Starting your Alumni Program

10 Best Practices For Building An Alumni Business Case

These best practices will allow you to present to decision makers the tools you need to build a successful and engaged alumni community.

When building a business case to breathe life into your alumni program, there are some essential best practices to consider. After all, the budget for building and maintaining a community has to come from somewhere, and this usually entails heading upstairs with the right data at your disposal.

While all the innovative platform features, templates, presentations, ROI calculators, and point-of-view spreadsheets are absolutely necessary to support your case and indeed your community once it’s established, realize that there is more to it than that. 

Fact: you need the quantitative, measurable information to get your budget approved by the C-Suite. But, on the other side of the coin is the qualitative value that you have to present to your exiting or retiring employees. Sometimes the things that count the most are difficult to count. 

There’s as much at stake when selling them on the benefits of joining your program. Without their participation, you’re looking at an empty starting block.

Whether you are in talent acquisition, employee experience, sales, or marketing, it is important to recognize that business, at its core, is about relationships. Customer relationships, employee relationships, supplier relationships, business relationships, alumni relationships…. 

In the case of alumni, maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship means that you will continue to reap rewards from a valuable investment that the company has already made.   

Here are 10 alumni best practices to bear in mind when working out how to present value and get stakeholders on board. 

10 Business Alumni Best Practices When Developing A Case For The Stakeholders

  1. Use technology to succeed – you are going to need the support of a digital ecosystem that can collect data and produce insights that help you to improve your engagement strategy with people in your network.

  2. Go in with the knowledge that YOU are going to have to work hard at it – your employees have left the organization; the responsibility is on you to manage the network and keep them within arms reach. They’re not going to come running back to their former employer on their own accord.

  3. Appoint an alumni leader – employing an alumni community manager makes all the difference when it comes to engagement levels within your network. Results and value outcomes correlate directly with the amount of effort put into programs of this kind. Having a dedicated person at the helm can open lines of communication between the institution and the individual to ensure that all stakeholders are satisfied.

  4. Leaders: build and leverage relationships to benefit the business – with the right data and tools for engagement, the community manager is perfectly positioned to engage alumni, analyze insights from your alumni platform, and identify individuals from the network who can support specific needs of the various business departments.

  5. Position the program as a service provider to the business – like HR serves employees, and IT serves the internet and network needs, frame your alumni program as a service provider for the business. It should be marketed to the different departments as an active database of highly relevant talent. It’s not simply a nice-to-have.

  6. Motivate participation based on idiosyncrasy – no two alumni are the same. When considering the rewards for participating, do it individually. Motivators should also fill both intrinsic and extrinsic needs within the person.

  7. Onboard employees to your program from day 1 – make it known that your intention for the relationship is for it to be lifelong. Nothing says you’re willing to invest in the person for the long-term regardless of the form the relationship takes like onboarding your talent on the first day they step into the business.

  8. Understand exactly who your alumni army are – while you might think that it’s just former employees who fit the bill, we encourage you to think bigger. Your network can also include freelancers, retirees, seasonal workers, and general contingent workforce. It’s the people who, at some point, have worked for the business. Doing this means you can better evaluate the talent at your disposal.

  9. Show your network what they’re worth – lead the corporate alumni relationship with WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) Make it clear about what you have to offer and why the person should sign up for the program. A vague mention of the odd coffee catch-up or event invite isn’t going to crack it. Lead with the value proposition that makes your program so attractive.

  10. Provide an outstanding digital experience for program participants – technology follows us in our everyday lives. Alumni expect to receive a seamless experience and digital content that suits their personal context. If you’re not delivering the goods, then you’re not driving engaging interactions.

Setting Your Program Up For Success

Once you’ve got your budget and are seeing sign-ups for the program, maintain momentum with this next set of alumni best practices.

Set Clear Benchmarks For Success

When it comes to benchmarking alumni programs, there are two types to bear in mind – 

  1. Operational benchmarks – input VS output, the number of alumni who have signed up, how much budget do you have, how many events do you host, and how many volunteers do you require. 

  2. Engagement benchmarks – how do your alumni feel about your business, and how are they engaging with your program. 

The benefits of benchmarking include: 

  • Measurability. Knowing where you start from allows you to measure how far you’ve come at regular intervals.

  • Balanced viewpoints. Drawing on data from various sources allows you to circumvent situations in which a board of directors who all share the same experiences may need persuasion to take action.

  • Effective deployment of resources. Thinking strategically and working according to clear KPIs makes it far simpler to put your resources to good use.

  • Data-based decision-making. Having certain hard and fast data points at your disposal makes it easier to make sound decisions concerning your alumni program development and expansion. 

  • Respond to feedback. Regular data gathering will point out when alumni aren’t getting what they need from a given aspect of the program and allow you to rectify this timeously. 

  • Meaningful connections. By allowing your alumni to provide feedback on their experiences and needs, the program can be tailored to provide personalized connection opportunities (e.g. ongoing learning, mentoring, volunteering, etc.).

  • Improved performance. When you track a program’s performance at the hand of certain predetermined goal posts you can tell what’s working and what’s not so the necessary recalibrations can be made to improve the program over time.

Maintain Engagement

No matter how you choose to measure it, ongoing engagement is the key to a vibrant, ROI-yielding alumni relations program. Every company (and every employee!) is different, so it’s crucial to use your program platform to tailor the alumni offering for each participant. 

For instance, some ex-employees may be more interested in events and connecting with other attendees in person, while others may prefer to keep things digital through email and e-newsletters. In short, alumni engagement levels are far more likely to be positive when there is the option of choosing how and when to connect.

Communicate Effectively

Knowing when, where and what to communicate with your alumni is very important. As such, another alumni best practice is to gather data from your network to see what they want and need from the program. 

Do they hope to stay in touch with contacts that may further their careers? Do they want to leverage an established CSI network so they can give back to their communities in a constructive way? It’s important to know these things because it allows your alumni management team to strategize effectively.

It’s also vital to find ways of communication that don’t cause friction that may lead to an unwanted program bounce rate. Knowing which communication channels are the go-to options for ex-employees and how best to leverage this alongside your in-house alumni platform can set you up for success. This way you’re meeting your audience where they are, instead of inviting them someplace they may not want to go. 

Tailoring Alumni Programs That Make Business Sense

Using these business alumni best practices as signposts when you build a program will make all the difference for its effectiveness in the long run. The key is to understand the inherent value of such an undertaking from the outset and to build on this knowledge to ensure that it yields the desired ROI.  

Read on for more advice on how to manage an alumni network

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