So long Melbourne. It’s been a blast…

As my time in Melbourne comes to a close, I thought it would be a good chance to reflect on the experiences that I have been fortunate enough to have during my time with the Advancement Team at Australia’s No. 1 University.  

Firstly, I have been hugely impressed by the team’s energy, enthusiasm and strategic focus. Whilst the University wide Alumni Relations team are a modest size, they have a really innovative programme facilitated through the strong leadership and vision of Leonie Boxtel. They are acutely aware that they can not do everything and so have been very focused on doing what they do well; their programme is clearly designed and refined to meet the needs and explicit desires of their alumni base and thereby continually delivers against their key objectives. As they become increasingly more engaged with their strong network of Faculty based AR staff, I think that this programme will only be further enhanced and in the months / years to come will be delivering some truly sector leading initiatives. 

Secondly, whilst Alumni Relations can often be considered as ‘extra curricular’ (personally, I could write a whole blog offering evidence against this standpoint however, that is for another day…), my time at the University has reinforced in my mind just how critical Alumni Relations now is. Whilst trying not to sound too evangelical about it, as the global H.E. sector is pushed harder and harder to offer greater return on investment, diversify its income streams and offer continued improvements on graduate outcomes, I really believe that effective and embedded Alumni Relations can answer a lot of these challenges. This was particularly illuminated for me during my time at Melbourne as, whilst my original itinerary focused on meetings with individuals who had an explicit connection to my research project, my schedule quickly and continually evolved to include time with a hugely diverse range of people / Departments – many with only a tangential or implicit connection to the Advancement Team. The misconception that Alumni Relations is about ‘organising parties’ is not only wrong but potentially damaging to the sector; UoM, UVa and UoB are all pushing the boundaries of Alumni Relations and this in turn helps to develop a profession that I am proud to call my own. 

Thirdly, my time at UoM has impressed on me just how critical senior internal and external support for an Advancement Programme really is. I had the pleasure of sitting in on an Alumni Council meeting during my time at UoM; Alumni Council are all volunteers, operating within a range of countries, sectors and senior networks. They are very committed (one member ‘Skyped’ in from the USA at 4.30am!), meet regularly and also offer a lot of their time to further enhance UoM’s Alumni Relations efforts outside of their formal meeting structure. I also witnessed the CASE International Leadership award being conferred on Professor Glynn Davis at the CASE Asia Pacific conference in HK last week. To have an inspirational and sector leading VC is never a bad thing (!) and to have their backing and advocacy for your work is pretty priceless. The University of Melbourne’s $500m BELIEVE Campaign is ever present on campus and there is a tangible sense that this is increasingly becoming a galvanising factor for the University both across and beyond the Advancement Team. By taking the time to promote the Campaign across a broad range of stakeholders, and clearly demonstrate how Alumni Relations can make a direct contribution to its success, the University is starting to reap the rewards of having an extended network of internal and external advocates. 

Finally, I feel so privileged to have been able to immerse myself in yet another country’s H.E. environment. As you can probably tell from my earlier posts, I felt truly honoured to have spent time in the US at UVa and today I leave Melbourne with similar feelings. In any sector, I think it is pretty rare that you get to do or see your job from a different cultural perspective (let alone two) and I have found this direct comparison both inspiring and extremely helpful from a critical challenge perspective. I leave Melbourne very excited about being able to further broaden my perspective at the Universities of New South Wales and Queensland, and with a massive sense of gratitude to U21, Birmingham and all of the partner institutions that continue to make this amazing experience possible. 

P.s. Big thanks must go to Leonie and every member of her wonderful team who not only shared a lot but also ensured I had a fabulous and expansive time in Melbourne. I would be delighted to repay the favour at any time!

