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Building Strong Alumni Networks to Help Bring In the Class

katrinaA strong network of alumni volunteers can be an asset to an admissions office. And working with alumni volunteers is one area in which admissions offices can collaborate with each other instead of competing, writes Katrina L. Heilmeier in a guest post today. Ms. Heilmeier, an admissions counselor at Bowling Green State University, was scheduled to on this topic at a session of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ annual meeting this week.

Alumni volunteers can be extremely valuable resources throughout the recruitment process. Their first-hand knowledge of history, traditions, and spirit give alumni a unique voice in speaking to students and families about the value of a degree from your institution. Alumni volunteers can assist recruitment throughout the entire admissions cycle by participating in college fairs, interviews, high-school visits, on and off-campus programs, letter-writing campaigns, and more. Alumni-volunteer networks can also provide passionate alumni a way to give back time and talent to the university and maintain a strong bond with the institution.

For Bowling Green State University, it was critical to reach out not only to other office on campus, but to other colleges as we developed our alumni network. Four years ago, BGSU’s alumni volunteer network had only about 40 active volunteers. After working to improve relationships on campus, with other universities, and with our alumni, we now have more than 200 volunteers participating in volunteer recruitment events. The key to building this program was creating strong partnerships with other institutions across the state.

Typically, in admissions, institutions have secrets and practices they don’t share with other colleges because they are competing for the same group of students. But that doesn’t apply to developing alumni volunteer recruitment programs. After all, colleges aren’t recruiting the same alumni.

Many times, you can work with your closest competitors to help build your alumni program and share best practices. For example, when I started in admissions at BGSU, I was given responsibility to run BGSU’s alumni volunteer network. I was overwhelmed by the notion of maintaining and improving an alumni volunteer network, and not sure where to start. At a regional conference, I sat in on a presentation from Katie Troyer at Ohio University about her keys to success while creating an alumni volunteer network.  Over the years, Katie and I have built a strong relationship, and we often work together to try new initiatives, and share challenges and achievements in our programs. We have found this collaboration to be extremely beneficial, and decided to take it to the next level by creating a regional alumni volunteer network comprised of 10 schools around the state to share materials and information on initiatives and emerging trends in alumni volunteer networks. This is proving to be a great resource for all involved to learn from each other, find inspiration, and improve our programs.

There can be many challenges in starting up or maintaining an alumni volunteer recruitment network with limited resources and time. The key is to know you aren’t alone, and reach out to other programs for support. Sometimes your greatest competitors can also be your greatest resources as you work to engage alumni in the recruitment cycle at your institution.

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