Designing and Evaluating Corporate Alumni Programs for Success

by Alumni Content in Alumni Leaders Podcast, Video   |    Last Edited: 30th March 2022

Thank you to our guest speakers: Dr Erin Makarius, Associate Professor of Human Resources, University of Akron, Ohio; Dr Alison Dachner, Associate Professor of Management, John Carroll University, Ohio; and Philip Sanford, VP of Customer Success at EnterpriseAlumni.


Five Things We Learned About Why Alumni Are Great For Corporate Success

Alumni programs are still new to many …

“So many people still say that they’ve never heard of corporate alumni programs …”

Dr Erin Makarius

The employee lifecycle is changing …

“10/15 years ago, people would often stay in jobs for life. Now people to change jobs every five years, so it’s great if they have an alumni network waiting for them …”

Philip Sanford

Covid has increased the need for alumni programs …

“Covid saw a sharp increase in involuntary turnover. Now we’re seeing a high number of resignations as people are rethinking their work situation …”

Dr Erin Makarius

Alumni helps everybody feel connected …

“People have an innate sense of wanting to belong. We’re social by nature, so it’s the sense of belonging to something that will keep people engaged …”

Dr Alison Dachner

You’re a success if your CEO is happy!

“Come the next cocktail party, if your CEO is shaking hands with 50 alumni, you know you’re successful!”

Philip Sanford


Q&A

What led to your interest in corporate alumni programs?

Alison: Erin and I met studying for our PhDs at Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. After graduating, we didn’t even know there was such a thing as corporate alumni programs, so we saw it as a huge opportunity to maintain connections and integrate our research in management employee flow.

Erin: We started as an informal Facebook alumni group to organize an annual conference and dinner with our fellow studying for PhDs students. That was 12 years ago, but so many people still say that they’ve never even heard of corporate alumni programs.

Why should companies care about alumni programs?

Erin: Talent acquisition, boomerangs, referrals, networks, relationships and spreading the good word about a company. Maintaining that connection with former employees helps build brand reputation. You can introduce new products to alumni and get their opinion before setting out to the market.

Alison: It really requires a shifting mindset that people are going to leave. Turnovers are either functional or dysfunctional, and at the point of exit, will vary depending on the life cycles of particular employees. For some, leaving a company might seem devastating, but others might already be far more positive. So mobility needs to be managed in and out.

Philip: Employees are the groundswell for getting the word out. Every employee knows ten alumni. The employee lifecycle is very different to what we saw 10/15 years ago. Now it’s common for people to change jobs every five years, so it’s great if they have an alumni network waiting for them.

How has Covid impacted the need for alumni programs?

Erin: Covid demonstrated that you can’t control employee mobility. The beginning of Covid saw a lot of involuntary turnover, where people were being laid off or furloughed. Now, we are seeing a high number of resignations as people are rethinking their work situation. So Covid has really impacted the need for alumni programs.

If a company wants to implement an alumni program, where should they start?

Erin: You need to consider what you can provide. Start small and pick something that sounds like it will be valuable for your alumni. Use data from your employees’ exit interviews to see how your employees want to stay connected.

Alison: You don’t need to customize the alumni program for every individual. It’s knowing things that would be valuable to a collective audience as a whole. People have an innate sense of wanting to belong. We’re social by nature, so even introverts need feel connected. So it’s the sense of belonging to something that’s going to keep people engaged.

How do you know if your program is successful?

Alison: By measuring the reactions of the alumni. Are they satisfied with the programs and feeling good about what’s being offered? Are they participating in things that are being sent to them? Are they offering guidance and filling out surveys? Have there been boomerangs and employee referrals? Are our former employees rating us higher now?

Philip: And is your CEO happy? Come the next cocktail party, if your CEO is shaking hands with 50 alumni who they know personally, at least by name, you know you’re successful.

What are the challenges of offering learning and development resources?

Erin: Some of the companies we talked to said they offered training they knew they themselves needed as an organization, in hope that those people would return as boomerangs. So it seems like there are more benefits than risks.

How can corporate alumni communities be beneficial in higher education?

Alison: It’s hard to tell someone in higher education not to focus on the money! My undergraduate experience was the best time of my life, but money will obviously be more important for a professional who comes back to get a degree part time while they are still working. So it all comes back to knowing your audience.

Erin: Higher educations alumni programs that just focus on money are not going to make a lot of undergraduates want to engage. So it’s all about thinking what would be valuable to alumni in higher education.

Presenters:

Alison Dachner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Management at John Carroll University

Erin Makarius, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Management at The University of Akron
 
Philip Sanford, VP of Customer Success at EnterpriseAlumni
 

Emma Sinclair MBE, CEO at EnterpriseAlumni