you stay connected and in-the-know on every thing you're interested in. I, as well as thousands of others, am interested in my Alma Maters. To constantly have information directed my way about big events, campus leaders, alumni careers, student affairs, and athletic performances would be something I welcome. Those that weren't interested could "unsubscribe" with a phone call or a click of a mouse.
How could students benefit?
The more alumni are connected, the more the students benefit. If we know who they are, what they are doing, and what's going on at the school, we are more than likely going to give more money, offer more opportunity, and allow more open lines of communication for networking in the future.
If it sounds like I've been bashing Westminster and Whitfield, please take back your first impressions. I'm very happy with the way I've been treated as an Alumni at both institutions, I'm more or less just being picky. In fact, I think Westminster College just wrapped up one of the most new-age alumni connection campaign done around the country - The Blue Jay Across the U.S.A Tour. A group of four students traveled around the entire United States hosting a variety of parties at different areas with local alumni. Broadcasting events, managing twitter, capturing videos, and constantly updating blogs, Westminster Alums were constantly in-the-know and connected. Was it worth the planning and the pay? I've yet to find out. But I do know, in my opinion, that it is a huge step in the right direction.
Back to the original idea at hand. What am I bringing to the table in terms of Alumni relations strategy? I'm proposing a digital production team funded by the alumni. It wouldn't take more than 3-4 full-time employees. They would keep us up-to-date on all things Whitfield or all things Westminster. It would no longer be a chore to be an "active alum." It would be as easy as opening our computer, clicking on a link, or opening a document. It's no longer about the message. It doesn't have to be perfectly written, proofread, and published. It's about the medium. It's gotta be accessible, spreadable, and easily digested and communicated. These are the things that need to be focused on, and these are the things that will carry institutions into the future.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the replies. Is this too darn expensive or are alumni worth the cash? Is it what we want or an overload of information? Who knows... maybe I'm just looking to relive the glory days.