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Alumni Communications

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No Lemons Here
CURRENTS Article Change happens. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Change can be threatening. An institutional merger or updated mascot, for example, can spark fears that alumni memories and traditions aren't treasured. In a job where keeping alumni happily engaged is key, how do you navigate the negative stuff? We aren't talking about crises—bad news takes everyone by surprise. But if you know your alumni, you can predict when a big change for the institution is going to be a problem for some graduates. Before you start bracing yourself for hate mail, take a deep breath. With a proactive outreach plan, you can take part of the sting out of the unwelcome and maybe even turn the news into a positive for your alumni.

Talking Shop: Boring Benefits Can Kill Alumni Engagement
CURRENTS Article For more than 25 years, Gary Toyn has worked with clients to enhance their member/donor acquisition, retention, and engagement. He is the lead researcher of numerous studies related to constituent engagement, including the Voluntary Alumni Engagement in Support of Education survey, which analyzes how institutions attract and engage their alumni. In a recent blog series, Toyn discussed the most beneficial and the "lamest" alumni benefits institutions offer.

Copy and Share Everything
CURRENTS Article Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary helps prospective students envision their place at the Kentucky institution; the University of Melbourne's advancement staff members create short, informal messages to prompt alumni recipients to update their contact information; and Miami University's Snapchat newsletter releases a Snapchat story filled with images of event fliers and details for activities happening on the Ohio campus each day.

Show Some Love
CURRENTS Article Saint Leo University in Florida sends special Valentine's Day postcards to alumni couples and invites them to share their "Leo Love" on social media with the tags #LeoLove and #MySaintLeo. At Amherst College in Massachusetts, student engagement fellows host Love My Alumni Week, during which students write 3,000 thank-you postcards to alumni donors and volunteers.

Talking Shop: What’s in It for Them?
CURRENTS Article Daniel Cohen and his father, Marcel, founded Graduway in 2009, which builds branded alumni networking and mentoring platforms to help institutions stay in touch with their alumni. Daniel Cohen talks about how universities can enahnce the alumni experience.

A Narrative View
CURRENTS Article Whether it's to honor loyal donors and volunteers, showcase alumni achievements, build trust and intimacy within your community, or tap into nostalgia, telling alumni stories can be a powerful way to engage and enlighten your graduates. But alumni stories don't have to just be profiles in the back of the university's magazine. They can take many shapes and serve different purposes.

Aligning the Satellites
CURRENTS Article See if any of these situations sound familiar: Your alumni association staff emails alumni the same week that athletics sends out its annual appeal. A faculty member hosts a group of former marching band members, but no one takes pictures. The challenges of campuswide alumni engagement can be tricky, and without a strategy, you can duplicate efforts or miss opportunities. The result? All your efforts are sinking into a black hole. Does your central alumni office know how your campus units, departments, and offices talk with alumni? Are faculty and staff informing you of interactions with alumni? Do they understand your alumni association's goals and messages? If you cannot answer these questions—or you don't like the answers—then it might be time to reassess cross-campus collaboration. Here are some ways to energize and revitalize your alumni engagement efforts.

Angry Students, Alarmed Alumni
CURRENTS Article More than 80 colleges and universities have experienced student protests in recent years. Underrepresented students have publicly called on their institutions to address the often toxic environments they face as minorities. These efforts range from the viral 2013 #BBUM hashtag campaign—Being Black at the University of Michigan, a social media tactic marginalized students adopted worldwide—to dozens of protests in 2015-16. The demonstrations have undermined advancement efforts, with alumni and donors questioning whether students have taken over. The protests are also forcing institutions to scrutinize their campus and address overt, subtle, and systemic racism. Here's how some institutions are navigating the protests.

Loved, but Lost
CURRENTS Article Your lost alumni have become untethered, drifting away from their beloved campus, and you're not sure how to bring them back. Some don't update contact information when they relocate; others ignore your correspondence because they think you only want money. Still others might like to reconnect but don't know how or are too busy to realize they haven't heard from you. Search-and-rescue attempts aren't easy. Tight budgets don't help, nor do increasing numbers of graduates, many of whom hop jobs and locations early in their career. But even with these challenges, institutions are designing affordable, innovative campaigns for finding alumni who could become a valuable part of the college's mission. Here's what you can learn from them.

