Alumni relations might be one of the most important chapter operations for long term chapter success, but it often seems to be one of the most confusing and vague programs to implement. Alumni relations often gets confused with: raising money, renovating the house, getting me my first job out of college, or leveraging positive relationships with the institution. The reality is that those are ideal outcomes of an alumni relations program but is not actually alumni relations. The other reality is that, with a little ambition, effort, and consistency your chapter can transform your alumni relations program in a span of weeks.
What is alumni relations?
Alumni relations is really the process of identifying who your alumni are, communicating with them, and engaging them in a meaningful manner through events. Building positive alumni relations does not happen overnight but rather takes time and consistency through all areas of operations.
If you are a chapter that does not have an alumni relations program, or has no idea where to start just remember the three main frameworks: Identification, Communication, and Cultivation.
Step 1: Identify
This is relatively straightforward, but if you don’t know who your alumni are then you can’t have any sort of alumni relations program. Below are some of the best ways to get information about your alumni:
- Memorial Headquarters: Pi Kappa Alpha Headquarters manages a database of alumni information on behalf of chapters. The chapter president can request a list of alumni from that chapter and the MHQ staff will provide that to the president. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request your list today!
- Colleges/Universities: In addition to the Fraternity HQ, most universities, either through their foundation or alumni association, have a database of alumni that can be sorted by their Greek affiliation. This is another good opportunity to request information.
- Alumni Association: Some chapters have high performing alumni associations that have a well maintained, long running database which they will share to help the chapter communicate with their alumni. Ideally, there is a partnership between the AA and the chapter when it comes to communication.
After receiving the information of alumni, it is imperative that the information is updated as accurate contact info comes in. it is recommended that the alumni relations committee have a person who oversees updating the spreadsheet or database and makes sure that document is marked with a “Last Updated” field. Additionally, it is highly encouraged that the chapter share their updates with the International Fraternity so that they can have the most accurate information as well.
Step 2: Communicate
This is the most important step of the three. While any communication with alumni is positive, the chapter needs to be mindful of how they are communicating and what they are communicating. Here are some great recommendations to help you navigate both of those processes.
How to communicate:
- Newsletters: At a minimum the chapter the needs to be sending a newsletter every quarter. Ideally this would be two hardcopy newsletters per year and two e-mail newsletters per year.
- Production tips: The two hardcopy newsletters can be produced through a local print shop or even a university print shop. Stick with a layout that is simple, doesn’t have a lot of noise, and that is repeatable. Don’t feel the need to change the layout every time. There will be a cost for shipping and production, but time and time again, studies show that hard copy mail is still the most effective way to get a response and engagement.
- Digital Newsletters: The two e-mail newsletters should be more than just a listserv or an e-mail with every alumnus Bcc’d. There are several online newsletter services out there, but MailChimp is one of the easiest and intuitive to use. Instructions for using the service can be found here.
- Social media: Alumni are on Facebook and Twitter! Utilize this service to provide small updates about the chapter or upcoming events. While it should not be the primary mode of communication, failing to utilize the ease of the platforms is wasted opportunity to communicate.
What to communicate:
- 70/30 Rule: When sending out an alumni newsletter, remember your audience: alumni! They want to hear about what their fellow alums are doing in the personal and professional lives. Solicit members of your advisory board, alumni association, or prominent alumni for information to include. However, the alumni also want to know what you are doing as a chapter so be sure to include information about the positive things the chapter is doing. A good ratio is 70% alumni news and 30 percent chapter news.
- Pictures: The old saying, “pictures are worth a thousand words”, has been around for ages because it is true! Include pictures of both alumni and undergraduates in the newsletter. It his extremely important to include pictures of alumni events so that alumni can see who attended and realize that they missed out by not being there!
Step 3: Cultivate and Engage:
Cultivation and engagement are just fancy terms for hosting events and interacting with alumni on a personal basis. Successful alumni events can be everything under the sun, however, every successful alumni event has the following:
- Planning: Successful events aren’t just thrown together at the last minute. They take time to plan and most importantly time to communicate to your alumni the time, date, and details of the alumni event. It is recommended to give alumni AT LEAST 3 months notice of an event.
- Family friendly environment: As alumni get older, their family becomes an important decision point for whether they can or want to attend an event. It is important that the chapter have family friendly events where alumni will be comfortable bringing their family to.
- Quality not Quantity: The ideal number of alumni events for the chapter to host is just two a year. The more events that are hosted, the less likely alumni will show-up as the events aren’t unique or signature.
- Have a signature draw: To increase attendance, have the event around a significant campus event (homecoming, big football/basketball game) which will give the alum more to do than just attend a 2-hour alumni event.
Ideally all three steps build on each other. Don’t jump straight to step 3, without first consistently executing on steps 1 and 2. Solicitation and “asking” alumni for assistance has been purposely left out because if a chapter executes on steps 1-3, the ask will happen organically and alumni will want to contribute. Building powerful alumni relations does take time, however, building good habits must start somewhere and by following these steps you can build those habits quickly and efficiently!