Publications & Products
Volume 5, Issue 8


Two Approaches to Alumni Relations

When Stacey Lockhart arrived at Wenatchee Valley College in 2011, the alumni program was essentially nonexistent. Today, the WVC Alumni Association is on its way to showing return on investment and documenting measurable results.

The challenges WVC faced began with a dearth of alumni information and extended to the lack of a budget and its position as the only college within 10,000 square miles in rural Washington State.

Across the country, challenges confronted Pitt Community College in eastern North Carolina as well, which was also trying to start an alumni program from scratch. "Getting people engaged. Struggle with the budget" topped the list for Ashley Dews Smith, Pitt's director of alumni and development services. Pitt, unlike WVC, is not in a rural location. In fact, the largest college in North Carolina is just five miles up the road, and the nearest community college is within a three- or four-mile radius of Pitt.

Despite their size and geographic differences, Pitt and WVC staff found that understanding their own community and its needs was central to building a vital alumni program.

"I think one of our biggest challenges occurred after the alumni program had been in force for about a year. No one was really coming to our events," says Kacie Thrift, WVC alumni relations coordinator.

Thrift notes that connecting with the community and with alumni built interest in the program and was a way to gather information about alumni.

"I wanted to connect with people and get their information," says Pitt's Smith. "I still use any free venue: a county fair, a community festival, a small restaurant. You have to have a presence and ask people if they are an alum."

A program Lockhart presented at a CASE conference sums up her approach to starting the alumni program at WVC: Just Do It. "It doesn't cost you anything to reach out and do some engagement," Lockhart says.

In addition to being a presence in the community, Lockhart created an online form where alumni could update their information. Anyone who updated the form received a free license plate holder that announced the WVC affiliation. Hundreds of people filled out the form. In fact, WVC now has a notebook filled with more than 500 forms. "I'm all about visibility," says Lockhart. "I thought, ‘We can turn this into a college town!'"

Lockhart, Thrift and Smith will share how they built - and continue to grow - their respective programs during a Feb. 23 webinar, "Building a Community College Alumni Program That Works for You."

"I don't see how community colleges can't invest in alumni relations," says Lockhart. "It's imperative that grads and friends of the college are kept close to the college; otherwise, you are never going to get where you want to go."

Smith agrees, and points out the reason for persistence. "You do a disservice to alums if you don't try because of initial non-funding. You can't expect someone you've never talked to in 50 years to give you some money the first time you send them a letter."

And that persistence does pay off. Lockhart recalls that the largest gift from a WVC alumnus came as a result of her giving a presentation to the Lions Club about what the alumni program was doing. "The talk prompted this man to come to the campus and get a tour," says Lockhart. The $423,000 gift was a result of this incident. "You never know when you're going to get a surprise because you're doing the right thing."


This article is from the February 2016 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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