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Corporate alumni networks have been our focus from day one, starting more than 10 years ago. In fact, we live and breathe corporate alumni programs so that we can share our knowledge with you.

The Modern Workplace: Converting Former Employees to Employees for Life – Part 2: What Does A Robust Alumni Program Look Like?

This post is the second in a three-part series that explains the motivation for converting former employees to employees for life and the incredible value realized.

In part one of this series, we outlined the four primary reasons why companies across all sectors, shapes and sizes are launching Alumni Programs to engage employees for life. Retirement, shorter tenures, automation and social media have and will continue to shift workplace dynamics making it essential to stay connected with former employees to gain a competitive advantage. When properly managed as a strategic initiative, there is quantifiable evidence that a robust Alumni Program fosters relationships with alumni as brand-building advocates, creates career pathways back to the company for top talent and opens doors for new business at clients and prospects.

So, what does a robust Alumni Program look like?

Alumni Programs that produce measurable results thoughtfully create a mutually beneficial community among current employees, former employees and the organization. The best way we have found to visualize this is in the context of the “Five Essential P’s of Alumni Community”:

  1. Purpose
  2. Plan
  3. Platform
  4. Publish
  5. People

Understanding the five essential P’s of alumni community

Before diving into an explanation of the five P’s, it is useful to explain the importance of creating a community. A community provides the cohesion necessary to maintain long-term relationships and stimulate engagement. The five essential P’s outlined here are the building blocks effective Alumni Programs use to develop strong communities that benefit their organizations and alumni.

Purpose All strategic initiatives must have a well-defined purpose to be successful. Unfortunately, Alumni Programs and the community that they support are often missing this critical element. Imagine undertaking a marketing initiative or an acquisition strategy without a clearly defined purpose. It would be fatally flawed from the start. Purpose is the raison d’être. It sits at the very heart of why do it at all.  

For Alumni Programs, purpose must fill a need for both the sponsoring organization and the members. One of our clients, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has done an excellent job defining its purpose: to deepen the connection between the foundation, its employees and its alumni around the shared vision for a world in which all lives have an equal value so that the foundation and its alumni have an even greater impact in the sector and their fields together than they would alone.

Whether dealing with a non-profit or for-profit, try to define the purpose of the Alumni Program around the organization’s mission if possible. Alternatively, the purpose could focus on achieving some social good or the continued professional and personal development of employees and alumni. The main point is there should be some “noble mission” that can be worked on together.

Plan Most project managers understand that the Alumni Program must have a clear plan, but not all plans are created equal. Returning to the Gates Foundation example, the Alumni Program’s director laid out an initial three-year plan and three core areas of focus:

  1. Global reach & engagement
  2. Strategic initiatives & talent
  3. Infrastructure & sustainability

Then they defined specific objectives, tactics and metrics for each of these focal areas and created a scorecard to track and measure each item. Finally, and importantly, they asked for and received executive buy-in and on-going support. As a result, the Gates Foundation Alumni Program director gets the resources needed to build and manage the program effectively. Without a similar effort, Alumni Programs are often understaffed and under-budgeted, meaning they are unable to reach their full potential.

Platform In today’s digital world, software applications sit at the center of every organization and strategic initiative. It is hard to imagine running any business process without a technology platform tuned to automate, manage, collect and analyze part or all of the underlying processes or transactions. Alumni Programs are no exception. As we will discuss later, people are important. However, the person/team managing the Alumni Program, other employees, and alumni all need a tool to support their various activities. Can you start an Alumni Program without a platform? Yes, it just won’t be as effective and impactful for all stakeholders and much more difficult to create and sustain the community.

Publish In this context, “publish” means to curate/create a broad collection of compelling content that is updated on a regular cadence. Content covers all types including articles, blog posts, newsletters, events, jobs postings, surveys, RSS feeds, social media sites and more. Anything that informs the alumni about something relevant to the organization, its employees, themselves or the community should be considered content. The key is to deliver a wide variety of content on a regular, recurring basis. Most of this content already exists, so the Alumni Program manager or another member of the team is curating it for the program. Other content will be unique, such as alumni stories (often some of the most popular content with alumni), information about alumni events or content related to the community.

People Finally, there must be a person assigned to manage the Alumni Program. Ideally, it will be a full-time resource, but it should at least be half-time. If there isn’t active management, you don’t really have a program. If you’re planning to launch an Alumni Program, but not assign someone to run it, just don’t do it. It will be a waste of time and money. In our thirteen years of partnering with organizations on their Alumni Programs, the only ones that we have seen fail are the ones that did not provide dedicated community management. Contact us for a list of important skills for Alumni Program managers and a detailed job description.

Alumni Programs create powerful communities

A well-managed Alumni Program creates a community that generates tremendous value to all stakeholders – the organization, its employees and its alumni – as long as the organization develops and executes a comprehensive strategic plan. The five P’s outlined above provide a simple, clear methodology to start you on your way or adjust if you have gotten off course.

Coming up in this series: Our third post provides a summary of the quantitative research performed by Cornell’s ILR School that addresses two key questions:

  • What value can organizations anticipate receiving from alumni?
  • Why do alumni participate in an Alumni Program?