On December 7th, 2013, I have the honor of participating as a judge at UCLA’s Global Access Program (GAP) finale. Several companies will be presenting their business models and plans for review in this event. The event will be closed to the general public but anyone who is in the area is welcome to reach out to me to grab a cup of coffee.
Today’s world is inundated with social networking opportunities. If you look at our business lives, most people in the technology space use LinkedIn to stay connected with business associates, while others use Plaxo contacts up-to-date. There are many other services available which could be even more effective but we often overlook, such as our alumni associations.
Like many of you I’m sporadically involved in my alumni association. It’s not that I don’t want to be more involved, but rather suffer from a lack of insight about how I should be involved. This past week I’ve had a lot of discussions with people who have had various levels of involvement in their alumni association. Some of these people are affiliated with Stanford, some with Harvard and others with my own alumni association, Anderson.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that my own alumni association should bear some responsibility for my lack of involvement. I think if they made it easier to become involved, such as allowing me to volunteer as a coach to other graduates, I would have a conduit to fulfill my desire.
This conclusion left me thinking about what activities alumni associations should engage in to better utilize their members. I think there are five to consider:
- If it happens here it happens everywhere. When many of us finished graduate school we scattered to the winds. Some of us ended up moving abroad, others ended up working in different cities, but we all have a connection to our school that is forged in a great deal of hard work and hopes about the future. If an alumni association wants to hold the attention of its members, one it should allow remote alumni to participate in local events. If there is a guest speaker at UCLA, the presentation should be captured on video or audio and made available online. Likewise, the event should be televised over WebEx or some similar service. I am often invited to alumni events in cities where I am unable to attend. In other words, the policy should be the opposite of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
- Differentiated channels of communication. I think it’s fair to say that all of us are inundated with many forms of communication. Messages really do get lost in the volume. One of the problems I’ve noticed with my own alumni communications are that fundraising, advertising for products and services, and events are all provided from the same e-mail source. I’ve had no real opportunity to distinguish the type and method of the communications I’ve received. If someone wants to sell a puppy, it receives the same weight as a career opportunity or alumni event. An effective alumni association should practice what they teach in business; the communication should be direct and focused. Keeping each type of communication highly differentiated enables the recipient to selectively focus on what’s important to them. If they receive what they want, they will be more likely they are to participate in the program.
- Regional welcome committee. As many of us relocate for work or travel for work, it is crucial for the success of the alumni association that people know how to remain in touch and stay involved. An effective alumni association should organize groups in each city and elect an ambassador. When alumni moves to a new city the ambassador should send them an e-mail providing them with contact information and a list of events in their area. Likewise, if someone wants to move to a particular area and they are looking for a job, the ambassador or committee should help make contact with other alums who could help them advance their careers. Alumni associations, particularly those for business schools, need to focus on expanding the regional influence of their programs. If for example, I would’ve moved to Singapore, someone in the Singapore-based alumni association should reach out to me and introduce me to other alums. I should get a good understanding of the business environment, the social aspects of the region and start to establish an understanding about how to build my career in that area.
- Corporate conduits. Careers have become far more fluid than they have in the past. Many people change jobs as a means of driving their own advancement. As the success of an alumni association is driven by the success of its members, it stands to reason that it should help to facilitate its members into various key positions within companies. For each of the Fortune 500 companies, an alumni association should identify corporate conduits. These are people who help alumni get hired into the company. The goal should be to drive as many alums into key positions within the organization to facilitate not only the success of the company but also the success of alums. These members should be tracked in a database which is tightly managed by the alumni association and accessible through the alumni career counselor. For example, if I were focused on moving my career to Intel, I would have someone in the alumni association who could identify key executives within my target company and use them to gain access to the position.
- Indoctrinate for Life. Looking back on my experience in business school one thing that I believe was missing was being indoctrinated into the alumni association. Throughout my two year stay at the school, I never heard the words “you are alumni for life” with a speech that reinforced why it was important to participate in the school once I left the program. It was only after many years and a great deal of networking that I realized I already had a terrific opportunity to meet key people in various industries. I’m quite certain that all alums would benefit from learning this lesson earlier in life rather than later.
I think the success of many alumni associations is driven from good planning and assuring that its members understand the value of participation. For many, it has to be about what they can contribute as opposed to what they get in return. As I sit in the Silicon Valley I can see the role of alumni associations in the careers of many Alumni associations can be instrumental in propelling the success of their members as well as reaping benefits for the university such as increased donations, prestige and resources.
Food for thought.