What’s Your Alumni Leaders’ Journey? (Part 2 of 2)

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Can customer journey mapping help your institution create a network of amazing regional leaders?

In fall 2017, as part of a follow-up to our 2017 Regional Engagement Assessment, I conducted one-on-one conversations with advancement and alumni relations professionals about how their institutions were engaging regional alumni, including challenges they were facing and insights they’d learned from their most successful regions.* One of the most common themes from those conversations was the issue of building sustainable and self-sufficient alumni leadership structures in regions.

*Research Consortium members have access to the full 2017 Regional Alumni Engagement Assessment Executive Summary. Membership is complimentary.

When asked to reflect on governance in regions, a majority of these professionals explained that often the success of even their best regional chapters and clubs falls on one or two especially dedicated and self-motivated individuals. Instead of one or two leaders, how about inspiring a network of outstanding alumni leaders in all of their major regions?

In today’s post, Part 2 in our series (read Part 1 here), we’ll discuss how to use customer journey mapping to engage “customers” in the final stage of the alumni leader’s journey, Stage Four: Life After Graduation/Alumni Years.* Specifically, we’ll share ideas for how to get alumni to leadership meetings and then discuss detailed tips for how to build a succession plan for a sustainable governance structure in regions.

ALUMinate’s Alumni Leader Stages:

1) Research and Matriculation (Awareness and Consideration)
2) Attendance (Purchase)
3) Graduation and Transition (Retention and Early Advocacy)
4) Life After Graduation/Alumni Years (Later Retention and Advocacy)
*Stage Four in the larger journey of an alumni leader is comprised of its own nuanced lifecycle stages, which we continue to research. Read more here.

To help illustrate how an alumni leader’s development is like a customer journey, I spoke with Charlene Huang Olson, an award-winning alumni leader in Chicago, about her leadership journey and lessons she’s learned through her work.

Charlene Huang Olson
Charlene Huang Olson

Okay, so alumni already in a city have reached out to and welcomed new graduates. Those new graduates are now attending events and showing some engagement. But how do you help them take the next step toward joining a network of leaders?

1) The Personalized, Meaningful Invitation

The first step is getting alumni to attend a leadership meeting by ensuring that the barriers to attending that meeting are as low as possible. As Charlene shared with me, “It is all about the ask. Nobody volunteers out of the blue. When someone local asks an alumni to do something, especially in person, that alumni is more likely to check it out.” Charlene got involved because someone she had a previous connection with invited her to the leadership meetings. She suggests that the inviter make the invitation personal and low-pressure. She adds, “At first, try not to make the alumni feel like they’re signing up for something arduous. When I was invited to the meetings, all I needed to do, at least initially, was show up.”

2) Build a Fool-Proof Succession Plan

a) Keep track of who shows up and follow up

When I asked her to map out her journey as an alumni leader, Charlene told me, “I was asked to attend leadership meetings intentionally, because someone saw traits in me that made me a good candidate for a certain role.” She explained that identifying potential leaders doesn’t have to be regimented and formal. Just keep a keen eye out! For example, if her club has an event in Chicago, her current city, the leadership members try to attend and talk to people they don’t know.

For Charlene, this is part of what it means to be an alumni leader (reaching out, leading by example, asking people to do something for a larger cause, and supporting them in the process). After chatting with someone, if the current leader gets a sense that the alumni could be an active volunteer or leader in the club or chapter, then the leader remembers the alumni’s name and personally reaches out to them later. As Charlene points out, these actions contribute to building a strategy and being intentional.

b) Give yourself (and them) options

Charlene explained, “Institutions want to think way ahead of time in a succession plan, and have a variety of people whom they could prepare for different leadership roles, because some of them may not be able to do it or may not be the right fit. Strong options are important. Once people are invited to be part of leadership group, some of them will start to rise to the top. Current leaders realize this because they keep track of who is showing up for what.”

In addition, much like the low-pressure invite to attend the leadership meeting, it might be helpful not to make the barrier for entry too high for taking on a leadership role as alumni progress in their journey. Instead, consider starting with a low-key, introductory role that brings the alumni into a leadership group. Charlene told me that transparency and clear expectations are important: “New leaders should feel comfortable and understand what’s being asked of them. The leadership roles, even low-key ones for initial volunteers, benefit from structure and purpose. This sort of structure gives people confidence.”

It may be best if the requirements for being part of the leadership structure are laid out early on. For example, are there dues? Are there regular leadership group meetings? Can you phone or video call in? How many events are leaders expected to attend?

c) Help them get a sense of the bigger picture

Charlene considers it important to help new leaders see the bigger picture of what the club or chapter is currently doing and trying to do (in conjunction with the national network of alumni leaders at large). She explained that, once potential leaders are identified, “then encourage people to take part in certain committees and/or positions that best suit their skills and interests. Building in regular time and space to hear updates from each committee is a great way for new leaders to get an idea of the whole group and structure.”

d) Design a clear apprenticing structure

Apprenticing is an essential step in the journey of an alumni leader! They can use time to shadow and learn best practices. As Charlene points out, “It is good for new leaders to know when they’ll transition into their position and the sets of the term. There are strong benefits to having different leaders after a set amount of time (our club president changes every 2 years), especially when the next person may have different focuses and passions, and therefore reach different aggregates of local alumni. On a related note, it may be useful to consider creating an official role for the outgoing president, for example, as chair of the nominating committee.”

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Charlene’s Quick Tips for Building a Network of Alumni Leaders

  • -Not everyone that is “tapped” for a leadership role will have the time or be presidential material, and that is okay.

  • -These volunteer roles, even the leadership ones, are not full time jobs. These commitments should be manageable and achievable. And fun!

  • -It is really great if all new leaders have a strong role in organizing one thing (event, program, etc). It doesn’t have to be huge and they don’t have to do it on their own, but we try to make sure each member in the leadership group is affiliated with one decent project. But for new leaders to succeed, they need the tools to do so.

  • -If you don’t ask people to do something, they usually don’t, so don’t be afraid to reach out!

  • -Not every volunteer realizes what needs to be done, so sometimes it helps to provide direction, even in small ways, so they are more likely to step up.

  • -One key to making planning easy: one doesn’t have to always create the event/outing from the ground up. They can partner with some other group/organization/venue that already has an event, say a local 5k race, and get alumni to come along. Another example is to get group seats for a theater outing, usually at a discount, and meet there.

Need help using your customer journey map? Email us today to see how we can help you build a long-term regional alumni engagement strategy and sustainable leadership structures in the cities where your alumni cluster.

We’ve just outlined a ton of great ideas for how to use customer journey mapping to grow your students and alumni into great regional leaders, create sustainability and self-sufficiency in regions, and build strong succession plans. I want to give a special thank you to Charlene Huang Olson for taking the time to speak with me and share her insights with our readers!

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