Managing Global Alumni Relations 

Gretchen Dobson, EdD
Academic Assembly

Gretchen Dobson, EdD is Vice President of International Alumni & Graduate Services and Managing Director, Australia at Academic Assembly.

Is your institution making the most of your international alumni network?

How do your efforts stack up to those of your peers? 

These are the questions we are asking this month through a new survey in the hopes of establishing a nationwide benchmark of best practice in international alumni relations management. For the last 15 years I’ve stressed the notion that successful and sustainable international alumni relations programs require four requisite areas of support: leadership, staff, resources and volunteers.

First, hopefully everyone reading this today can raise his or her hands to the questions, “Does institutional leadership ‘get’ what it means to ‘be global’? Specifically, do presidents, deans, directors and board chairs support global mission and vision statements with actionable and visible steps? Do they support regularly traveling to meet alumni abroad, stewarding international academic programs and global employability partnerships, and investing the time to understand and align the intentions of international donors?

Second, international alumni relations can’t only be alumni relations' agenda, yet it also can’t be everyone’s agenda. Ideally, a cross-functional team from admissions, advancement, international programs and career services offices should collectively own the agenda for grassroots alumni engagement outside of America. Develop annual plans that leverage regularly-scheduled travel abroad (e.g., fall recruitment in India includes an alumni engineering affinity group gathering in Delhi) and fill in the gaps when officers are home-based (e.g., alumni officers meet in Delhi with early accepted students in January while recruiters continue reading applications at home).

Third, this is not an industry that can be managed by the generosity of its alumni! Annual budgets should be forecasted and developed in concert with affiliated divisions. And, remember: It takes money to make money (and build relationships). Additionally, institutions around the world—and those within America—have long considered American-style alumni relations the “gold standard” of outreach and engagement and affinity-building practices. Yes, the industry is almost a hundred years older than some countries' programs, starting back in 1913 when University Secretaries met at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to discuss their interests in forming a professional body and providing their alumni with a lifelong connection.

But does longevity mean quality? Does having decades of data advance your institution’s internationalization strategy? Not necessarily, especially when today’s forces of globalization intersect with education (and vice versa), and more international and domestic students are graduating today into professional and personal environments that straddle two or more countries. Identifying who these alumni are and how to organize their networks becomes a management issue. In short, universities don’t know what they don’t know.

Finally, an international alumni relations program will stop as quick as it started if the approach is strictly based only on the internal vision. Invest in an international alumni volunteer management program and invite interested alumni to become chapter/regional leaders, advisors, and, eventually, your most valuable brand ambassadors. With leadership support, staff guidance, a budget to support their efforts, and social media channels to which they funnel and exchange ideas and information, this fourth resource—the global alumni network—will sense this is not a ‘one-off thing.’ Rather, their alma mater is investing in a long-term strategy and alumni see themselves as central to this effort.

So, it’s 2017 and we want to know:

Is your institution making the most of your international alumni network?

How do your efforts stack up to those of your peers? 

I believe this type of data will help take international alumni relations programs to the next level and make high-value changes to your current strategy.

Intead and Academic Assembly, Inc. invite you to participate in a research survey about international alumni management. Tell us about your successes and challenges before the survey closes on July 26th.