Training Camp
CURRENTS Article Using alumni volunteers as university ambassadors is a no-brainer, say advancement professionals. Most universities and colleges offer some kind of orientation or training for their alumni volunteers, but in recent years the trend has been to provide more robust, dedicated training. Many institutions hold training days, often tied to another on-campus alumni event, such as homecoming or an alumni weekend.

Do Traditions Matter?
CURRENTS Article Illinois State University's traditions website features 15 traditions that combine the best of the 159-year-old university's history, student life, academics, and athletics. The goal is to improve alumni engagement, encourage philanthropy, and "reflect what ISU strives to be" by identifying the university's traditions, which include places, activities, and historical events, and making them a core part of ISU's culture.

Yep, This Is a Virtual Event
CURRENTS Article From class reunions to networking, more and more universities are getting savvy at hosting virtual events. Here's how eight institutions are doing it right.

10 Sacred Cows of Alumni Magazines (And Why You Should Rid Your Pages of Them)
CURRENTS Article A longtime editor reveals his list of wrongfully revered and oft-repeated publication practices, departments, features, and philosophies.

Office Space: Solving Survey Fatigue
CURRENTS Article Survey overload is a problem for colleges and universities, which need to understand what alumni think and feel to make informed decisions about programming and develop strategies that increase involvement and financial support.

Spring 2015
CURRENTS Article A 25-year-old assistant director of alumni relations shares the lessons learned during her first year at Williston Northampton School.

There’s Something About Mary
CURRENTS Article More than 175 years after founding Massachusetts' Mount Holyoke College, Mary Lyon is everywhere. OK, it's not actually Lyon. It's a cutout image, part of a fundraising campaign called FebruMary in honor of Lyon's birth month.

Pass or Fail?
CURRENTS Article In response to a negative Facebook post, Jessica White, a 2007 U of M grad who serves on the Dean's Young Alumni Council, writes a blog post explaining that all alumni gifts matter.

Learning to Lose Control
CURRENTS Article As alumni and other audiences find new ways to connect, network, and give, our roles as the essential interfaces between our institutions and their various external audiences are becoming more unstable. To understand the problem, and to address this challenge proactively instead of reactively, we need to understand the concept of disintermediation: a reduction in the use of intermediaries.

From Feedback to Road Map
CURRENTS Article In the mid-2000s, Wake Forest University’s annual giving began a five-year dip. This story explores how the North Carolina institution used its existing technology tools and dedicated advancement services professionals to chart a new course for alumni relations.

All in the Hamily
CURRENTS Article This feature article looks at how Hamilton College developed its own moderated social media platform, The Scroll, which relies heavily on user-generated content to engage its audiences in authentic, lively, and uncensored conversations that represent and embolden the New York institution's brand.

The China Connection
CURRENTS Article This article explores how and why institutions are using Sina Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms to recruit prospective students and engage alumni.

Social Prospects
CURRENTS Article This brief article looks at how Cornell University is using the profile information its alumni provide in its social media communities to identify potential donors.

Honesty Is the Best Policy
CURRENTS Article In this article, Tina Hay, editor of The Penn Stater, discusses the editorial decisions the magazine made in covering the child molestation scandal that erupted at Penn State in November 2011.

Odds and Ends: Online Life Is a Virtual Cafe
CURRENTS Article In this Q-and-A with Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed, he discusses virality, social readers, and how people portray themselves on social media, and likens how people use social media and the Internet to time spent in a Paris cafe.

Odds and Ends: Click Here to Network
CURRENTS Article LinkedIn’s Christina Allen helps students, alumni, and alumni professionals connect

Give Them What They Want
CURRENTS Article The University of Connecticut is devising new communications strategies, including experimenting with email segmentation, to make its philanthropic messaging relevant.

