How Willamette University Engages Young Alumni

Devin Bales of Willamette University

Sometimes, alumni engagement is more art than science.

That art requires a deep understanding of and affinity for your alumni community. So who better to engage that community than alumni themselves?

Willamette University in Salem, Oregon has taken that point to heart. Willamette succeeds in engaging its young alumni by leveraging the generosity of its broader alumni network.

We asked Devin Bales, Willamette's alumni and parent relations associate, and a Willamette alumnus himself, to shed some light on Willamette's most successful strategies.

Could you describe Willamette's young alumni engagement strategy?

We want to let young alumni know that we, the alumni office and the alumni association, have their back.

We strive to keep them engaged in the capacity that works best for them, so we create opportunities that offer them value. We put on career building lectures, formal and casual networking opportunities and virtual tools for connecting with older alumni and job opportunities.

What tools does Willamette use to engage young alumni?

We use alumni volunteers, social media, Talent Marks webinar services, and Switchboard. 

Volunteer callers get in touch with every new grad a few months after they graduate to welcome them to the alumni association and to connect them with other alumni in fields they are interested in.

Switchboard is the ultimate engagement tool because it empowers young alumni to reach out and market themselves, presents them with career opportunities shared by members of the community, and lets more seasoned alumni offer the guidance that young alumni need.

How does your perspective as a young alumnus help you in your work?

As a young alumnus, I understand the emotional roller coaster recent graduates go through when thinking about their alma mater. "I loved my experience! But I owe so much money." "I need a job, maybe my school can help me get a job?" "Who would I talk to? And how?" It is really a time in life when you are redefining your identity, and there is a lot going on.

Knowing this helps me create effective strategies for getting young alumni to listen and take advantage of what we offer. Whether they have advice coming from multiple sources or are completely lost, by offering platforms where they can casually interact with alumni, virtually or in person, we can put them in control of building their network and eliminate the intimidation factor of reaching out to a random "successful professional."

If you could impart one piece of wisdom to someone devising a new young alumni engagement strategy, what would it be?

Make engagement easy for new graduates, and offer opportunities that have value to them now.  Make connecting with successful alumni low pressure and present opportunities to give back that aren't monetary. Keeping young alumni engaged is more efficient and effective than trying to re-engage them later in life.