During her 41-year tenure, my predecessor at Longwood University both built and dismantled a regional alumni engagement program involving as many as 30 chapters. Human resources were scarce. Regional chapters relied on local volunteers to keep them moving forward. At times she was a team of one. Sometimes she was a team of two. The administrative burden of managing a large group of volunteers and a robust on-campus events program proved to be too much.

Since arriving at Longwood in July of 2015, big things have happened. The staff has doubled in size and alumni relations has merged with career services. In September, Longwood opened the Maugans Alumni Center. Later that month, Longwood was awarded the 2016 Vice-Presidential Debate.

With this forward momentum on the campus of Longwood University, I hear more from alumni around the country requesting local events. With no regional program in place, I find myself with the opportunity to start from scratch. The program structure should have an emphasis on building regional networks and clear roles for volunteers.


A lasting regional events program requires strategic planning and a commitment to  volunteer role development.  Volunteer management should go beyond the initial recruitment and training of volunteers. For a program to flourish, succession planning, communication strategy, goal setting, and volunteer role development must be ongoing. If volunteers don’t feel engaged, they won’t produce events.

Volunteer management is resource intensive.

My previous employer, the University of Virginia, has an amazing regional engagement program called UVaClubs. The program is supported by six, sometimes seven, full time employees and 1,000 volunteers that produces approximately 33,000 unique registrations to 1,300 events each year around the globe. It’s truly remarkable. Volunteer-driven regional engagement programs can result in a large volume of events, if alumni volunteers are self-motivated and possess a bit of entrepreneurial spirit. They still rely, however, on alumni relations staff to manage operational logistics like emails, registrations, name tags, etc.

University-driven regional programming provides stability.

I recently served as the Co-President of the “Charlottesville Spiders,” a regional alumni group for my alma mater, the University of Richmond. While I made some programming suggestions, the heavy lifting was done by the team in the alumni office. They booked event spaces, made catering selections. I helped publicize the events on social media, but all I had to do was show up. In my time at U.Va., most of the event logistics were handled by volunteers. A university-driven model has slower growth potential because more administrative time is needed to manage the entirety of the event planning process.

I am looking forward to finding the right balance for Longwood and the alumni who support the university. With a mission to engage as many alumni as possible, I know we will have to incorporate both in-person and online events. With new programming needs ahead, there is no clearer choice but to innovate in this space.



Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.

  • Michael D. Sgro

    I agree with your analysis of the models. I think it is definitely university driven by establishing a regional plan and then recruiting volunteers for those opportunities. Alumni now tend not to (by an large) want to be long term chapter leaders for all events but will help with at least one. I think fewer activities in each region and more involvement is the key. Involvement looks like providing internships, jobs, admissions help, providing advice to students online and on campus. Then also encourage chapter/regional engaged alumni to come back to campus for your homecoming/reunion weekend. Lastly, one off alumni, in areas that do not have many graduates should have a guide to host their own activity or partner with existing community activities with invite to those few fellow alumni.

  • Ryan Catherwood

    Hi Michael, thanks for the great thoughts. I like the idea of recruiting alumni volunteers to be one-off event hosts and not have any longer commitment than that, and do it both in defined networks as well as stand alone. I love the idea of providing involvement opportunities that do not necessarily require showing up at a time and place. It’s critical to think about digital engagement, and I agree that “advice” as a paradigm needs to be at the core.

  • Lauren Alviti

    Love this article as I have been in the alumni clubs world for 8 years myself. I think you hit the key points to consider when thinking about developing a new regional engagement program. I especially agree with this statement: “For a program to flourish, succession planning, communication strategy, goal setting, and volunteer role development must be ongoing.”

    I’m a big proponent for “volunteer-driven regional engagement programs” where the alumni staff gives guidance to the alumni volunteer efforts and provides a framework for the clubs. Once you are looking to implement, I think some key components to successfully guiding volunteers and keeping them motivated is developing the following:

    Develop a club leader “toolkit” that includes school policies as well as general club guidance and best practices. This could include the following: event management framework, event ideas, a sample yearly calendar of programming, board structure with key volunteer positions and job descriptions, sample bylaws, succession planning, volunteer recruitment ideas, board meeting agenda templates, etc. You could also build out scenarios based on club geography and alumni population size. This could be overwhelming to new volunteers at first, but once club leaders understand the framework, it will enable them in the long run.

    Second, an online club management platform is key to enabling the club leaders to manage their own events, membership, content, communications, alumni data, etc. Having the alumni relations staff on hand to troubleshoot any issues with the platform and guide new volunteers through the training process is worth the effort in the long run so the staff can focus on bigger picture items, like club advising, adding new clubs, and training new volunteers, and not get bogged down in the event management details.

    Then have regular communication and touch points to monitor the success of the clubs. My team is broken out regionally, with each alumni relations staff assigned to advise a regional portfolio of clubs. This also helps for AR staff to have a handle on regional trends and issues to help share best practices across the region.

    You’re in a very exciting place to build a program like this from scratch. Best of luck!

    • Ryan Catherwood

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and for the thoughtful comment! Great feedback!