Tools of Engagement
CURRENTS Article How can alumni relations professionals remain relevant in a world where computers and technology do much of what they used to do on paper and via phone? The author offers advice on how embrace social media tools and use them to engage alumni.

Crème de la Crème
CURRENTS Article In 2011, 268 bronze, silver, gold, and grand gold Circle of Excellence awards went to 171 colleges, universities, independent schools, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. Eight of those grand gold and gold award winners are profiled here.

Please Feed the Website
CURRENTS Article This article looks at the Harvard University Alumni Association's effort to both connect with public-service-minded alumni, as well as other like-minded members of the Harvard community and help them connect with one another through its Public Service on the Map website. Though the website wasn't intended to stay around longer than a year, the HAA has learned important strategic lessons from the site's successes and failings and is looking at ways to breathe new life into it.

Prepare to Engage
CURRENTS Article This article discusses the importance of focusing on building community and creating a two-way social media conversation with your institution's constituents. Experts advise that institutions using social media should be less concerned with the tools they're using and more concerned with whether and how they're engaging their alumni, students, and other constituencies. In addition, rather than jumping into using several tools, it's more important to first use a tool well before moving on to add another tool. The article also discusses some of the findings from the 2011 CASE/mStoner/Slover Linett social media survey.

Opening Windows
CURRENTS Article Social media advisor Beth Kanter answers questions about free agents, fortresses, and other social media issues. Kanter works with many different nonprofits on better reaching their audiences and achieving their missions through social media.

The Power of Two
CURRENTS Article BI Norwegian School of Management publishes two alumni magazine, one in Norwegian and the other in English. The English-language magazine has helped keep international alumni engaged.

Image Conscious
CURRENTS Article Three alumni relations professionals share their thoughts on managing their professional and personal social media lives. The first has one Facebook profile but is very cautious and hesitant about whom she friends and what she shares; the second also has one profile and does not see a problem with connecting with as many people as possible; and the third maintains two separate Facebook accounts, one for personal friends and the other for professional acquaintances.

Lance una red más amplia para su reunión
CURRENTS Article Hace algunos años, cuando Facebook comenzaba a saltar de un dormitorio a, bueno, todos los dormitorios, algunos líderes de exalumnos se preguntaron si la creciente popularidad de Facebook sería el fin de las reuniones. No pasaba un día sin que escuchara hablar sobre exalumnos que habían encontrado compañeros a los que les habían perdido la pista y estaban organizando reuniones a través de este medio.

Cast a Wider Net for Reunion
CURRENTS Article A few years ago, the mere mention of the word "Facebook" could cause anxiety among alumni relations professionals. They worried that alumni reconnecting with long-lost classmates on Facebook wouldn't attend reunions anymore. But the Facebook dust has cleared, and reunions have suffered surprisingly few injuries, if any at all. This article discusses how Facebook is helping rather than hindering reunion.

Virtually Yours
CURRENTS Article Technology is providing alumni relations professionals with a new way to organize events and engage more alumni, but it also offers us the opportunity to look at our field through a new lens. For example, using webcams and digital recorders, brick-and-mortar events can be retooled to reach more than just those people who attend. Alumni leaders now have the ability to engage their entire database worldwide without being limited to a particular venue, region, or timeframe.

Virtualmente suyo
CURRENTS Article La tecnología ofrece a los profesionales de la vinculación con exalumnos un nuevo prisma para ver los eventos. Es el fin de una era en las relaciones con los exalumnos. Las evidencias están a la vista, y la mayoría de nosotros no las hemos visto o no estamos dispuestos a aceptarlas. Para muchas asociaciones de exalumnos, la asistencia y la participación en eventos y programas siguen disminuyendo mientras los costos que conllevan siguen aumentando. Los sitios de redes sociales, y otras herramientas web 2.0 ofrecen nuevas formas de comunicarse con los egresados, sin mencionar que son nuevas formas para que éstos se comuniquen entre sí sin la participación de las asociaciones de exalumnos.

Advance Work: Elective Exams
CURRENTS Article Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration started a weekly online quiz as a way to drive more people to the Web site and engage alumni and prospective students.

