June 27, 2007
University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Building a Stronger Tomorrow
Alumni online communities, when built with the alumni in mind, can bridge the gap between the institution and alumni in a way that nothing else can.
The alumni relations department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) realized this. They surveyed their alumni to discover what they were looking for in an online alumni community. This survey showed the department that alumni wanted a place to reconnect with their prior classmates, keep up-to-date with what was happening at the University, and feel sure that their contact information was kept private. Based on this feedback, the alumni relations department worked to create an alumni online community to fill these needs, as well as to encourage increased giving from the alumni.
UMBC launched their new alumni online community in November of 2005 and since then, the alumni relations department has seen a dramatic increase in alumni interest and participation. Their new community not only has filled the needs of their alumni, but offers online registrations for events, online giving, and a terrific Career Resource Network. Today, they have a total of over 6,000 online registrations for events hosted in an eleven month timeframe.
Some of the new tools that are now in use at UMBC's alumni community are the ability to email specific information to targeted groups of alumni, which has enabled UMBC to spend less on printing and utilize e-mail more effectively. Even more spectacular, the new community has generated an additional $40,000 in revenue in a ten month span of time, and they have raised over $91,000 online within the first thirteen months of the site's launch.
When an alumni association focuses on their alumni online community, and makes changes that will benefit the alumni, as well as the university, everyone wins. UMBC has made a significant difference in being able to engage, connect, and communicate with their alumni as a result of their new community. If you're not receiving the participation, giving, or connection you want out of your alumni online community, consider surveying your alumni to find out their needs and what they feel is lacking in your current community.
June 26, 2007
Viadeo - Free Private Social Networks for Alumni Associations
I've often talked about how essential networking is for your alumni. When an alumni association provides the means for networking within their online alumni community, amazing things happen. From mentoring, to career assistance, to building personal and professional contacts that last a lifetime, networking is one of the very best methods any alumni association can use to connect, inform, and engage their alumni.
So, how do you do this? There are lots of different methods alumni associations can utilize to build an active networking online environment; and many of them have been discussed here in prior blog articles. Today, I'm going to discuss another option if you've been considering the best way to encourage networking within your alumni.
Viadeo is now offering free private social networks for alumni associations. What is Viadeo? Viadeo is one of the largest business social networks in the world. With the launch of their free private social networks, alumni associations will be able to network with their members and to form contacts within Viadeo's extensive business social network.
What's great is that while the private Community Groups will be developed and hosted by Viadeo, alumni associations can own, run, and even co-brand their private areas. In addition, they set the rules for membership and participation within their portal. Basically, Viadeo will set everything up, give you an exclusive URL, and then let you run with it.
Alumni association members will then be able to communicate with each other, find information, organize events, connect with like-minded alumni, look for jobs, find a mentor, be a mentor, and any other networking possibility you can think of! From the viewpoint of the alumni association, they'll have a tool to facilitate easy and direct communication with their members. From any perspective, it's a win-win situation.
Whether you use a service such as Viadeo, or you create your own online networking portal, giving your alumni the ability, and the opportunity, to network is critical to their ongoing relationship with the alumni association and their alma mater.
June 25, 2007
University of Pennsylvania - Webcasting Commencement
Graduation is a big deal. Unfortunately, there are many times when a loved one or friend lives too far away, is ill, or simply cannot make the ceremony - even though they want to. Other times, an institution may have to limit how many guests each graduating student can invite; to be sure there is ample room for all the attendees. In the past, there was little that could be done. For whatever the reason, if someone couldn't attend the ceremony, they would miss it completely.
With the technology of today, this is no longer an issue for many universities and even for some high schools. The University of Pennsylvania has been webcasting their graduation ceremonies since 2003. While this is not because of a space limitation, the University wanted to offer a service for those that were unable to attend. It is also a terrific method to help keep alumni engaged and interested in their alma mater. This practice of online webcasts of graduation ceremonies is growing in popularity, and more and more universities are beginning to take notice.
Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA is one such college. This year marks the first year that they've used the Internet for a live webcast of their commencement ceremony. In addition to colleges and universities, some high schools are following suit. O'Fallon Township High School in Illinois made the jump this year to broadcast their graduation ceremony on the Internet.
We live in a busy, hectic, and very large world. The Internet has allowed us to make friends all over this world, and to keep in contact with family - no matter where they reside. When friends, family, and alumni can take part in commencement by tuning in to their computer, the rewards are enormous, for everyone involved.
