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April 29, 2007

Amherst College - Keeping in Contact after Graduation

In May and June all over the world, college graduates receive their diplomas from the Dean or President of their college or university.  Then, several months later, they lose access to their unique college email address they've had throughout their college years.  This is the standard, and it can create a gap later when the alumni association wants to contact alumni.  One of the jobs an alumni association often has to do in order to create a fuller online alumni community is an email acquisition program.  With this in mind, it would make sense for colleges to offer another lifetime email address to students upon graduation, so they would be able to keep in contact with their alumni for the rest of their lives.

IT departments, unfortunately, have been reluctant to provide these lifetime email address because of the potential cost and the customer service issues surrounding them.  The positives in supplying such an email address, however, far outweigh the negatives.  Amherst College recognizes this.  They have taken a proactive step in recommending and encouraging their students to register in their online community before graduating, and one of the things they offer is a permanent email address from the alumni association.

Commercial companies have long provided these lifetime email addresses to alumni from their alumni association. While these are NOT the same email address the students had while they were students, they are still branded with the university name and reflect to employers and others that they graduated from the institution. 

If you want to help your alumni get jobs, then a college branded email address is critical. First, it proves that they graduated, and second, it publicly promotes your organization.  I'd highly recommend you challenge your IT department to provide email addresses to your graduates.  It really does not put that much more of a burden on your system.  I know, because my firm provides lifetime email addresses for a remarkably small fee.

Successful ePhilanthropy strategies will become an integral part of your overall plan.  Online marketing will augment your existing communications and elevate the performance of your current tactics.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 29, 2007 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | Links to this Article

April 27, 2007

Stanford University - Clearing the Confusion of Commencement

Graduating from college is huge!  Not only for the students, but also for the parents of the graduate, and anyone else personally involved with the commencement.  This is one of the few times in our lives that accomplishments are celebrated at the same time as planning for the hazy, unknown future.

Graduations are a time of pride, excitement, nervousness, relief, and yes - even a bit of sadness.  Stanford University's alumni association has made sure that every planned event is posted in an easy to read schedule, so students, parents, and all involved do not miss one second of commencement weekend.  This allows everyone involved with the excitement of graduation to remain informed on every gathering that is happening in this very special time of the graduate's life.

College days are one of the most poignant portions of our lives.  Friends, late night study sessions, laughter, tears, and everything else that happened during the college years culminates over a period of two to three days.  And then, suddenly, it's time for real life.  While this schedule is a simple tool to apply, it creates a framework for this all important weekend, and it allows the parents to feel just as involved as the graduate.

A couple of ways this could be more effective is to allow both parents and graduates to automatically update their outlook calendars with the event information.  Then, they wouldn't have to keep checking back to refresh their memory.  This automation will not only increase participation, but it will better serve the graduates and their parents.  Also, if photographs from prior commencement weekends were posted, the excitement would continue to build and also increase participation. 

Stanford University's Alumni Association is making sure everyone is informed about the happenings of commencement weekend.  This gives the graduating students and their parents the information they need for this amazing period of life.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 27, 2007 at 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 25, 2007

University of California Santa Cruz - Helping New Graduates

When a university recognizes that their job doesn't end when their seniors graduate, they can really make a difference in the lives of their alumni.  And, not far from the heart of Silicon Valley, the University of California Santa Cruz is doing just that.  Each year, they send thousands of new graduates into the business world, but they don't leave them to flounder.  Their alumni online community offers them a place to communicate, to post resumes, to search for jobs, and to find a mentor. 

UCSC has long recognized the importance of helping their graduating seniors get jobs and find mentors, and from the day their students graduate, they offer a system that works.  By taking an active role in promoting the opportunity on their Web site, and by encouraging alumni to be available to mentor students, the University of California Santa Cruz is giving their graduating alumni tools to be successful. 

In my opinion, an alumni office's sole, and most important gift/benefit they can provide alumni, is to deliver the information they need to be successful, to find jobs, and to encourage doing business with other alumni.  While UCSC is doing a great job with this, there are a few additional measures that could increase the level of participation in their system.

A good way to encourage both mentors and graduating students to participate is to offer testimonials from both.  A photograph of an alum who says something like, "I really have enjoyed mentoring students via our online mentoring system.  I can do it on my own time, at my own pace, wherever I am in the world.  It's also a great way to connect with the new generation of students."    

A photo of a graduating student might have a testimonial like, "My mentor has provided me loads of suggestions and ideas on how I can hit the ground running when I get my first job. Nobody ever teaches you the day to day tactics and things you need to do to survive and exceed in an office environment!"

Statements such as this will bridge the gap in those alumni who are "considering," but haven't committed.  Offering the programs that UCSC offers is terrific!  If they go one step further and give their alumni a way to comment on their own experiences and success stories, it will increase participation and, overall, a stronger online community will develop.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 25, 2007 at 04:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 23, 2007

HEP - Increasing the Number of Email Addresses

Sending emails is one of the strongest, and easiest, ways to keep up a steady stream of communication to your alumni.  In order to do this, however, universities and colleges must have as near to 100 percent of their alumni email addresses as possible.  When an alumni association has 100 percent of the email addresses of alumni who are on the Internet, they will be able to communicate more frequently, and at less cost and hassle.  When this happens, contributions will increase and online communities are more likely to flourish!

