What do we need to know about cultivating and maintaining alumni relationships? How can you build a a bright future for your institution, future students, and the lives of alumni, their communities, and society at large?

Jeff Johnson, of Iowa State University, shared some of the answers to these questions by some quirky, but practical definitions and distinctions that encourage innovation when relating and building relationships with your alumni:

Know the difference between alumni and graduates

Graduates are degree holders; alumni are ‘degree holders with affection’. – Jeff Johnson

The goal is to instill unforced affection in your students while they are still actively part of your institution; when they eventually become alumni, they will likely be more motivated to contribute and stay connected.

Who can help create this distinction?

Lecturers. Lecturers have the best chance at ‘building relationships with pre-alumni because they are at the front-lines’ of the student experience. Lecturers are ‘creating memories’, but are also unfortunately the ‘least involved in Advancement’. – Jeff Johnson

How can you build a bright future for your institution, future students, and the lives of alumni, their communities and society at large?

Knowing and understanding the purpose of higher education and its role in creating civil society is how you can begin to build a bright future. Jeff Johnson advises and encourages us to know that the purpose of higher education is to create civil society, and Advancement staff thus become a vehicle in making sure that this happens. The alumni office and Advancement office exists to assist the institution in achieving its strategic goals.

We are in a relationship with students. This relationship with between students and the university started for one or more of the following 3 reasons:

1) out of convenience – the university was close to where the student lived

2) it was the university of choice due to its reputation of excellent programmes, lectures or placement rate.

3) it has a legacy: “my family went there” or “I want to create my own legacy”. – Jeff Johnson

Alumni relationship building must travel  steps further than these starting points. Knowing and understanding these definitions should highlight why relationship building is key to Advancement operations in institutions, and will in turn inform any alumni relations programme. Knowing your key players and how they understand their roles is crucial for creating strong and worthwhile supporter journeys that are mutually beneficial.

Author: Jeff Johnson: Iowa State University; adapted by Khairoonisa Foflonker and Ruvimbo Gwatirisa: Inyathelo