There’s little that can be done at your institution without strong, mutually supportive relationships. Look to any productive academic department, research lab, or administrative office and you’ll find them. Fulfilling your institution’s strategic plan and realizing your institution’s missions depends on open lines of communication.
However, concerns and hesitations can arise when it comes to sharing alumni relationships with other departments, which they need to deliver their strategic goals. This is especially true for development departments who need to engage and build strong, long-term relationships with alumni.
It’s time for a change.
Building cooperation for your fundraising campaigns by sharing alumni relationships across campus should be treated with as much importance as any other fundraising initiative on campus.
Because it’s about much more than the money. It’s about how much your institution has to gain from the wealth of other resources your alumni have to offer in their talents, networks, skills, and ideas.
Leverage those assets by spreading the relationship and your institution can thrive like never before.
Sharing hard-won alumni relationships across campus is tough — but worth the effort.
Whether or not the imperative is known (and brushed aside) or it’s a new concept to all, establishing a culture of passing along deep-seated relationships with alumni to others on campus is a feat.
The struggle is real for a few reasons:
- The practice of sharing contacts is not included in the overall fundraising and development strategy.
- There’s a widespread lack of awareness on campus about the initiative to share these relationships.
- Everyone has a million and two things to do that are ostensibly more important in their workday.
- Relationships are precious, especially those that have taken years to cement.
These challenges can vary in degrees from institution to institution, but no matter how high the walls may seem, the advantages to breaking them down are undeniable.
Consider this: Alumni are more than a source for donations; they are invaluable resources that support and uphold your institution.
From board appointments to speaking engagements, institution advocates to liaisons for student groups, your alumni contribute more than just their annual financial gifts. Indeed, they’re capable of contributing their entire selves to the furthering of your — their — institution.
Once you realize the goal of sharing contacts is not to poach a relationship for money, but rather to further draw out that person’s contributions of time, talent, networks, and enthusiasm, the dreaded task becomes a big opportunity.
Equally important to eliciting the more intangible gifts of your former students is the imperative to strengthen relationships across campus. Because the more relationships that are galvanized, the more your alumni can provide their networks to support everyone across campus in various ways.
This new way of empowering and prolonging relationships is the biggest impetus for change you can’t afford not to try.
The goal of sharing alumni contacts is not to poach relationships for money.
One annual fund professional interviewed for this blog stated:
“When I reach out to colleagues, I emphasize that I am looking to be a productive partner in their alumni engagement. It’s never about overtaking or undermining established relationships, which I understand took time and care to build. My team simply wants to know about and champion the campus stories and the unsung heroes behind these relationships to help make everyone shine.”
He added that while development teams are tasked with raising money, an ask usually does not come right away, if ever. “We only solicit support, be it financial or otherwise, when appropriate, and we keep the lines of communication open with the department or school that looped us in.” In the meantime, fundraising professionals strengthen and widen contacts in all kinds of ways that are guided by campus-wide priorities.
5 ways to make sharing and building alumni relationships a reality on your higher ed. campus.
Like embarking on a new adventure, taking on a challenge of such scale and importance is exciting, albeit daunting. Where do you start?
Because no two institutions are exactly alike in their challenges and opportunities, the same solution may not be effective across the board. Realize your campus may require some trial and error before getting this initiative up and sprinting.
That said, here are a few strategies to try
- Institute a strategy and process.
To go far, this endeavour needs to be made official in your institution’s strategic plan. Involve the appropriate stakeholders to ensure this new process of sharing contacts is included as a must-do in your institution’s game plan for advancing development and fundraising specifically. Then, create a process for doing so that is sustainable across campus and spread the word.
- Task the president to gain support and build awareness.
Influence comes from the top. In your president’s next town hall meeting, have them talk about the push to share contacts and why it is valuable to do so. Make sure they understand the advantages to this mutually beneficial practice so they are ready to advocate for it — be it in their next address to faculty and staff or in any internal communications.
- Create seminars for different audiences to learn more. There will be two types of people to address when it comes to introducing this approach: Those that already struggle to build relationships, i.e. those in fundraising and development positions, and those with the relationships to share.
Seminars that cater to each group can spread desperately-needed strategies on gaining new contacts and building those relationships. Or, they can also teach those with the contact why they shouldn’t play their relationships so close to the vest and feel more comfortable in opening up.
Encouraging dialogues, inspiring new approaches, and spurring new relationships between the two groups should be the goal.
- Reach out beyond your institution.
Whatever struggles are hindering your institution from adopting this new method, know that you aren’t alone. Collaborating with like-minded institutions can open avenues to sharing best practices and tips that your institution may not have gained otherwise. It’s okay to lean on those (yes, who are your competition) for help. You’re not competing for each other’s alumni, are you?
- Make it a priority.
Everyone has a job to do that seems to be bigger than what they have the capacity for. But if everyone keeps treating this approach to relationship building as something to tackle when they find the time, it will never work. Instead, it needs to be made a priority across campus, without exception. This strategy should be seen as part of the work everyone is already expected to do.
Sharing contacts is mutually beneficial for everyone at your higher ed. institution.
Gaining support for your institution is hard enough as it is. Everyone is competing for resources that seem more and more scarce. Except for relationships.
Relationships aren’t finite. They are multiplied, deepened, and enhanced if only they’re given the opportunity to do so.
Having an attitude of helping each other, sharing resources, and supporting one another is the only way to allow relationships — a vital resource — to flourish across your campus.
By working together, everyone can extend the talents, networks, skills, and ideas your alumni already possess by connecting them with the right people to make it happen.
In sharing alumni contacts with others who would benefit, you expand your effectiveness in development — and your institution extends its reach. How else can you expect to thrive?