P.P.s. Customary shots of a gorgeous campus to follow…

‘Share your moment’…

When looking to engage with the student and young alumni community, a consistent issue (across the US, UK and Australia, it would seem) is identifying the best medium and channels to communicate effectively with these groups. Whilst we are aware that this is rapidly evolving, to date, the most effective channels of communication seem to be the triad of social media that is Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. A really great example of this at UoM was a project developed by the Alumni Relations and Advancement Communications Team around Graduations entitled ‘Share Your Moment

This Campaign was launched to support a suite of on-campus and e-communications based activities for Graduations with the aim of encouraging new grads to ‘Share their Moment’ with each other and the Advancement Team. By doing this the team hoped to raise awareness of the benefits of alumni relations, demonstrate the value of staying in touch once leaving UoM and encourage new graduates to join their alumni specific social media channels. To build a sense of excitement within the community, this initiative was trailed with a ‘Countdown to Graduation‘ featured on all alumni and, where appropriate, University wide social media channels which celebrated the achievements of 11 inspiring young alumni. The initiative relied on new graduates taking a photo of ‘their’ moment and sharing it on one of the UoM alumni platforms; this encouraged direct participation and also resulted in a rich diversity of student-generated content. By sharing their photo and following Melbourne Uni Alumni on Facebook or Twitter, students also got the chance to go into a draw to win a $500 voucher for a new work wardrobe, plus a personal shopping session with a professional stylist. The offer of a ‘Work Wardrobe’ as a prize was not only enticing to the students but also enabled the Alumni Team to follow up on the winners to tell their story from a Careers and Employability perspective – this also offered a chance to have more personal and quirky content for the website. 

Out of 10,000 graduating during the last set of congregations, there were around 1,000 photos that could be traced to the Campaign, meaning that nearly 10% of the graduating cohort participated in some way. After graduations the students are sent a number of e-communications congratulating them on their achievements (from both the VC and their Faculty Dean); the team also promote a relevant and immediate opportunity to keep them engaged and interested e.g. Welcome Home event for overseas students returning to their home country hosted by local alumni, a careers webinar, e-news preference selection etc. Whilst this programme clearly offers a fantastic participation rate, I believe that students would be more actively inclined to remain in touch with the University if this objective was more explicit and they were told directly on their Graduation day about the immediate benefits of being part of the graduate community. This is where I think that the Student Appeal volunteers could add real value to this successful programme by offering a co-ordinated presence on campus during Graduations. By using student volunteers, the team would be much better placed to spread the word about the alumni network and the benefits of staying in touch. By combining a number of digital and non-digital channels, trailing the message, reinforcing the benefits and adopting a complementary peer to peer approach, I believe that this initiative will only go from strength to strength and the rate of those new alumni truly, measurably and pro-actively engaged will only continue to rise.

Be afraid, be very afraid. UoM’s Advancement Team have frightening potential and they are not afraid to use it…

The development of the ‘Melbourne Model’ has been described as one of the most significant curriculum innovations in the history of Australian H.E. The University’s ‘Melbourne Curriculum‘ is essentially a variation on a Liberal Arts model of education where UG students enter on to one of six UG degrees with a choice of 87 majors. Subject or professional specialism is then achieved at Masters level via a number of Graduate Schools. Generally, this means that students spend at least an extra year on their studies at UoM however, if offers them much more flexibility in their subject choice and a more holistic approach to their UG studies.  

To enable this model to work effectively the University is structured into 11 faculties, actively supported by a number of University wide functions including the Advancement Team who have kindly hosted me for the last week. Most faculties have some level of Advancement and Development resource, which means UoM has a highly devolved model of delivery in terms of alumni relations and student engagement activity. 

Much like at UVa, by rapidly parachuting into a Department, it took me a little time to get my head around ‘what happens where’. However, it is clear that the Advancement Team have worked really hard to ensure that all staff delivering in this area are working to consistent goals and objectives. They have developed an effective way of both capturing activity across the departments and encouraging an active dialogue between faculty staff through their monthly ‘Alumni Relations Network’ meeting. I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at ARN and it was clear that there was enough expertise and best practice in the room to spend days as opposed to 90 minutes discussing best practice! Whilst Birmingham is not dissimilar in terms of our devolved Alumni Relations College teams, the main difference is that all Faculty staff report into their Faculties as opposed to the Advancement team. 