HEP Development specializes in data enhancement for non-profits.  One of their specialties is in email acquisition.  They offer both short-term and long-term email acquisition campaigns that include the following:

Short-term Email Acquisition Strategy: They will investigate appending permission-based email addresses of your alumni, using a secure FTP server.  In addition, they will customize a welcome letter to broadcast to your new alumni email addresses.  This letter will have confirmed deliverability and allows alumni to opt-out if they choose.

Long-term eMail Acquisition Strategy:  They will gather alumni email addresses on your Web sites.  In addition, they will train phonathon staff to update email addresses with each phone call made.  Every piece of direct mail should have an email request within it, which communicates the email benefits.

HEP also offers their email acquisition tools that access databases containing 75 million email addresses.   

If you are looking for a way to increase the number of email addresses you have, HEP offers a viable option.  Industry averages show you will obtain anywhere from 7-12 percent new email addresses.  Assuming you provide them a list of 30,000 alumni, you could acquire as many as 3,600 new email addresses that you can send monthly broadcast emails and newsletters.  If it cost you 60 cents to send a letter to your alumni, the 3,600 emails you acquire will save you $25,900 EACH year!

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 23, 2007 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 20, 2007

Clinton Community College - PDF Newsletters

Newsletters are one of the best ways to regularly keep in contact with a group of people, whether clients, potential customers, or alumni.  They offer news, information, photographs, and can really help pull alumni back to their alma mater in the form of support and participation.  Many universities and colleges have turned their regular newsletters into eNewsletters.

Most of us today think of eNewsletters as HTML productions that require us to update online forms, and then send out a broadcast email to all the recipients.  While eNewsletters certainly work well in this way, and do reach the intended audience, they can be very time consuming and add extra expenses to a tight budget. 

Clinton Community College has repositioned their paper version of their newsletter into a PDF, which they then put online for alumni to download and read.  Not only is this an inexpensive and less time consuming option, it is also a great way to archive all of Clinton Community College's newsletters. 

A couple points could make this even stronger and work even better.  First of all, by writing a short paragraph that identifies the different stories within each issue of the newsletter, and placing it on the newsletter, search engines would have an easier time finding it.  Once that happens, alumni will have an easier time finding the newsletters, which will equal greater participation and connectedness.  Secondly, consider adding a forum so that alumni can offer their opinion in the form of comments about the stories.

Newsletters are a great way to pull alumni back into the fold, especially when they are able to be accessed online.  Clinton Community College has found a way to easily reach their alumni, with every newsletter they create, and this will keep their alumni coming back for more - month after month.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 20, 2007 at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 18, 2007

The Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps – Connecting via Photos

The Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps has been in existence for over forty years, and in that time over 500 men and women have served within its ranks.  The job of these men and women has been, and continues to this day, to offer musical support to the Presidential Escort and to revive our country's musical heritage.  They're doing an incredible job!

One of the ways the Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps is keeping their alumni interested, involved, and participating is by the use of photographs.  There are over forty years of memories on one web page for alumni and visitors to view!  These photographs bring about a strong sense of nostalgia and connectedness to the college, and this not only benefits the alumni, but it also benefits the college.  The more connected alumni are, the more giving they will be.  This giving includes dollars donated, participation in events, and becoming an active and ongoing part of an alumni online community.  Once alumni is visiting an alumni online community on a consistent basis, they are more likely to become involved with volunteering, mentoring, and other valuable ways of serving their alma mater.

It's truly a win-win situation!

The goal of every college and university should be to continually improve their alumni online community and the level of connectedness the alum feels.  In this instance, the next step would be to give alumni the ability to leave comments about the photographs that are posted and to rate the photographs.  Alumni who are in the pictures could "tell their story" and supply personal information about each photograph to "bring them to life."  Those who are viewing the photographs could also leave comments and rate them from one to five.

The Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps offers the men and women who serve within their ranks unique and challenging assignments.  By sharing pictures with their alumni, and their visitors, they are helping to establish a cohesive online community that all can enjoy.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 18, 2007 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Links to this Article

April 16, 2007

Washington University in St. Louis - Contacting Alumni and Development Staff

How often does someone search blindly, trying to find the correct person to speak with at a company, institution, or any other type of large entity?  Sometimes, the search itself is so frustrating, the seeker gives up - or they forget what they wanted to say by the time they reach the correct person.  This happens in every area of our lives, day in and day out.

Washington University in St. Louis has made it easier to find someone in the alumni and development office.  They have a web page dedicated to helping those who are seeking the appropriate person to contact actually FIND that person.  On this page, Washington University of St. Louis has clearly outlined each department and the appropriate staff person to contact within the department.

Each department lists their mailing address, the main phone number(s), and fax number(s).  Each specific name has, at the very least, their title, an email address, and a phone number.  In this way, all one has to do is click on the site, do a quick search down the page, and they will immediately know who they need to contact for their question or comment.  Not only is this an excellent way to present an organized list of alumni and development staff, but it makes those seeking feel more comfortable.  They will know they have the name they need and can contact them directly, instead of spending time being switched from one person to another, either via phone or email.

