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.
IF YOU COULD START FROM SCRATCH, WOULD YOU?
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.