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Engaging Your Alumni to Build Their Own Online Chapter/Club Communities


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The growth of Web 2.0 technologies has placed an emphasis on giving users the ability to create their own experiences online. Institutions like University of Virginia and University of Chicago are …

The growth of Web 2.0 technologies has placed an emphasis on giving users the ability to create their own experiences online. Institutions like University of Virginia and University of Chicago are using technology to create very large, engaged communities by giving simple tools to alumni chapter/club members. These institutions provide powerful grassroots applications that allow alumni to reach directly out to other alumni in their community through the web and email. This session will evaluation how these institutions are benefiting both from a more engaged alumni chapter leadership and from a larger alumni base reached through these new online channels.

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  • Since the inception of the Internet, Universities have progressed in the use of online tools made available to them to communicate and engage with their alumni. As Internet technologies has evolved, so have the expectations of alumni. As such, the technologies used by institutions have had to evolve to meet the changing expectations of these alumni. Any alumni affairs office needs to understand that today’s alumni are graduating with expectations set by the websites and technologies that they are currently interacting with. Institutions first launched online directories starting the late 90’s. These directories were best defined as one-way communication, where the institution was delivering simple content or information directly to their alumni. As Internet technologies advanced, institutions began to develop more sophisticated onling alumni centers. These sites allowed alumni to begin to generate their own content, such as class notes, while managing their own profiles. In the early 2000’s, some alumni affairs offices began to uses these sites to drive advancement objectives by allowing online donations. Today, alumni expect to be interact with one another and build or extend their social networks created during the stay at the university. This progression of technology has happened in the span of about 10 years, and we should all plan the evolution of alumni expectations to continue.
  • Starting in the mid 1990’s, many universities began simply by publishing their popular offline directories online. Just like with many “brick-and-mortar” institutions at the time who were launching websites, these universities were limited by the available online technologies. These first online directories were “Web 1.0” technology, featuring one-way communications from the institution to the alum. Even though in today’s terms, these websites seem simplistic, they were mandatory at the time – as young alum’s expectations were changing. “Paper” directories seemed so outdated and sending these to these newer alumni risked disengaging them. Many of these first sites were further driven by cost-savings as well, when institutions looked to save money on printing directories. Even though e-commerce was being innovated through sites like Amazon and eBay, many higher education institutions did not invest in technologies to support online fundraising until later. As such, most decisions for these technologies were limited to the Alumni Affairs offices with limited involvement by Advancement Services. Lastly, these sites were limited to institution-only content, meaning that they were not designed to collect much data or present interactive content submitted from alumni. An alum might be able to change his or her address or update her name when she got married, but not much more.
  • Starting in the early 2000s, online technologies began to advance in sophistication. Consequently, as alumni began to spend more time online travel sites, news sites and stores, their expectations became similarly more sophisticated. Many universities began to invest in more advanced technologies to meet those needs. As such, a alumni began having access to more robust online alumni centers. In addition to an online directory, alumni began to update their information, add class notes, and engaging with their school in more sophisticated ways. This stage in the evolution is where we start to see alumni communicating back to the institution and communicating a little to each other. With the increase in sophistication, many alumni affairs offices began to seen their level of investment also increase. Many institutions began to demand more return on investment, which required more measured results. The most popular method of measurement was (and continues to be) the percentage of collected email addresses. However, some alumni affairs offices began to coordinate with Advancement offices and started to offer simple online fundraising programs – perhaps extending a annual appeal. Lastly, as the technology improved, many of these websites became more “database-driven” which meant that not only could they display data (like an alum’s name and address), it could collect more data, like interest. This information would become much more important as technologies continued to evolve.
  • In the late 2000’s, Web 2.0 technologies exploded onto the scene, extending alumni expectations to another, higher level. While alumni began to interact more online, they were continually being drawn to more sophisticated websites, like MySpace and Facebook. These sites allowed your alumni to catch-up, share information, and interact with things that interest them most. These were many of the same goals and objectives of the original alumni centers that many institutions just got through building and launching. As one would expect, there are now many technologies available for institutions to design and launch to meet these expectations. But these technologies must be intelligently designed, with the right expectations and mix of features. A university need not try to battle with Facebook, but simply needs to understand its advantages over these other to be successful. Three areas of that have proven successful for institutions as of late are peer-to-peer fundraising, content personalization and club/chapter websites. All three technologies offer the ability for institutions to create very engaging web experiences for their alumni, that cannot be replicated elsewhere. The focus of this discussion will be on the development of alumni social networks through volunteer-driven club and chapter websites.
  • Just like any project, launching a successful chapter and club online community requires clear project definition, intelligent design, planned execution, and results evaluation. The first step involves defining the project. As you will see from our examples, each university set forth a clear project goal and built defining objectives around that project goal. Next, the university must work to design the right solution using the right technology. You need to ensure you have the proper staff and support to execute a success plan. Lastly, the project objectives must be continually measured and technologies need to be evaluated. Let’s look at each of these phases in more detail and provide relevant examples where applicable.
  • Defining the project starts by setting a clear project goal. A good example of a clear project goal would be to create an online solution so that chapter/club volunteers and other alumni could create online networks and interact with each other. With this goal in mind, you should define measurable objectives. We will review some sample objectives on the next slide, but in summary these objectives need to match your project goals and must be easily measured. Before you begin to design your solution, you should survey your alumni to understand their needs for such a solution. These surveys should help you understand how your alum want to interact with each other within these club and chapter networks. Surveying will also help you understand what kind of support and tools potential chapter/club volunteers will want from you.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Engaging Your Alumni to Build Their Own Online Chapter/Club Communities
      2010 CASE District VI ConferenceJanuary 11, 2010
      Mark Davis, Director Technical SolutionsBlackbaud
      Zach Wheat, Director of Interactive Media
      University of Virginia
    • 2. Session Summary and Key Take-Aways
    • 3. Session Agenda
    • 4. History of Alumni Online Engagement
    • 5. Alumni Online Engagement Evolution
    • 6. Early Technologies: Online Directories
    • 7. More Engagement: Alumni Centers
    • 8. Latest Advancement: Online Social Networks
    • 9. Building Successful Online Chapter/Club Communities
    • 10. Launching a Successful Chapter/Club Online Network
    • 11. Define The Right Project
    • 12. Sample Project Objectives
    • 13. Design The Right Online Solution
    • 14. Key Online Technology Features
    • 15. Execute and Provide Support
    • 16. Measure Results and Re-Evaluate
    • 17. Case Study:University of Chicago
    • 18. University of Chicago Alumni Center Project
      Launched May 29, 2009
    • 19. Alumni Engagement Options
    • 20. Different Club and Group Networks
    • 21. Connecting Alumni to Networks
    • 22. Alumni Network Engagement
    • 23. Data Maintenance and Integrity
    • 24. Case Study:University of Virginia
    • 25. University of Virginia Project Timeline
    • 26. Defining the Right Project
    • 27. Designing the Right Online Solution
    • 28. Execute and Provide Support
    • 29. Chapter/Club Online Tools
    • 30. Measuring and Reporting Results
    • 31. Technology Re-Evaluation and Investment
      New Fundraising Campaign Site:
    • 32. Lessons Learned
    • 33. Next Steps… Answering the Question:“Is an Engaged Alum More Likely to Give Money?”
    • 34. Mark DavisDirector, Technical
      Download Today’s Presentation at:
      Questions and Answers?