College Alumni Offices Need to Think Beyond Our Checkbooks


Recently I was sitting down with some friends and we got discussing how we were interacted with by our various college’s alumni offices. Not your typical late night conversation, but it came up and became clear that most of us had the same experience.

They only contacted us when they wanted money or wanted us to attend an event.

Now, I understand that the the primary purpose of the alumni office at a college is to raise money. They do this through mailers, phone calls and by throwing lavish events to wine and dine potential donors. That is how things have always been done, so why change right?

My issue is that I wasn’t one of those trust fund kids that gets to go to college.

The idea of donating upon graduation was the farthest thing from being possible. Plus, if I did make a donation it would be tiny and it was clear to me that it didn’t matter to the school unless it was a sizable donation year after year.

For most graduates, the first five to ten years is a time when they won’t be able to make a donation. Most are working hard just to get their career going, pay the bills and keep moving forward in the brave new world. Even a small donation might be hard and they probably are never talked to about how much any donation would be appreciated.

But, these are some of the most enthusiastic alumni you’ll ever find. Leverage that enthusiasm for recruiting, events and more. Just because they can’t write a major check or join any of the price-based velvet rope groups you have established don’t make them feel alienated.

Most of us who graduate from college find our hearts filled with a sense of pride for our school.

Long after we’ve left the campus, we are proud of our time there and want to help both the school and the next generation of graduates.

I know for me, when I was able to finally make my first donation it was a major moment in my life.

It meant that I had reached a certain level of success and it felt great to be able to do something that I never imagined I’d be able to do. It wasn’t a big check full of zeroes, but it was what I could do at the moment and it felt great.

Alumni offices need to start thinking beyond our checkbooks and realize that alums have more to offer than only money. They have experience, connections and knowledge that can be tapped into. Outside of their circle of friends, they may not have any idea who else around them in their company or town is also an alumni of the school.

Why would it be so hard to imagine events that give back to the alumni community? Bring in alums who can speak on a relevant topic, form mastermind groups or just get together for pure networking rather than fund raising.

How about reconnecting with alums to let them know all the services that are available to them? Make it apparent that you are not there to ask for money, but that any amount is always appreciated. Truly make the meetings about them rather than the school. They’ll appreciate it and will start paying more attention.

I’d love to see more alumni networks that could be searched and leveraged in business. Most alumni would love to buy from, work with and hire other alumni. Yet, so few schools make this sort of data and networking accessible.

Too many alumni offices have put up a barrier in front of their passionate alumni that can only be broken with the writing of a check. This culture has to change if schools are going to stay relevant in the lives of their students after they graduate.

Does your school have an active and vibrant relationship with your alumni office? I’d love to hear stories of schools doing it right since I know they must be out there.

Article Posted 3 years Ago

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