Whilst the University wide Advancement Team delivers a huge amount, they are actually quite a lean unit. What struck me however, was the sheer size and potential of the extended Alumni team (evidenced by a Board Room chocked full of Advancement Professionals for the ARN meeting) if sharing of best practice and collaboration are pro-actively encouraged, recognised, rewarded and celebrated. Just in the short time I was in contact with this group, I heard about an amazing Alumni Awards recognition programme in Arts, a great example of corporate and student engagement through a Foundation dinner in the Faculty of Business and Economics, a large scale alumni mentoring programme in Law and a successful student ambassadors initiative in the Medical School.

In addition, much like Birmingham and UVa, I firmly believe that Faculty based teams are often much better placed to contribute to thinking around enhancing the student experience due to their location, proximity and regular contact with a discrete part of the student population. Whilst I would be foolish to believe that this is anything but simple (all Universities are highly complex institutions), I genuinely believe that UoM has a unique opportunity to capitalise on this community of practice for mutual benefit. If UoM can pull this off then they would have one of the most sizeable, diverse and talented AR teams around and certainly one of the most comprehensive set of engagement programmes. Lucky UoM alumni…! 


Students inspiring students

Every year, as part of the University of Melbourne’s Annual Fund, the Advancement Team supports a group of students to deliver a fun and engaging Student Appeal. This is an appeal designed and delivered entirely by student volunteers with the aim of raising money for hardship loans. The student committee are given support from the Advancement team in the form of a small budget to deliver their campaign (around $6k) and (maybe more importantly) advice and guidance from Megan – the energetic force behind this appeal. All student volunteers are also invited to an end of campaign Thank You event, hosted by the VC and funded by the Advancement Team.

Traditionally the appeal has been run once a year but UoM are currently trialling a bi-annual approach. The volunteers are recruited and trained by Megan and they then form a committee and number of sub-committees. This year they trained nearly 200 students. The committees then work, with guidance from Megan, to design a 6-8 week campaign of on-campus fundraising activities. The aim is to raise money through one fun event per week during the campaign and past activity has included sleep outs, candy crushes, Easter egg hunts, dodgeball tournaments etc. The students are given creative freedom and deliver all of their activities through the power of the student volunteers. The Advancement Team do however, offer a huge incentive to encourage student donations through their commitment to match all student gifts of between $5 – $100.

Including the University’s matched funding, the aim for this year’s campaign is to raise $18k. Whilst this is not an insignificant amount of money, and clearly makes a real impact in terms of immediate assistance for students that need it the most; when you take into account the budget, matched funding and staff time, this appeal is essentially a ‘loss leader’ for the Advancement Team. So why commit these resources in this way?!

Well, it is clear that there are many other objectives met through this approach. The volunteers receive a great deal of training and also receive credit and incentives for offering their time e.g. they receive a t-shirt once they have completed 4 hours voluntary support. This is a great way of developing their sense of civic responsibility, offers them a real personal development opportunity and also raises their awareness of the power of philanthropy. The fact that students’ gifts above $5 are matched, offers the wider student body a real incentive to support the University; the fact that the approach is made on a peer to peer basis will most definitely start to engender a sense of responsibility in terms of ‘giving back’ (both time and money).

I was really impressed by the Student Appeal and the level of confidence and trust that the team invest in the student volunteers to design a programme that will appeal directly to students. I do however, think that there may be ways in which they could diversify and increase their return on investment by working in closer collaboration with the Alumni Relations team.

Whilst at UVa, it was clear that the AR team used their Student Ambassador scheme to develop the next generation of alumni leaders and volunteers. I am convinced that UoM could actively utilise their Student Appeal in a similar way e.g. raising awareness of the contribution of alumni volunteers, supporting graduation social media campaigns (add link) etc. Whilst you would clearly need to be careful not to divert attention away from the core objective of raising money whilst campaigning, I think that this group (or a sub-section at least) could be an amazing vehicle to get the broader message alumni message out to the student community via a genuine and trusted peer to peer approach. The beauty of this programme is its simplicity and clear focus yet I think it has real potential to deliver against multiple Advancement aims through closer internal collaboration between Annual Giving and Alumni Relations. This principle is something that I will now give great consideration as we develop our student engagement programme at Birmingham.

p.s. This was a blog powered by a pretty special view. Thank you Melbourne and thank you Apple for facilitating outdoor working. :)


Welcome to Melbourne!