In Full Bloom
CURRENTS Article The digital age is upon us, with technology reshaping the way institutions interact with students, faculty, alumni, and donors. Find out how this new age is changing the world of communications and marketing, alumni relations, and development.

Advance Work: News at Your Fingertips
CURRENTS Article The University of Waterloo is offering its iPhone- and BlackBerry-wielding alumni the option of receiving school news on their mobile devices.

Reunion Is in Hand
CURRENTS Article For its 150th anniversary of class-based reunions, Princeton University created Reunions Mobile, a mobile Web site that provides a portable way to communicate maps, schedules, and important messages to thousands of returning alumni.

The Inner Circle
CURRENTS Article Is an institution’s own private social network relevant in this era of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? The answer is yes ... or no, depending on the institution.

Advance Work: Standing Out in a Crowd
CURRENTS Article Taking a page from the corporate world, the University of California, San Diego Alumni Association has created a crowdsourcing site to enter into a new dialogue with alumni.

Advance Work: Risky Behavior
CURRENTS Article GoCrossCampus, an online game created by five former and current Ivy Leaguers, is scoring big points for alumni relations.

Into the Mainstream
CURRENTS Article Six alumni professionals--all early adopters of online social networking--offer their thoughts on why alumni professionals need to just dive into the world of Facebook, LinkedIn, and their ilk.

Brave Net World
CURRENTS Article In June 2008, CASE surveyed alumni relations directors about their use of online social networking to engage and communicate with alumni. This article delves into the data garnered from this survey, including software, budget, staffing, best practices, and performance measurement.

Odds and Ends: What Does Surya Say?
CURRENTS Article In this Q&A, Surya Yalamanchili, director of marketing for LinkedIn, discusses his own social networking life, what's new at LinkedIn, and more.

Advance Work: Map Attack
CURRENTS Article Dickinson College is using Google Maps to put a new spin on the alumni directory.

Advance Work: Pokes and Tweets
CURRENTS Article What outside social networking sites are alumni relations professionals using to engage alumni?

Natural Attraction
CURRENTS Article What can alumni relations professionals learn from their corporate cousins?

Advance Work: Conformity at Its Best
CURRENTS Article Massachusetts Institute of Technology programmers and project managers develop a way for alumni volunteers to easily create Web pages for their chapters or affinity groups.

Advance Work: No Turning Back
CURRENTS Article The University of Pittsburgh alumni association stopped printing an annual alumni report and instead put it online. This switch not only saved money but allowed the association to better communicate with alumni.

Opponent or Opportunity?
CURRENTS Article The Caltech Alumni Association has found that the third-party site LinkedIn offers their alumni the best online community for the money. This is a sidebar to the feature "Everyone Into the Pool."

The Changing Face of the Online Community
CURRENTS Article Social and professional networking has moved online, and educational institutions are uniquely positioned to offer these services to their alumni. Find out how other nonprofits have built successful online communities.

Everyone Into the Pool
CURRENTS Article Online communities are not just a fad. Is yours up to par? Do you know what your alumni want? Find out how others have figured out what's best and how to keep it fresh.

Community Writ Large and Small
CURRENTS Article At many institutions the majority of students are women, the student body is increasing, or more ethnically diverse students are enrolling. Alumni officers are smart to revise their programming to serve these alumni.

Advance Work: The Pull of Peers
CURRENTS Article Web sites such as Facebook that organize social networks specific to individual colleges, universities, and schools are growing in popularity and might compete with an institution's own site for the attention of students and graduates. Some alumni relations officials believe alumni sites must grow more robust to survive; others take advantage of the commercial sites' popularity to communicate with their constituents.

AdvanceWork: Season's e-Greetings
CURRENTS Article When alumni relations officers at Miami (Ohio) and Colgate universities wanted to spice up their alumni outreach efforts, they turned to e-cards. The Flash-based “postcards” of photo, sound, and video messages most often are used to engage and involve alumni in campus activities, seek their support, and help them feel connected to alma mater. This article explores why and how these campuses embraced e-cards and links to several examples.

