3 Next-Level Attributes for High Performing Alumni Relations Teams
How do we adjust to an increasingly globalized business landscape? How do we incorporate data in every function of our operations? How do we train our team to adapt to an unknown future? If you listen to these questions, you may think of a financial firm or consulting group. In reality, these are the questions alumni relations professionals and many others in colleges and universities around the world are asking themselves.
A common refrain on this blog is “the educational landscape is changing.” But we don’t just need to adapt the student experience to meet emerging needs; we must adapt our alumni relations programming to continue providing value for our graduates for the rest of their lives. (If this sounds like a daunting task, that’s because it is.)
A simple Google search of “the future of alumni relations” yields more than 9,000,000 results. Organizations such as Inside Higher Ed, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and countless alumni relations practitioners around the country are trying to find best practices to steward this idyllic future, one where we embrace and utilize data, provide excellent services across the world, and provide professional development to keep our team happy.
Pulling from my six years working in alumni relations, I know many of the struggles these practitioners face. And I know well the allure of pursuing every single best practice: “engage students before they become alumni,” “instill a culture of giving as soon as they set foot on campus,” “get alumni in front of the people they want to help: students.” But as with anything, attempting to tackle every single best practice at once is a losing battle.
For my master’s capstone, I studied organizational culture and employee engagement in nonprofit organizations. Much of this work was influenced by my time in higher education, and the main thread I see between all of these best practices relates directly to my thesis. How do we begin implementing these best practices to truly engage alumni of our institution?
I believe the answer is stewarding the culture of your team. These are three attributes you should seek to foster in your team to embrace the uncertainty of the future of higher education:
- Passion for the cause – In order to be a successful employee in higher education, I believe you truly have to have a passion for the educational journey of a student. In many cases, this is thankless work. Your reward for a job well done is more work; a huge success may be praised in a staff meeting but is quickly forgotten by the next win. This is too-often the way of the modern workplace. But if your employees are passionate about their work and have an alignment around the common goal of helping alumni, their work will be rewarding. A rewarded employee seeks out best practices, tries to adapt, strives to do the best (both for their coworkers and for their end goal), and takes great pride in a job well-done.
- Embrace uncertainty – This one is difficult, both for individuals and for teams. Frequently, I have seen initial excitement over a project or new initiative that quickly fades after a month when it has not immediately become revenue-generating. Implementing best practices and innovating existing modes of getting things done requires an individual to embrace uncertainty. It is scary to attach your name to a project that could inevitably fail. But if the individuals on your team do not embrace that uncertainty, they will breed that fear and uncertainty in others – and stall progress for your entire team.
- Capacity for self-reflection – Okay, I’m cheating…a bit. I am using this heading broadly: the ideal self-reflective person knows the skills and attributes they bring to a team. They are comfortable taking constructive feedback and asking tough questions (of themselves and others). They have the confidence in their own abilities to work autonomously. They are able to prioritize and focus their efforts on the emerging goals. Why does this matter? Reflective employees make the gears of the team turn. When they leave their ego at the door, they are inviting a happier, more responsive, and more communicative workplace – all necessary components for a team to bring next-level change to your alumni organization.
How do you get there? An obvious strategy is to hire for these attributes – creating a culture starts at the very beginning. Many successful companies abide by the mantra “Hire for culture, train for skill.” But if your team is already in place, this change process can flat-out suck. In my next post, I will explore change management for your team and how to steward these skills in your employees.
Latest posts by Lexie Banks (see all)
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