Alumni Relations done right

May 15, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

I know this doesn’t have anything to do with technology, but I thought I’d comment on it anyway.

I graduated from a large University in Washington state, twice. First for my BA in 2002, then again with a Masters in 2007. Alumni relations has never been a thing that I’ve really been interested in, probably because the strategy used by my Alma mater was this:

Send Postcards

Send Emails

Send Letters


In all of these communications there was one simple message: Donate…and then some little message about how I should reach out and let them know how I was doing in my carreer.

Taking a step back, I was curious what Alma Mater actually means. It means “a nourishing or kind mother”, basically someone who have a relationship with for most of your life. Someone who takes care of you, then you take care of them for being supportive and caring.

In Fall of 2013, I graduated from UNSW (University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia) having completed my second Masters at a distance in Cross Disciplinary Art and Design. It was a fully online program, and pedagogically one of the best educational experiences I’ve had. I set foot on campus once.

The other night I was sitting watching The Daily Show after work and I get a call on my phone from a +61 number. “Who’s calling me from Australia?” It was an alumni relations employee from UNSW. They called in May of last year too.

She identified herself as an honors student (preparing for a research degree) and asked me a whole series of questions starting with a simple “What have you been up to since you graduated?” This started a 30 minute conversation about the differences between school in Australia and the US. She shared with me what she was studying, and I told her about my current doctoral studies. After about ten minutes, we were joking back and forth, like friends would. At one point in our conversation, it then moved on to what I expected. She asked for money, but instead of just asking for money in general, she asked for money for a specific scholarship that supported bringing international students to UNSW and supporting them in their studies. I was an international student so it made sense that I would want to support others to have a great experience just like I did.

I didn’t give much, but I gave, and I will probably give again.

After studying for 7 years at my American Alma mater, I never once received a phone call and I still live in the same town. I have never given.

After 3 part-time years at UNSW studying online, completely disconnected from the university, I’ve received two phone calls from the other side of the world, talking with me as a person, not just as a donor, and inviting me to events both in Sydney and around the world.

I gave, because they’re doing it right.

The range of our alumni relations experiences varies and I can’t speak for everyone else’s experiences either, but in the time of shrinking budgets and continuing state cuts, alumni can be a great source of additional funding for a college or university. If alumni feel like you’re treating them like a milk-cow, then then won’t donate, but if they’re treated like a person, maybe they will. Seems like a pretty basic concept to me.

I feel like almost all my posts are about one simple message of ‘invest in people’. Isn’t that what education is all about ?


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