I’m back in the UK. How did that happen so quickly?!
Although it feels like I have been away for ages, I can’t quite believe that I am now home and my little Australian escapade has come to a close. However, far from being ‘it’, this is where the hard work really begins. Not just in finding the time to digest and write up my findings as the day job inevitably encroaches both on my time and headspace, but to maintain the sense of energy and enthusiasm that I always feel when I have the chance to truly ‘think into’ the possibilities in this area.
What I know instinctively (and has been evidenced by this trip) is that the opportunity here is huge. If we can develop a student / young alumni programme that really talks to the needs of our audience and meets the University’s strategic needs then we will both enhance the connection we have with our newest graduates and make Alumni Relations a more prominent and important function across the institution.
I have lots of thinking still to do however, my initial summations would be an effective student / young alumni programme, which delivers increased engagement and strategic value to an institution, needs to:
1. BE PRESENT – particularly from a student perspective; we need to be where students are. It is no longer good enough simply to expect students to come to us, to attend our initiatives or imagine that they will be inherently interested. Immediate gratification is all around us and, so often now, expected. Consequently, strong visibility in the right places, situations and events will be critical in terms of getting the value of the alumni network better known.
2. BE RELEVANT – this really goes hand in hand with the point above. Let’s focus more on what students and young alumni need and want to hear rather than what we want to tell them (something that I think that we have been guilty of at Bham in the past). Resonance comes from relevance; we will have a much greater impact if we demonstrate the value of the alumni community through meeting specific requirements. This is a much more powerful approach than simply informing students / young alumni / internal colleagues about how important alumni relations is. We must focus on delivery rather than discussion.
3. BE CLEAR – I believe nearly all humans like and respond well to clarity. In an area that is often not well understood, I believe clarity will be the critical factor in raising awareness of alumni relations. Our student / young alumni programme needs to be lean, focused and have a clear and transparent sense of purpose. We need to be able to easily articulate precisely what our alumni network (not our office) can offer students and young alumni and also have a real sense of clarity on what we are asking from our graduates in return i.e. defined range of volunteer opportunities, advice etc. Essentially we need to ask more and give more (in a relevant, present and defined way).
Across the Universities that I have visited I have seen practices, programmes and attitudes that fit with some or all of the above (many of which feature somewhere within this blog). It has been a brilliant opportunity to identify and highlight areas of best practice and see how these vary both by institution and cultural context. I will drill down further into these examples through my report however, this gives you a sneak peak of my conclusions as I spend some time reflecting here in seat 71K!
Finally, I am often told I say ‘Thank You’ too much; I am not convinced this is actually possible but either way I will keep this bit brief. MASSIVE thanks to U21, the University of Birmingham and the the Universities of Virginia, Melbourne, New South Wales and Queensland for hosting me so generously and comprehensively. Every second that I have spent on this project has been shrouded with a sense of deep gratitude and a level of personal responsibility to ensure it produces valuable outcomes and potential ongoing collaborations. I am committed to ensuring this happens and look forward to exploring the possibilities as I return to the UK. If you are interested in finding out more or ‘joining the party’ then please do contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)121 414 8432). I’d love to hear from you!