In 2019, I declared 2020 as the beginning of the Decade of Alumni Connection.
I was wide-eyed, taking on my business, KITE- Keep in Touch Education, full-time. My book The Alumni Way was in development. I was ready to start an alumni revolution.
Then, the pandemic struck.
Connection took on a new form. We were isolated and yet connected virtually in new ways. Alumni relations quickly pivoted. In a short research project on this time, I categorized alumni relations work as sharing-caring-daring-snaring, which I describe here (and the longer paper published is here).
Fast forward to 2023.
I revisited my original aspirations for the #alumnidecade. Despite the changes in our world, alumni still have the potential to change the world. Some things haven’t changed.
Here’s some of my thoughts from my original #alumnidecade manifesto:
Since I was an undergrad over 20 years ago, things have seismically changed in our lives. First there was the internet, our gateway to the information of the world. Next was
social media, the constant glowing screen, an opportunity to present our virtual lives online.
What’s next? Do we continue to have the capacity to consume the amount of information, the keep-up-with-the-joneses pace of the last decade?
I believe the next stage is a backlash. We are going to demand meaningful connection. We are going to re-engage with our communities. We are going to rediscover those things in life that we always loved (before social media consumed so much of our time).
This is a time for a connection revolution.
We can reconnect with ourselves. Our shared experiences and the people we care about the most. In 2020 is the beginning of the Decade of Alumni Connection.
Our forms of connection have changed– especially in terms of virtual connection, since I wrote this 3 years ago. The sentiment still rings true. Here’s the challenge I set for alumni, one reiterated in The Alumni Way:
“Alumni is not only your school or college of graduation. It can include this if this is meaningful or powerful for you. Think of all your shared experiences in your life. This is a time to take stock. What really matters. What will provide me with a community and connections that will enhance my life, for life?”
Embrace your alumni self. Alumni in all those rich and exciting shared experiences that bring a smile to your face. Reconnect with these organizations, schools, colleges, universities, and people that can collectively enhance your personal and professional life. These alumni connections can also collectively be agents of change. We can collectively improve our local communities, open businesses, create new initiatives, transform other people’s lives. We can impact the Sustainable Development Goals during this final decade to 2030 to contribute to a global response for a better world.
These are questions we can ask ourselves to create our better selves and a better world. For alumni relations or advancement professionals, we can extend this #alumnidecade thinking to consider:
How can we foster community and connections for our alumni?
A simple question. Complex response. I purposely use the word ‘foster’ not ‘create’ here. We can nurture community and connection. It is alumni that must take ownership, recognize and seize their alumni selves. Alumni connection is not innate or an instinct for many graduates. Many have never seen alumni connection before, or, it’s an abstract concept viewed in movies or online. We must present to them the opportunity. This is why I wrote The Alumni Way: to give first generation, international or new graduates alumni knowledge. The book includes exercises to help alumni to discover the traits of reflection, curiosity, passion and generosity that they can take for their lives and their leadership. To maximize alumni impact, the Alumni Way exercises are also distilled in a free Workbook.
That’s the crux of the #alumnidecade. To democratize alumni connection. To push the boundaries of what this means for individual potential and for collective change.
Is the #alumnidecade still relevant today?
Yes! Why? One reason: value. This is one reason with 3 responses.
1- Value of the Experience: Students and alumni are seeking lifelong value from their education (or shared experience). The transformational experience of education is not just over 3 or 4 years, with the right alumni mindset and engagement, the value of their experience can happen over and over again. Here’s a guest piece I wrote in the Transforming Society Blog articulating the value of building an alumni network early. During the next 7 years or so this value is a crucial one that we need to promote far and wide!
2- Value of Alumni Relations Profession: This decade began with a seismic shift in how alumni relations operates, with a hefty online presence. While alumni relations continues to justify its existence it always seems to be in connection to its relationship to fundraising. Fundraising is that cool, popular big sister. In university terms, fundraising can easily justify its existence because the metrics are clear with money raised. Alumni relations is a human endeavour. Sometimes this cannot be articulated in metrics alone- measuring affinity remains difficult. During this decade, alumni relations needs to break out of this imposter syndrome and celebrate the valuable work it does for the university, for graduates and for society. By celebrating and highlighting alumni stories, alumni relations inspires students and fellow alumni to think big, and become active alumni citizens– with their alma mater and out in the world. Alumni relations professionals: consider this a recalibration from the tough pivot early in this decade: consider ways alumni can take ownership and a lead in building the alumni relations of the future.
3- Value of Collective Alumni Potential: Instead of focusing on the individual, I am watching alumni relations and alumni activity focus on becoming dynamic agents of change collectively. If you have a diverse group of graduates from different academic backgrounds, professional experience and networks – collectively they can work on solving some of the greatest challenges in our world, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These Global Goals are a challenge until the end of the decade: how can alumni work together to consider ways to address or contribute to clean water, quality education, gender equality, sustainable cities and so many other SDGs?
I hope you will join this alumni journey in progress!
Much of this #alumnidecade thinking is infused in The Alumni Way book. Curious of how you can bring The Alumni Way book (and Workbook) to your students and graduates? A common reading program? Bite-sized workshops or masterclass? Book a Discovery Call with me (Maria Gallo) to explore the possibilities!
Photo credit: Leah Fairman on our New Year’s Eve hike – the expanse of possibilities for the #alumnidecade!