June 22, 2007
Indiana University - Online Voting for Trustees
The Internet is miraculous. We can do almost anything we want to do from the comfort of our desk chair. From purchasing airline tickets, to ordering concert tickets, to getting driving directions - almost any purchase, any information, is available online. Your alumni are experts at using the Internet, so anything that you can offer them online is sure to be successful. Indiana University has recognized this in a very unique way.
Beginning next year, Indiana University will introduce online voting for trustee elections. This means that alumni will be able to vote online at their leisure. This is a terrific idea to encourage voting, especially for young alumni, who traditionally don't vote in large numbers. When something as important as voting is made more accessible to the voters, participation is sure to increase.
With the introduction of online voting, Indiana University will still accept the check and mail in ballots - at least for now. The hope is to gradually move away from the paper ballots in favor of a complete online voting system, according to Doug McKinney, Trustee Elections Supervisor for IU Libraries. He goes on to say, "We're expecting to see, in the next five years, a significant number of alumni move from paper to an electronic system."
Connecting with your alumni isn't always easy, but the Internet makes it far easier than it used to be. By utilizing today's technology to its fullest, you have an opportunity like never before to connect, engage, inform, and encourage your alumni. Allowing alumni to cast their ballots online is not only an impressive use of technology, but it will help increase the total number of voters for the trustee elections. This increase of participation will continue to other areas of the online community as alumni check back to see what else is available to do online.
If you're looking for new ways to use technology, consider online voting for your alumni. In addition to the ease of use for the voters, it will also be easier to count the ballots than the current, tedious system of opening and hand-counting 30,000 ballots.
June 20, 2007
Stanford University – Lifelong Learning through iTunes
Stanford University is among the first universities that are reaching out to alumni, and the public in general, to share courses recorded by their faculty. On their iTunes Web site, they allow visitors to download courses, faculty lectures, interviews, music, and sports. What an amazing way to grab alumni interest and keep them connected to the University!
In my book, "Alumni Online Engagements," I remind alumni associations that lifelong learning should be one of the key services delivered by the alumni association to alumni. Colleges need to recognize that the alumni association is the bridge to their alumni. Without this bridge, everything from volunteering time, to annual giving, and to the connection between alumni will suffer.
One of the ways to build this bridge is by delivering interesting and entertaining courses that are recorded by the faculty. This is a terrific method to share with your alumni, and to encourage lifelong learning. Especially when advanced learning opportunities through the Masters and Ph.D. programs are offered.
Colleges today are losing out on an opportunity to go back to their customers to offer these advanced degrees. Organizations like national universities, Phoenix University, in addition to many small entrepreneurial colleges, are all developing - and offering - weekend and online programs that are attracting the graduates of other undergraduate institutions. When, in fact, the undergraduate colleges probably provide the same Master and Ph.D. programs, either online or through weekend courses.
If you are looking for additional ways to connect with your alumni, and your institution is not providing courses like this - make a phone call to one of your favorite or more popular faculty members. Ask them to record their next quarter's classes, so that you can then share them with alumni. I'm certain your faculty will be delighted by this, and if you continue on, you'll end up with a collection of lifelong learning courses that will keep your alumni coming back to your Web site.
June 18, 2007
The Rochester Institute of Technology - Alumni Networking
The Rochester Institute of Technology is doing a great job in using Internet technology, and their Web site in networking their alumni. In a day and age when online communities provided by alumni associations are viewed by alumni as having little value, and little reason to return to the alumni online community, encouraging alumni to use the online community as an online networking tool is valuable on many different levels.
Alumni associations today are wise to take an active role in helping alumni, not only to get jobs and better paying jobs, but also to do business with each other. I've written in many of the past blog postings that alumni associations should be teaching their incoming freshman students how to network. The training doesn't stop there, though! This education on networking should continue to be shared after graduation. This can be done through mentoring with alumni, as well as other networking opportunities with each other.
The goal of any alumni association that has an online community should be one of offering ongoing training programs that will continually teach networking through all four years of college, so that when the student graduates, they are familiar with how to use the alumni online directory as a business, career, and mentoring networking tool. After all, the benefits of networking are many. From making contacts, to gathering information, to obtaining interviews, to learning about positions in other areas of the country, networking is a tool of immense value for all who participate.
The Rochester Institute of Technology alumni website provides alumni the following menu options: Before Starting a Job, Starting your Search, Applying for a Job, and Accepting an Offer. Whatever part of the process alumni happen to be in, they'll be able to find information and help in succeeding at their own alumni online community. This helps to engage the alumni so they will return to the community over and over.