A couple of ways this system could be made better would be to add a photograph of each staff person listed.  This will increase the comfort level of the person wanting to make contact even more.  After all, people like doing business with people - so by seeing a face, they immediately feel more connected.  Additionally, if a small paragraph was included for each department, explaining what they did, along with a link to their mission, vision, and goals, the people seeking contacts would be more informed on who they should speak with.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 16, 2007 at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 13, 2007

Roosevelt High School - Spotlight on Reunions

Whether high school or college, class reunions are important to both the graduating class and the school they graduated from.  The Roosevelt High School in Hawaii knows this and has put an emphasis on reunions on their Web site.  With reunions being one of the four menu options, it is obvious that Roosevelt High School wants their alumni to be informed about all the reunions happening and to attend their own.

The school lists everything from contact information to, in some cases, the full agenda of the reunion itself.  Alumni can easily scroll through to see if their class is listed and then take the next steps to get signed up for their reunion.  Roosevelt High School is working with their alumni to get this information updated on a consisted basis, so everyone is aware and informed.

At times, alumni associations struggle with content in their online community.  It's easy to get so much content on the alumni Web sites that the essential areas can be lost in the sea of content.  In the case of Roosevelt High School in Hawaii, they are pointing out what they want their alumni to do, which is to attend reunions!

Roosevelt High School also lists the reunions that have already passed on the Web site menu.  One way to increase interest, and to pull alumni back to the site once their reunion is over with, is to also include pictures from the event.  In addition, if there was a place for alumni to post about the reunion - fun things that happened, memories, and a list of who attended, with contact info, alumni would be more likely to keep coming back.

Reunions are a great way for alumni to regain the excitement of their college years and to reconnect with people from their past.  By highlighting this on your alumni online community, you are likely to see greater participation and interest.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 13, 2007 at 03:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 11, 2007

St. Mary/St. Stephen Parish Schools - Filling in the Blanks of History

Who doesn't remember their school days?  Most people who are asked about the "days gone by" will not only remember very specific moments from school, but they'll also think of them warmly.  St. Mary/St. Stephen Parish Schools of Des Plaines, Illinois has decided to fill in the blanks of their history - with the help of their alumni.

The school recently posted a request on their Web site to all alumni, school supporters, and community members to help them rebuild the knowledge about their history.  This is important because the history of a school, especially one that has been in existence for as long as these two schools have.  St. Mary's has been around for one hundred years, while St. Stephen's is fifty years old.  By reaching out for assistance, the St Mary/St. Stephen Parish Schools of Des Plaines, Illinois will be able to begin building a history for their alumni.  Achievements, stories, and even rumors from those who walked the halls of St. Mary and St. Stephen Parish Schools are all welcome.

This idea could be used by any alumni association at any university or college to fill in missing areas of history, to enlarge current niches, and to create an ever evolving story of the school.  Who hasn't heard of www.wikipedia.org?  Using Wikipedia technology, universities and colleges can enable their alumni to take over the development and the publishing of the college history, much like Wikipedia has done.  In this case, people worldwide are creating a "people's" version of an encyclopedia.  Using this same philosophy within an alumni association could create an excellent resource for history, nostalgia, and stories that otherwise would have been long lost. 

College days are one of the most special times in our lives.  Using today's technology to create an online treasury of memories will continually pull alumni back to their alma mater - again and again.

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 11, 2007 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

April 09, 2007

Western Michigan University - Helping Young Alumni

When a student graduates from college, they have a myriad of responsibilities, worries, and stresses on their mind.  If a graduate is relocating to a new state, they suddenly have even more to take into consideration.  17 percent of Americans move every year, and when they do, they face a series of hurdles and choices they need to make.  From finding a new place to live, the appropriate schools, where to shop, what church to go to, and even locating a new job, the move can be overwhelming.

Western Michigan University recognizes this, and to help their graduating seniors with this tough time frame of their lives, they give them a free year of membership in their Alumni Association.  By encouraging their young alumni to take advantage of the tools and services offered, Western Michigan University is paving the way for an easier transition from college life to real life.

Membership gives these graduating seniors valuable career connections, moving discounts, access to medical insurance, and the ability to stay connected with their alma mater.  Also, by offering the first year of membership free, both alumni and the university come out ahead.  Young alumni can use the tools and services offered for an entire year, at no cost, which means they are more likely to renew their membership when the first year ends.  An active alumni force is important to all universities, so every member that renews is a bonus to Western Michigan University.

One way to enhance this already terrific service is if Western Michigan University taught their graduating students how to use the alumni online community as a transition tool.  To do this, the university would need to seek out transition volunteers who would be willing to help the alumni in the community.  In this way, graduating alumni and young alumni could locate them in the online directory and ask for help in getting around the community!

By offering a free year of membership, Western Michigan University is ensuring that their Alumni Association continues to grow and thrive.  Plus, at the same time, they are helping their young alumni get a foothold into real life.  This practice benefits all involved!

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 9, 2007 at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Links to this Article