AdvanceWork: Manic Monday
CURRENTS Article E-mail marketers aren’t sending their messages on the days recipients are most likely to read them, according to a recent eROI study. “How’s Monday for You?” reports that marketers send more than 2.3 million e-mails on Thursdays, but only 24.2 percent of those messages are read. By comparison, 34.6 percent of the more than 1 million messages sent on Mondays are read.

AdvanceWork: In Memoriam
CURRENTS Article Corning-Painted Post High School’s alumni association pays special attention to the passing of alumni and friends. Since 1997, president Dave Conlin has maintained pages on the association’s Web site that memorialize deceased alumni, as well as deceased parents and children of alumni. “They’re always very appreciative,” Conlin says of former students’ reactions to his efforts.

Winners at Heart
CURRENTS Article Profiles of 12 winners of CASE’s 2004 Circle of Excellence awards. The winning alumni relations programs offered creative ways to generate revenue, use technology, or support a campus cause. In the development categories, campuses showed how to use flash e-mail annual giving solicitations and speech-writing students to attract donors. Communications winners relied on humor, creativity, and unconventional publications. And top advancement services shops highlighted the importance of identifying top campus prospects, working as a team, and maintaining accurate data.

AdvanceWork: Why So Formal?
CURRENTS Article Stanford University recently tested four different salutations on an e-mail to alumni inviting them to participate in an online survey. Surprisingly, young alumni responded better to a formal salutation than to an informal or generic one.

Let's Make a Deal
CURRENTS Article Alumni might not realize that they can benefit from the technology their alma mater already uses to locate and stay in touch with former students. Help alumni activate their “hidden” alumni network by showing them how to connect with fellow graduates via online directories, campus personnel directories, online class notes, and more. With these high-tech tools, business-savvy former students can forge new ties, rekindle lost campus connections, and open doors to new opportunities. An accompanying sidebar offers advice on networking etiquette.

AdvanceWork: A Sure Thing?
CURRENTS Article Independent Web sites that provide an online forum for alumni to share information are proliferating at a rate that may leave institution-sanctioned sites behind.,, and are just a handful of players in this market space. Online alumni service providers warn that alumni directors must keep pace, or risk damaging their relationships with alumni.

Manager's Portfolio: Achieving Fabled Service
CURRENTS Article Like Nordstrom and other companies famous for customer service, alumni associations should infuse quality constituent service into everything they do. This column features examples from the University of Michigan Alumni Association, which has created a customer relations staff.

Mending Student Discontent
CURRENTS Article Alumni still carrying grievances from their student days can be turned into enthusiastic donors if development officers listen to and address those grievances. Development officers should also be alert to the dissatisfactions of current students, and can try to collaborate with other campus departments to improve the student experience, in order to cultivate future donors.

AdvanceWork: Where Have All the Portals Gone?
CURRENTS Article Internet services companies have found that offering free alumni portals--a model that relied on the expectation of income from marketing to alumni--is unprofitable in today’s Internet environment. Rather than pay companies to maintain their portals, many institutions have given up offering portals and chosen to refocus on their campus alumni Web sites.

Closing Remarks: It's Still about People
CURRENTS Article Taylor warns that advancement is in danger of depersonalizing its mission by mistaking technology for human contact. To sustain vital, long-term relationships between alumni and the institution, alumni relations officers need to see alumni face to face. E-mail, the Web, and other technological innovations may make work easier, but they should not be used to the exclusion of personal contact.

Tech Support: Meet You in Cyberspace
CURRENTS Article A specialist in virtual communities tells what he learned when he volunteered to develop an online alumni community for his alma mater, Reed College. The key lesson: Success hinges on planning. The author offers advice on choosing the right software and host, finding moderators and establishing their duties, determining who will be allowed to join, setting guidelines for online behavior, and promoting involvement.

Many Happy Returns
CURRENTS Article In the two years after launching a free monthly e-mail alumni newsletter, the Stanford Alumni Association conducted three surveys of recipients. The results provided information on reader preferences for length, format, and content. Data also suggested that the newsletter promotes positive feelings and a sense of connection with the institution. An additional study of giving records found higher donor participation among newsletter recipients.

