How to Engage Modern Alumni
Alumni associations often gravitate toward sporting events and happy hours as popular tools to connect with alumni. Graduates have come to expect these events as the bread and butter of traditional alumni engagement strategies. However, data shows that these events no longer guarantee that schools will maintain satisfied alumni communities.
Alumni are looking for tangible benefits from alumni associations beyond social events. This shift requires new tools and approaches to alumni support.
Seeking Career Development Services
Case in point, Kansas University Alumni Association surveyed its 43,000 alumni members and found that career-related services ranked as the most important benefit alumni desired from the association. Specifically, 76% of KU alumni mentioned that accessing career assistance was a very important benefit of their membership while only 42% ranked KU as offering effective career services to alumni.
Although the Association had offered professional networking receptions and alumni panel discussions, consistent survey results revealed that alumni still craved more career activities and resources. In addition, when alumni tried to access career support from the university, they struggled to navigate the decentralized services offered across campus through different departments.
Kristi Laclé, assistant vice president of the Jayhawk Career Network, explained, “We’d sent out several surveys [to alumni] and found that the career services umbrella was always a sticking point with our alumni.”
Serving Diverse Alumni Career Needs
Recognizing the expectations gap, the Association created the Jayhawk Career Network (JCN), a comprehensive and integrated approach to career services for all KU alumni no matter what life or career stage. The JCN serves as a central resource to unite services on and off campus and highlights career milestones of Jayhawks around the world.
A key feature of the JCN is KU Mentoring, powered by PeopleGrove. The Association collaborated with several academic units, including the schools of business, engineering, journalism as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to launch the community mentoring platform used by hundreds of universities to connect alumni and students for networking opportunities and career support. Through the platform, participants can connect with fellow Jayhawks from any school or department regardless of their academic degrees or career fields.
KU Mentoring challenges conventional beliefs about career services that often hamper alumni associations’ ability to offer value to their members. Traditionally, career services have been provided in-person through structured, long-term programs. However, the KU alumni network is worldwide, and recent graduates often change jobs every few years. In addition, many alumni are comfortable using technology to bridge distance and make connections without face-to-face contact.
KU Mentoring took an innovative approach to career advancement programs for the diverse KU alumni community. Supported by the PeopleGrove platform, KU could deliver programs for all alumni and students, including:
Some alumni were hesitant to join a mentoring program because of the long-term commitment required. KU Connect, which utilizes the flash networking feature of PeopleGrove, was a hit with alumni who wanted quick feedback and direction.
Low-commitment online affinity networks for specific industries or geographies provide alumni the opportunity to explore interests and research career options.
Traditional Career Services
KU Mentoring offers a spectrum of services supported by PeopleGrove technology, including mentor matching and job boards, that fit more traditional needs.
Offering a variety of ways for Jayhawks to connect, KU has found that PeopleGrove expanded the alumni association’s reach and brought new alumni into the fold. According to Kristi, she found that the Association has the ability “to reach a wider audience through KU Mentoring because we can connect people with similar goals, careers, backgrounds, and interests even though they may live on opposite sides of the world.”
Delivering Value to Alumni and the KU Alumni Association
At the outset, scale was the primary goal of the Association's PeopleGrove implementation. The KU team wanted to be able to expand career services reach to as many alumni as possible. KU Mentoring delivered, and signed up almost 3,000 alumni in the first quarter.
KU has since pursued a steady rollout of the platform to alumni and students. Kristi promoted the launch in KU’s Homecoming communications to both the alumni who were coming back to campus and those who didn’t travel. The Association’s Student Alumni Network (SAN) has built grassroots partnerships with key student groups on campus to encourage student sign ups and to capture recommendations for future improvements to KU Mentoring.
Kristi recognizes the value of the data she receives from PeopleGrove about the growth of the network, “It gives me a great way of thinking about my objectives and how we can utilize the data for specific marketing campaigns, to understand where there are gaps and how we can improve.”
Creating ROI for the University
KU had a clear mandate from its alumni to offer better career services. Listening to that feedback will no doubt help KU maintain and build its alumni network. There are other simple, logical reasons for investing in alumni careers. Graduates who are successful and recognize the ROI of their degree are happier with their universities.
Data from Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 Report
Alumni who receive career support are both more financially able and more likely to participate in philanthropic giving to their universities. In addition to these fundraising benefits, Kristi values the community-building aspects of KU Mentoring. It engages alumni of all types, including those who “may not be able to give back to the university financially,” she says, “but can give back of their time and talents” by mentoring and volunteering in other ways.
PeopleGrove and the Jayhawk Career Network provide a strong foundation for the future that will enable the KU Alumni Association to expand its alumni network, retain members and deliver value to the entire KU community.