Publications & Products
Volume 3, Issue 10

Launching an Alumni Affinity Group

Community colleges should develop affinity groups as an alumni engagement strategy, according to a presenter at a recent CASE virtual conference.

Mitch Andrews, executive director of advancement and alumni engagement at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, told attendees of Engaging Community College Alumni that graduates of their institutions have little allegiance to class years like their four-year counterparts and, therefore, are more aligned with specific programs and activities.

"As community colleges, we are often the first stop for [students] in their experience in higher education ... and, through the programs they're involved with, we offer them unique living and learning communities in which they develop a connection or an affinity to us," he said. "And those living communities literally change the lives of those students, whether it's participating on a national-winning soccer team or getting first place in a speech and debate tournament or learning that being a registered nurse is your life's calling."

Andrews said that he is often told by alumni that these "life-changing experiences" are what draw them back to the institution.

Tyler Junior College's first affinity group was Apache Belle Gold, an organization for former members of a female dance and drill team that has been a fixture at the institution since 1947. The affinity group was developed in the 1990s when state appropriations for the college declined and funding decreased for extracurricular activities such as the dance team. Andrews said the college's alumni association used the 50th anniversary of the team as a "rallying point" for the creation of this alumni support group.

Andrews noted that his institution is establishing and growing more alumni affinity groups based on the need of various programs. For example, a group for the college's marching band is currently fundraising for a new rehearsal facility, a dental hygiene and nursing group is also fundraising for a new health science facility, and a group for former athletes is being created to fundraise for an on-campus stadium.

Andrews offered the following general steps for those looking to establish affinity groups:

  • Identify the strategic need for affinity group development. For example, look for projects that need fundraising or organizations that need other assistance.
  • Select a group poised for success. Find a group with deep roots on campus or existing pockets of alumni associated with an organization who are already highly engaged.
  • Recruit an influential steering committee. These individuals will help build clout and momentum for a growing affinity group.
  • Host a launch activity or event around a milestone. Anniversaries or the retirement of a beloved professor are examples of events that inspire alumni to participate.
  • Start small and build on support. Take time to get to know and properly engage alumni.

This article is from the April 2014 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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