July 31, 2007

Monmouth College - When an Online Directory ISN'T a Good Idea

Every now and then I run across an idea that belongs in the Worst Practices Bucket.  When I found Monmouth College's online alumni directory, I decided this practice definitely fit the category of "worst practices."  Why, you may ask?  After all, in the past I've discussed how important having such a directory is for your alumni, so they can find each other, communicate, and network.  I've spent a lot of time going over how vital it is for alumni to be able to find each other in order to help with job searches, chit-chat, and even just for a bit of nostalgia, as all of these helps your alumni stay connected - not just with each other, but with their alma mater.

The reason I'm placing Monmouth College's online alumni directory into the Worst Practices Bucket is actually quite simple.  They've made this directory accessible to the public.  Anyone can look up information on Monmouth's alumni - whether they're alumni or not.  This is a problem for several reasons.  For one, email addresses are exposed to the public, which means spammers can find them.  For two, it doesn't allow the alumni to feel safe in sharing their information because they know that it will all be exposed to anyone with an Internet connection and a computer who visits the site.

When alumni are resistant to share their information, a sense of community cannot be built.  What more valid reason is there than not wanting your email address, and other identifying data, to be exposed to the public?  An online alumni community's goal should be to connect alumni with each other and with the college.  If alumni are uncomfortable placing their personal data in the online directory, then everybody loses.  I'm also not sure why Monmouth College has chosen to go this route, as it doesn't save them any time.  The information still has to be updated in the system, and that takes valuable staff time.

Your online alumni community should be a bridge between you and your alumni.  When alumni are resistant to become a part of it because of a publicly accessible online directory, the bridge becomes broken, so the original reason for creating the directory, and the community itself, is no longer valid.  Giving your alumni a secure place to find one another is critical to the success of your community.

Posted by Don Philabaum on July 31, 2007 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Links to this Article

July 01, 2007

Head Start Anniversary Commemoration Steering Committee - Yearbook or ONLINE?

Every once in a while, we find an idea that we think is appropriate for the worst practice bucket, and we think this idea definitely belongs there.  The 40th Head Start Anniversary Commemoration Steering Committee plans to publish its signature yearbook, "CNMI Head Start - 40 Years History," for their upcoming anniversary celebration on July 28, 2007.  It's a nice idea, but is there a better way in today's technological age? 

While they are using the Internet to generate help from the public, they are not planning to create an online directory.  They need the assistance from the public because the building that housed their records caught on fire, and most of the records were lost.  Therefore, the committee is requesting photos, information, and any historical stories to include in the book.

Once they have enough data, the committee plans to publish a limited edition memorabilia yearbook to sell to individuals.  So, what's wrong with this?  It just seems that a lot of time and effort is being put into a book that has to be printed.  Why not create an online community environment where everyone could post and share information?  An online directory would allow others to reconnect, to re-build bonds, and to share their memories.

Taking this a bit further, they could have message boards for people to discuss specific historical stories and memories, and they could post photos for discussion.  So many positive things happen when people are given a way to talk, to connect, and to let history speak.

While the idea of selling a signature yearbook is certainly one filled with a lot of promise - why not give those that are contributing the chance to really connect?

Posted by Don Philabaum on July 1, 2007 at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

May 10, 2005

Worst Practice #3

Not getting new graduates to register in the online community!

Diplallinone_2 Ok, here’s another worst practice that involves graduates.

As graduates leave their campus, few are registered in an alumni online directory or community.  On rare occasions, we’ve seen some colleges who have strategies in place to get graduates registered in the online directory, but few make a concerted effort or give the graduates reasons why they should become a part of the alumni online community.   

Results are mixed.  In some cases, we’ve seen 90 percent or more of the graduates registered, but at the vast majority of alumni online directories we’ve identified, most colleges have fewer than 30 percent of their graduates registered.


Primarily because of lack of marketing!  Take a moment to think about what your institution is doing to connect students with the university before they leave.  Is your organization aggressively marketing to them to explain why they should register in the online directory?   Have you placed articles in the campus newspapers, handed information out at graduation or Grad Fairs?

One of the unfortunate results of not having a strategic plan to get graduates registered in the alumni online community is that, commercial online communities/social networking communities like www.friendster.com, www.flickr.com , www.thefacebook.com , www.connectu.com and even www.classmates.com are attracting a HUGE number of your alumni.

