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Volume 3, Issue 8

Getting Started in Alumni Relations

For those in newly created alumni relations positions at community colleges, the challenges are many but aspirations remain high as alumni respond positively to outreach efforts.

Ashley E. Budde started her job in July 2013 as coordinator of alumni relations and the annual fund at the St. Louis Community College Foundation. She is the first person to hold this position, which aims to centralize the alumni relations efforts of the college's four campuses. She is in the process of creating an alumni association but having difficulty reconciling the institution's disjointed past alumni efforts.

"I really started by making appointments with the presidents on each campus and asking, ‘Who do I need to talk to?'" Budde says. "I know that there are pockets of alumni groups that we just don't know about yet. With the help of some program directors and others, I was able to tap into some of these groups and get an idea of what some of these people would want in an alumni association."

Budde says she used these comments and a survey of current students to justify to foundation and other institutional leaders that there's a demand for alumni programming. However, she doesn't have a dedicated budget for programming. So far she has used some money from alumni association dues and the annual fund to host career fairs and other events. She is in the process of implementing a strategic plan for the alumni association—including the creation of an emergency fund for needy students—and hopes to further grow alumni outreach.

Starting an alumni relations program without many resources is also familiar to Stacey Lockhart, executive director of the Wanatchee Valley College Foundation in rural central Washington. The college only began reaching out to alumni last year. Previously, the college didn't even have an alumni database.

Lockhart says the biggest challenge she faces is gathering current information about the college's vast, untapped alumni population. Most of the information she receives from the registrar's office about alumni who graduated in the 1960s and 1970s—individuals in the prime of their giving potential—is on microfiche that only lists their name and degree.

Lockhart hopes to update her institution's alumni database by adding recent graduates and findings ways to encourage alumni in the community to volunteer their contact information at engagement events or via association newsletters. She has also started an alumni loyalty program, which offers individuals who make annual gifts to the college discounts at local businesses.

"For an institution that is just getting started with alumni relations, it doesn't matter if you have a budget or not," Lockhart says. "There are things you can do that don't cost anything or are low cost. Once you start doing that, people start sharing the news and connecting other people. We've been fortunate to have a couple of alumni who own businesses in town to help us get started. It's great to have very vocal and visible advocates and recruiters for alumni in your community."

Still, she admits that alumni relations programs can only go so far on a shoestring budget. Although she had no budget for programming last year, Lockhart has a $10,000 budget this year. This will help pay for loyalty program supplies, networking events and other expenses. Lockhart's foundation is also shifting an alumni relations coordinator position from part- to full-time this month as a result of all the activity taking place.

Increased programming and a renewed effort to engage alumni has also led to the hiring of a full-time associate director of alumni relations at the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation in Garner, Mass. Carol Jacobson is occupying the position, which is new to the foundation. In addition to cleaning up an out-of-date alumni database, Jacobson is adding a number of alumni networking opportunities and developing a biannual alumni magazine.

Jacobson held her first alumni event a few weeks ago—a professional development workshop with a certified life coach. Thirty individuals attended. In the future, Jacobson says she'll work with the institution's human resources department, which puts on similar events for students, to stretch her limited resources.

"This biggest problem we have is not having enough money to fund events," she says. "But there are ways to be creative about that. Based on conversations with alumni coordinators at other institutions, I'm reassured in what we're doing... You just have to keep purposefully moving ahead."

For more insight on how to make the most of a new institutional investment in alumni relations, among other topics, register for the upcoming CASE virtual conference on Engaging Community College Alumni in March.

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

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