June 15, 2007
University of Mississippi - The Inn at Ole Miss Expansion Program
Our world lives in a digital, technological age. This statement is, perhaps, at its truest with your alumni. The Internet is used for everything from gathering information, to buying and selling products, to keeping in touch, to finding new and old loves, to paying bills, and almost anything else that a person may need or want. When an alumni association uses the Internet properly, they can not only communicate effectively with their alumni, they can engage, entertain, inform, and connect. They can also raise needed funds for their alma mater, events, and exciting new ventures.
The University of Mississippi has effectively used the Internet to show their alumni the "Inn at Ole Miss Expansion Program." What is the Inn at Ole Miss? Their Web site describes the Inn as, "The Inn at Ole Miss will be a perfect complement for any wedding taking place at the Paris-Yates Chapel with a new, luxurious ballroom for rehearsal dinners and receptions. Just next door to the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, renowned performances will be only a stone's throw away. A courtyard will be available for outdoor entertaining and tailgating. Forty new two-room suites and ten special suites will add a unique touch to The Inn at Ole Miss. These features combined with an ideal location in the heart of town make it the premier guest property in the Oxford area."
The Alumni Association and advancement office has created this Web site to show members of the alumni association an artist rendering of the future Inn. They have also provided photos and background information on cost. They have identified naming opportunities, as well as how alumni can make a gift toward this program. This is an excellent way to use Internet technology to share information with alumni, and to keep them engaged in their alma mater. To improve on this idea, the Web site could offer alumni online video testimonials of needs. They could also allow alumni the opportunity to comment regarding their gifts and why they chose to give to the Ole Miss Inn Campaign.
When an Alumni Association uses the Internet to this level, the results will be nothing short of electrifying.
June 13, 2007
University of Michigan - Volunteering and Giving
The University of Michigan is effectively using their alumni online community to recruit prospective students for the admissions office. In the past five years, the University of Michigan's Alumni Association has accumulated over 300 volunteers to help recruit prospective students. In my book, "Alumni Online Engagement," one of the hundred and one strategies I've offered is to recognize your alumni for their volunteer participation.
The University of Michigan Alumni Association is already doing this, and to great success! They are listing and recognizing each of the 301 volunteers who have helped them recruit prospective students over the years. In previous Wired Community blog postings, we've talked about how alumni associations can help their admissions office recruit new students by providing a variety of Internet related tools. There are so many possibilities to take advantage of! Your alumni could be submitting names of prospective students via forms you provide online, to utilizing more sophisticated tools, such as allowing alumni to update interview notes they have with a prospective student.
The Internet is a dynamic, flexible, and ever-growing method that your alumni office can use in conjunction with the admissions office to assist in the recruiting of quality students to the institution. I like to remind alumni associations that if done effectively, the alumni association should be paid for each prospective student their alumni helps deliver to the institution.
Another unique aspect of the University of Michigan's online recruitment program is how they identify geographical areas, and the names of high schools, which they would like to have help in recruiting prospective students from. Their Web site, for example, lists priority schools in each state they are looking to adopt from. This is a phenomenal way to increase students from specific geographical areas of the country, as well as minority students.
June 11, 2007
University of Houston - Cougar Connection
The University of Houston's Cougar Connection has recognized that the phrase, "Build it and they will come," does not apply to alumni online communities. In today's digital age, there are too many other online sites and communities that capture the interest of your alumni. So, what does it take to capture your alumni's interest and participation in your alumni online community? Cougar Connection has several amazing ideas they're using to great success.
To encourage their alumni to sign up and participate in their online community, Cougar Connection not only offers contests, but they offer contests on a frequent basis. People love contests, and alumni are no different! By offering them on a regular basis, alumni will continually check back to see what the newest contest is and what the prizes are. Every time alumni return to the online community increases the chance that they'll continue coming back - again and again. This will help in alumni events, mentoring, and annual giving.
This is especially true for Cougar Connection, because they provide a list of the monthly winners. Now, we have a double reason for alumni to return. One, to see what the new contest is and to possibly enter it, and two, to see who won the previous contest. What a terrific method to pull back alumni. Plus, it's fun! While the alumni are visiting the site, the organization uses the opportunity to catch their attention by reminding them of all the ways that the online community can be used. From finding old friends, to making professional connections, to meeting people in their geographical area, to finding alumni with similar interests, and even to buy/sell items, the alumni are consistently reminded of the benefits.
In addition to their contest, University of Houston's Cougar Connection has recently begun an online networking tool. Similar to Facebook, UH inCircle is free to all alumni and to current student alumni members. It allows them to join the circle, create a profile, and then link to other alumni profiles. This creates a circle of networking that can't be beat!
It is possible to successfully compete, and win, the attention of your alumni with your online community. By using different methods to pull your alumni's interest, they'll return to the community on a consistent basis!