…the programme that does exactly what is says on the tin!

In conjunction with Student Services, the Advancement Team have developed a programme that pairs local alumni with an international PG scholarship student as a ‘host’. The programme aims to offer this group of students a warm welcome to the city; thereby aiding their transition and induction at the University of Melbourne. Once matched based on their interests (to be successful this is much more complicated than a one-line reference suggests!), the students and alumni pairs are introduced and then invited to a launch event at the Ian Potter Museum of Modern Art – a gorgeous and contemporary venue. The only explicit expectation after this is that the alumni will meet their student one more time within 6 weeks to offer them a view of the city – this could be hosting them in their home for dinner, a coffee, trip to a sports event etc etc. The alumni are thanked by receiving priority invitations, along with their family, to an exclusive preview event run in collaboration with Melbourne Museum.

The programme has been delivered twice a year for the last 6 years and has gone from strength to strength. All students within this scholarship group have the chance to opt in to this part of their induction and 2014 saw a 30% increase in participation. The Advancement Team commit to match all student participants with a mentor; with more than 200 students in receipt of these scholarships in 2014, this is no mean feat! It is clear that this programme offers real value to the fresh students and also offers a really nice, low commitment volunteer opportunity for local graduates. It is however, both quite costly in time and money – the main expenses coming from the launch event and staff time required to do the matching.

During my time here it had been very evident that UoM are strongly committed to social inclusion and therefore based on the success of this programme, the University are keen to see how this could be scaled up and cover other target groups. One such group is students in receipt of an Access Scholarship e.g. Individuals who require financial support and / or are first in their family to go to University. Consequently, the University have piloted a ‘variation on a theme’ this semester called ‘Access Connections’.

Access Connections aimed to match 25 students with suitable alumni volunteers. The main objective of this programme was not to offer them an introduction to their environment but to help them to develop their social capital. Consequently, the volunteer commitment has been higher but the cost of the programme has been considerably lower than the flagship ‘Welcome to Melbourne’ programme. Volunteers are asked to meet with their students 4 times during the programme but, without a costly launch event, the only financial costs of the programme (aside from staff time) has been for coffee vouchers for outlets on campus.

These programmes are both great. They are a clear example of UoM understanding and responding to the issue of social inclusion and offering students a tailored and relevant reason to engage with alumni. In terms of alumni involvement, they both offer substantial and relevant volunteer opportunities. The key thing that struck me about these programmes however, was the confidence that the team had in quickly identifying and securing sufficient alumni support to guarantee their success. This is primarily down to the extremely comprehensive Alumni Preferences Survey (APS) conducted every 4 years. It would be very easy just to conduct this this survey, analyse the data and use it to inform the strategic direction of the programme. The Advancement Team do this however they also keep the survey live and use it to inform and support operational activity i.e. by evaluating responses to suggested areas of volunteering and then targeting communications and developing programmes that meet the demand.

It is very clear that the design and continued reference to the results of this survey has enhanced the speed of delivery of the fantastic alumni / careers initiatives and also enabled the team to segment and target these volunteer programmes thereby increasing their success e.g. Access Connections attracted 4x more offers of support from alumni than required from one tailored communication.

We should ask more. I am convinced of this, and this conviction is only increased by seeing how widely the APS data is applied across the programmes at UoM. Whilst we do have a good dialogue with our alumni at Birmingham, I am as guilty as the next person on focussing on the strategic as opposed to operational relevance of the information we receive. By asking the right questions and listening actively to (and regularly revisiting) the responses, I am sure that this would increase our confidence in developing new initiatives and refining / enhancing current activity.

Two great programmes, powered by alumni, directly addressing social inclusion imperatives and delivered through strong internal partnership working – a model to aspire to.

Ian Potter Museum of Art – venue for the Welcome to Melbourne launch


Bridging students and alumni

Another full day at the University of Melbourne and I have been offered a really thorough overview of their graduations process, an insight into some of their student / young alumni social media campaigns (more about this tomorrow) and the chance to spend time with Rachael Ballamy – Alumni Careers Co-ordinator for the Advancement Team.