Write-Minded: Alma Writer
CURRENTS Article Not all alumni who wish to write for their institution's magazine have the necessary skill, but editors can benefit by seeking out truly talented alumni writers. Editors should do everything possible to say "yes" to alumni interested in contributing, while still ensuring the magazine's integrity. When a submission simply isn't usable, let the contributor down gently with a personalized note explaining why the story won't work.

The MIT Way
CURRENTS Article The secretary of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni association discusses the operation of MIT's Alumni Network Services program. About a third of all MIT alumni have registered for the Internet-based program, which provides such services as lifetime e-mail forwarding and an online alumni directory. The author emphasizes the importance of making Internet-based services consistent with the association's mission, priorities, and desired outcomes, and lists nine operating principles that have guided the MIT project since its inception.

Entering A New Domain
CURRENTS Article Some alumni associations and campuses are partnering with commercial companies to create Web portals -- commercial gateways tailored for alumni that offer one-stop access to Web features. Such portals can: 1) generate significant revenue through advertising and e-commerce connections; 2) capture daily traffic from alumni and student users; 3) serve as a means to coordinate campus Web content; 4) keep official campus and alumni Web sites advertising-free. To be successful, a portal must have high usability, technical quality, helpful support, and good awareness. A resource list names of some commercial portal developers, and a sidebar presents negative opinions on institutional use of portals.

Tech Support: High-Tech Ties that Bind
CURRENTS Article In addition to e-mail and campus Web sites, the Internet offers special advantages for reaching out to international alumni. The article describes ways to use Internet telephone programs, streaming audio and video, freeware, and live chat to increase contact with alumni globally.

Think Different
CURRENTS Article The first commandment for adapting your alumni magazine to cyberspace

Closing Remarks: Keep Those Letters Coming
CURRENTS Article Editorial guidelines for alumni correspondents

Closing Remarks: You've Got Mail
CURRENTS Article A psychology professor muses about the mailings he receives from his alma mater — including reunion announcements, a survey for the alumni directory, and a solicitation for the annual fund.

Click Here for Career Support
CURRENTS Article Many alumni associations are offering their members online career services that include access to job listings, opportunities to post resumes, and links to career resources. These offerings greatly enhance an association's career services programs and may even produce income. Most associations partner with commercial career-service vendors, which requires little investment and may generate revenue; the article lists four such vendors and provides tips for assessing vendors. Some associations operate their own services; two examples are Augusta State University and UCLA. In either case, it's important to consider online career services just one part of a larger career assistance package.

In Advance: What Works on the Web?
CURRENTS Article The article looks into three benefits alumni association Web sites should offer alumni. First, alumni want to feel connected with other alumni; they want to be aware of events happening on campus; they want access to university resources; they seek job and career networking possibilities; and they desire opportunities for continuing education. Second, alumni feel the need to receive online benefits of their alumni association directly. Third, alumni demonstrate interest in receiving added-value content about their alumni association online.

Showcase of Sites
CURRENTS Article Presents four higher education institutions and the unique features of their alumni Web pages. Dickinson College offers an online reunion. The University of Michigan gives sophisticated online career services. Colorado College presents an economics course, “The Deficit, Debt, and Generation X as part of its continuing education courses. And the University of Texas provides a chance to go cyber shopping for memberships and merchandise. For each of the institutions profiles, details are provided about how the idea developed, the number of visits the site received, the number of staff involved, costs, and results. A sidebar article briefly describes what's happening on a dozen other alumni web pages.

Coming Up Next
CURRENTS Article Examines three trends in the management of alumni office Web site. First, alumni Web sites are featuring more valuable offerings. Examples include directories of alumni e-mail addresses and alumni career networking areas. More campuses are now using professional Web site designers, rather than relying totally on staff and students. Finally, campuses are starting to market and evaluate their Web sites. Alumni magazines, mailings, and e-mail newsletters are valuable sources for marketing a Web site.

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