By Jessica Wong
More and more colleges and universities are turning to alumni groups (also called affinity groups) to give alumni a unique, valuable way to engage.
Here at Singapore Polytechnic, we’ve established alumni interest groups, and so far, it’s been mutually beneficial for both our alumni and our institution. We have 11 alumni interest groups: three academic clubs for alumni from the same degree program and eight groups are based on non-academic interests (such as dragon boat racing, taiko drumming and entrepreneurship). These groups give alumni a way to connect with each other and contribute in meaningful ways to our institution.
Here are the lessons we’ve learned while working with these groups.
Review groups regularly and consider what they contribute to your institution.
Alumni relations professionals play an important role in matching an institution’s needs with what alumni groups can provide.
Truly, only a small number of groups really serve a school’s interests. Thus, with limited resources, it is important to focus on engaging alumni groups that can support your institution’s pursuits.
At Singapore Polytechnic, alumni groups present their group formation proposal to an interview panel. Approved groups are reviewed every two years to ensure that they are aligned to the institution’s goals and that they continue to actively contribute to the school’s vision.
For instance, we recently reviewed our SP Alumni Adventure Club. Although they have been actively involved in a few community service programs, we saw that they’d be able to contribute more to our mission if they’d be willing to shift focus to form a mentoring program. This demonstrates how important it is to communicate, review and match alumni skills to fit your organisation’s needs.
There may also be cases in which alumni groups do not have the capabilities (time and resources) to maintain their group. In such situations, we don’t allow the group to form. Sustainability is a key criterion.
Research how to best support your groups.
What kinds of support do your alumni groups need and want? Start by talking with graduating members of student clubs and existing alumni groups. Find out their needs, as well as the support they might like to receive.
At Singapore Polytechnic, we found that alumni groups wanted support in finding venues to conduct activities and reconnect with each other. (Financial support for events was less important to them, since they reported that most of the alumni are financially able to participate in activities.) Hence, we have provided venue support to eight of our 11 alumni interest groups for their events.
“Although we can gather at centralized locations outside of school, my group prefers to travel back to Singapore Polytechnic for our monthly meetings, as it gives us the feeling of home,” says Charlston Low, vice president of the Singapore Polytechnic Alumni Toastmasters.
It is important to express appreciation toward your alumni groups and your alumni who contribute their time, skills and expertise to mentor their juniors, including student clubs and younger alumni. Make sure to acknowledge them and their contributions.
At Singapore Polytechnic, we hold annual appreciation dinners to express our gratitude to our alumni groups. Our most recent appreciation dinner in February 2017 celebrated 82 alumni. Celebration activities like these present perfect opportunities for institutions to connect with and thank alumni, and for the alumni from various groups to interact with each other.
Through our experiences at Singapore Polytechnic, we have come to the conclusion that alumni groups can indeed help to advance the institution’s interests if they are well-engaged.
Jessica Wong is an alumni officer at Singapore Polytechnic.