The Alumni Careers Co-ordinator post was developed last year with the aim of developing a suite of new programmes that would connect alumni and students to directly enhance their career prospects. The role has been hugely successful and I am sure that this is in no small part down to Rachael’s tangible passion and belief in the potential of the role. In fact, it is testament to the success of the initiative that while only 6 months into a 12 month pilot, the post has been extended for another 2 years.

While at Birmingham we have developed several really popular and successful initiatives in collaboration with Careers Network, we do not have any formal connections or shared staff. The unique aspect of Rachael’s role is that her time and focus is split 50 / 50 between Careers and Advancement; this has enabled her to interpret both the Advancement and Employability strategic objectives of the institution and develop a set of programmes that meet both Department’s aims.

With more than 5000 alumni having previously expressed an active interest in getting more involved with student activity, Rachael joined the team with a large and willing pool of volunteers. In order to capitalise on this latent support, she has developed a defined range of opportunities that enable alumni to directly support some of the most pressing employability issues across the institution. Over the last 6 months, this has already resulted in a careers webinar series for students and young alumni, a series of alumni career tips and a pilot alumni mentoring scheme for Access students. Rachael’s unique position has ensured that the range of opportunities promoted and recruited for are guaranteed to meet both the aims of careers (improving employability outcomes for students) and Advancement (delivering meaningful engagement opportunities that meet the desires of potential alumni volunteers i.e. involvement in student activities).

I was not only impressed by the speed and scale of delivery within a short period of time but also how a shared role enables a precision of focus / relevance. Whilst at Birmingham we have truly realised the benefits of having devolved Faculty / College teams, we are yet to explore the benefits of shared staff (or at least more formal understanding / agreements) between different corporate services e.g. careers, marketing, recruitment etc. Having seen the advantages of this first hand, and the pace at which a specialist position can effect change in one defined area, I think that this is a definitely a principle that we should consider when we are looking at how we can offer real value to the student experience and graduate outcomes in the future.

Tomorrow – more on comms, external partnerships, a meeting with the Head of Development and a number of conversations around the development of the University’s BELIEVE $300 fundraising Campaign.

p.s. After a full day at UoM, I then also had the pleasure of meeting one of our alumni who has made his home in Melbourne. It is always great to meet UoB alumni across the globe and find out more about their experiences. I am really looking forward to meeting around 20 others who have expressed an interest to attend our alumni gathering on Thursday. If you happen to be in Melbourne, please join us!

Back to it…!

So 8 months have passed since my time at the University of Virginia. In my world, the last 8 months have featured the development of a Student Engagement Working Group at Birmingham, implementation of some of the ideas that I brought back re. Student Recruitment and enhancing the Student Experience, a continued dialogue with the wonderful team at UVa, and UoB being named as The Times and Sunday Times University of the Year for 2013 – 2014 – something we are very proud of (oh, and not forgetting a marathon PB; all that training eventually paid off. Thanks again to Charlottesville Track Club)!

And so here I am, on the other side of the World. It is a total privilege being able to spend time with the Advancement Team within Australia’s No. 1 University, the University of Melbourne. I arrived on Saturday from Hong Kong, where I was attending the Asia Pacific CASE conference. The conference offered me the chance to meet with colleagues across a range of externally facing professional services in institutions across the Asia Pacific Region; loads of really interesting ideas came out of these discussions and I will elaborate on this later in the week. I don’t want to speak too soon but I think it also saved me from the full horror of jet lag!

Day 1 at UoM has been as fantastic as it has been exhausting! It included meetings with key team members, lunch with a gorgeous view of the campus and city, a meeting at one of UoM’s residential Colleges – St Hilda’s, a campus tour and then attending their Alumni Council meeting this evening. I am in the process of digesting everything that I have learnt today and will attempt to distil this into something more coherent tomorrow! Suffice to say that if my schedule could be compared to a menu (chocked with delicious opportunities), then I have spent the majority of today gorging on the starters! Tomorrow, I will have the chance to sample a main meal sized version of graduations, social media, and alumni benefits and alumni / careers engagement. Even though it is way past my bedtime, my tummy is rumbling already. Until tomorrow.