Alumni professionals, alumni volunteers and freelancers (alumni who increasingly plan their own class and group reunions without requesting support from the institution), here’s the big question facing Alumni Associations today: does social networking online help, hurt, or not affect your interest in returning to your alma mater?
Andy Shaindlin, the most important thought leader and thought-provoker in the profession today, offers up this:
From where I sit, I believe Facebook in particular has given us our best shot in years at actually growing reunion participation. From class leaders creating Facebook pages to promote reunion and reconnect folks, to independent alumni building their own reunions (freelance volunteer), this online tool has certainly improved vastly the ties alumni have to their college experiences.
My theory is that more people will attend reunions, but more importantly, and here is where we alumni staffers need to pay attention: alumni will increasingly fall into the freelance volunteer category. I use this term to describe alumni who, for a variety of very good reasons, believe they can represent the institution and draw more people to college/class reunion/alumni events if the institution just leaves them to their own devices. They have the local resources to pull events off, use Facebook to connect their friends to the event, and they importantly, are working with affection for the institution, not antagonism.
These events have grown at Lynchburg College — in New York City, Georgetown/Washington, and elsewhere — and seem to meet a critical need for these folks to get together with their tightest circles of buddies, on their terms, without fear that they will have to spend lots of time gripping and grinning with officials and party crashers.
Ultimately there is only one right way to “commit” affinity programming properly: the way that makes the most people the most connected to their alma mater, and committed to being more engaged through event attendance, volunteering, and giving. And the folks on campus need to be prepared to serve these alumni where they are.
If these phenomena — from Facebook to freelancers — serve as a gateway to a greater level of engagement for a segment of our population, we should support them fully, because they are helping us succeed. And right now, that is what I see happening. It will be interesting to watch it develop, and see whether we will ever be able to tie these tools to increases in those metric areas I mentioned above.
What do you think? As you respond, describe your relationship to alma mater (staffer, committee volunteer, or freelance volunteer)