To Prove, or Improve

Is it possible to prove the value of alumni relations? This is a fundamental question for advancement professionals.

By Andy Shaindlin

There’s a strange dynamic in almost every conversation about “the value of alumni relations.” This week marks my 27th year in the alumni profession, so I’ve been privy to thousands of these discussions over the decades.

Almost every one of these conversations begins with the assumption that:

 • alumni engagement at institution X certainly has enough value to warrant further investment, and
• the alumni team’s role is to prove that value to their colleagues.

It’s risky to assume that alumni love the program, that your job is to prove it, and that you will inevitably prove your value if only you sift through the data for long enough.

We should recognize that in the eyes of their audiences, not every alumni team delivers real value to its respective organizations and communities. For underperforming teams, perhaps the focus should shift from “proving our value” to improving our effectiveness.

This matters, because the opportunity cost of tracking, recording, reporting, and analyzing data can be relatively high, especially in small shops. You must also improve outreach, enhance your engagement targeting, and customize your communications and interaction.

You need a balance. Yet, some teams don’t update or improve outdated offerings; instead, they use the increased availability of data to select measurements that will influence leadership to provide continued or additional resources.

In a recent post on LinkedIn addressing this very issue, Graduway co-founder and CEO Daniel Cohen poses a question to alumni relations practitioners: What will you say when, going around the leadership table, it’s your turn to “make the case” for investment in alumni engagement?

“If you have no data,” he writes, “it is very difficult to justify your value.”

He is correct: Having no data is a big problem. But if you have the data, and the data says you’re failing, you have a bigger problem.

Establishing a benchmark for your effectiveness is not only for proving how good you are. It’s for improving how good you are, too.

Earlier versions of this post appeared on LinkedIn Pulse and alumnifutures.com.

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