volunteer leadership, initiatives & other programs

Alumni Associations & Local Group Leaders: Bridging the Gap

Alumni Group Leaders like Jason Gerdom have a vision of the future of Alumni networks. He’s raised his hand to help guide his university towards that vision; first as a leader of the Boston Chapter of the Indiana University Alumni Association, and now as a member of the IUAA Executive Council.

Many schools have some version of Indiana’s Executive Council--a collection of passionate Alumni volunteers which acts as an advisory board to the leaders of their respective Alumni Association. Another big responsibility of the Executive Council is to deliver to the Alumni Association the needs and wants of the local chapters dispersed across the US (and sometimes internationally!).

Jason’s knowledge and enthusiasm for strengthening both his Chapter’s network, along with Alumni networks in general, is second to none and why I wanted to speak with him about “bridging the gap” between the Alumni Association and the passionate alumni they serve.

We had scheduled 45 minutes to chat, but an hour and 15 minutes later we were still discussing the current challenges and those which lie ahead.

I’ve collected some of the best topics and insights from our discussion, including a number of best practices and ways your Alumni Association can give your local leaders the tools they need.

What current resources are most useful when it comes to managing and leading your local chapter (IUAA Boston)?

We have an outstanding communities team. Our chapter liaison Mallory Evans is AMAZING and has helped us accomplish things we have struggled with in the past. She supports us in every way she can, whether that is connecting us to the right resources at the IUAA or suggesting best practices for our events. She’s always a huge help.

Another great resource the IUAA is currently rolling out is its Service Model, which is essentially a collection of all the services the IUAA provides to its alumni communities. Think of it as a library of “How-To’s” for everything from training a new board member to creating an online registration page.

With a Service Model in place, all of the resources available to IUAA Alumni Chapters are in one location, so there’s no guessing or struggling to find information.

One aspect of the IUAA’s new Service Model is training. Jason and other Group Leaders have historically received training and support from the IUAA at an annual conference in Bloomington, but now liaisons from the Alumni Association are starting to offer in-person training in areas where a few regional chapters are in close proximity. In addition to being highly effective, in-person training is also a great way to build the relationship between your Alumni Association and their most passionate alumni--Local Group Leaders! A sponsored meal and some special swag is a great way to acknowledge the work these volunteer leaders do to keep your alumni network strong.

What are some of the challenges with reaching your alumni?

The way in which alumni receive information about their chapters or events in their area has drastically changed in the last 10 years.

As Jason put it, With every passing year, it’s getting harder and harder to communicate with the systems we used to use. We have to ask ourselves: How do we stay relevant as the mediums of communication change so quickly?

For example, we’ve seen a shift in the last couple years to where more than 50 percent of our email interactions take place on mobile devices.

So, if we don’t keep up, we’re going to be in trouble in the next five to ten years. Five years from now, how are we going to be communicating with the people who are graduating then? Email is already in trouble now as far as reaching people. We have definitely seen a shift from email to Facebook for our younger alumni, but I’m already starting to hear that Facebook isn’t the best way to reach our newest alumni.

I couldn’t agree more with this. Our inboxes are overflowing and show no sign of slowing down, so finding new and innovative ways to communicate with your alumni is an impressive hurdle to overcome.

Another necessity is SIMPLICITY. Jason and I spoke at length about how technology is speeding ahead, such as using services like Apple Pay with a touch of our fingerprint. Jason offered a great link between the previous conversation about email and payment methods used today:

As an alumni leader, I need help lowering barriers to engagement, such as collecting payments for events. It would be great if alumni could pay instantly with a fingerprint or swipe of a credit card at an event instead of logging in to a website and filling out a payment form.

Jason tied this thought together with a great line:

"Let technology move the transactions out of the way, and let communication and connections between people be the focus."

What’s on your Wish List for your Alumni Association to deliver to make your life easier as a group leader?

For this question we started with ways to make it easier for alumni to get together on their own, without a ton of resources being needed to connect them:

This one might be a stretch but what about the ability for alumni other than group leaders to coordinate an “event.” Let’s say there’s a couple people who are going to get together and would like to include other alumni. It would be great if they could easily post their “event,” at say, a local restaurant or park or whatever, and other alumni in the area would be alerted. They could RSVP and get together pretty easily.

I happen to love this suggestion because if you’ve ever been to a Game Watch you know there’s something special about reliving that nostalgia around your alma mater’s sports teams with people who share a connection with you.

Ok, so that was the longshot, pie in the sky wish list item, but what are some things that could help you as an Alumni Group Leader TODAY?

From my perspective as an alumni leader, I think two things are critical for Alumni Groups to succeed: the right tools and the right support. We already have outstanding support from our Alumni Association, and the new Service Model is going to make working together even easier.

What chapter leaders need today with respect to tools is actually foresight. We have tools which are getting the job done now, but we need to keep pushing forward as an association to make things easier for our current alumni and not end up out of touch with our future alumni. If we aren’t looking ahead now, we’re going to be in trouble in the next five to 10 years.

Fortunately for us, the IUAA has recognized this and is working on a few projects which should make it easier for alumni to connect and be part of a community. Personally, I’m very excited about what’s ahead and how I might be able to contribute.

These were just a handful of the topics we covered in our awesome conversation, and I hope they helped to “bridge the gap” between Alumni Associations and passionate Alumni Group Leaders.

Thanks again, Jason for your time and helping shed some light on what’s needed to strengthen alumni networks today, and in the years to come!