The downside to this is that your alumni will begin to develop their loyalty and set their behaviors around their site not yours.  As they use it more, they’ll update more data fields and attract their friends to the commercial website, not yours. As they continue to do this, your alumni and development office loses out on gaining the latest updates in their address, employment and other data that alumni associations need.

So we talked about how low the participation rate of colleges Diplno_flowergirl_1and universities with online directories is, worse yet, is the fact that over 70 percent of the colleges worldwide are not even providing password protected social networking directories designed to engage and involve alumni. These colleges are missing out on connecting and networking with their graduates in a big way.

What are your thoughts?  Got some ideas on how others can take this out of the BUCKET and make it a Best Practice?   I challenge you to share your ideas!

Posted by Don Philabaum on May 10, 2005 at 05:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Links to this Article

May 05, 2005

Worse Practice #2

Technology funding flows for students - trickles for alumni and development

Lately I’ve been thinking about how college campuses are not being politically correct.

My premise is, with limited resources, higher education organizations, tend to pour money into campus technology and Internet needs while providing virtually no funding to alumni and  development for technology needs to continue to serve and make their alumni better stewards of the institution.

Have you ever wondered how much money your institution pours into student and support services technology? Look around you. Look into every department on campus and you will see each department spending wildly on technology to support their mission and their end customers, your students.

Your students are provided the latest technology that the IT department can provide. Distance learning software, wireless access, software to check their personal records and more. Literally millions more are spent on hardware, software, staff and outside support to keep all of this running. Now think for a minute how much your department is spending on technology, programmers, graphic designers, content managers and other items to keep your alumni connected to your institution. Our research has shown very little is being spent within the alumni and advancement offices.


I’m not sure. There is clearly a need to be able to communicate more frequently with alumni at no cost.

  • Are those in advancement or university relations not leading their department  the way those in other departments are leading theirs?

  • Is leadership at the very top of the institution just not focused on staying in touch with their alumni?

It doesn’t make much sense to provide the state of the art hardware, software and services and then NOT provide the same level of service to students after they graduate. Who’s making the conscious decision to fund projects for the students, knowing the same students are graduating, whose expectations have been increased due to the level of technology thrown at them on campus, and then providing little or no funding to support their needs when they’ve left campus.

Make sense to you? Maybe I’m off base on this one, but after 10 years watching alumni and development offices struggle with ever decreasing budgets that allow for little to no technology investments, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Anybody out there got a way to show upper management how grossly under funded the alumni and development’s technology budgets are? We need your help!

Share with us your thoughts.

Posted by Don Philabaum on May 5, 2005 at 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Links to this Article

April 19, 2005

Worse Practice #1

Cutting off your graduates email addresses!

With graduation right around the corner, this is a timely discussion item.

For ten years I’ve watched universities and colleges around the world unceremoniously cut off a graduates email address within a relatively short time after they crossed the stage to receive their diploma.

So what sense does that make?

Apparently, campus IT departments do not want to carry the burden of customer service and hardware/software cost associated with serving thousands of alumni for the rest of their lives.

Istock__clouds_smallest_5It’s no surprise that while students are on campus they get attached to their email addresses. While students have alternate Yahoo, Hotmail and other addresses they use during their college years, many campuses create a system that requires them to use their campus email address to participate in tools that provide class lectures online, networking opportunities to study with fellow classmates etc.

So if colleges are forcing students to use the assigned email address while they are on campus, why do they so blithely cut their email address off when they leave?

Software tools are available to allow students to use their email address after they graduate. Students would be able to either use their existing campus address supported by a full feature web based email tool, similar to Hotmail, Yahoo and others provide or use it with email forwarding technologies.

It’s easy, it's not that costly, and it seems like a no brainer.

The benefits to your alumni? They’ll use their email address to:

  • Communicate with prospective employers, proving they have a degree and setting themselves apart from others
  • Communicate with fellow alumni and with friends on a casual basis

What do you think? Should students be given the ability to take their email address with them? Does anyone know the economics of why this can’t be done on your campus?

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 19, 2005 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | Links to this Article

April 13, 2005

Worst Practice Bucket!

Ok, drop in this bucket ideas and concepts that you tried but didn’t work. Don’t be shy, if everyone shares these, we’ll all save a lot of time and money. Like a challenge? Take a Worst Practice and make it work!

Posted by Don Philabaum on April 13, 2005 at 04:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article