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5 Tips for Improving International Alumni Data


by Gretchen Dobson (Gretchen Dobson, LLC)

In 2014, international alumni relations looks and feels:

  • Underdeveloped (or under-resourced)
  • Fragmented within different units
  • A virtual community (LinkedIn/Facebook)
  • A last-minute necessity

Successful programs require leadership support, designated staff management, volunteer engagement and resources such as budgets and updated data.

With current databases, our efforts are only as good as the information we have -- or the information we are getting today. How are we tracking international alumni? Does this area need a thorough review before we start outreach? Can we begin to track international students better?


In a recent online training with Academic Impressions increasing international alumni engagement, I asked participants what their greatest challenge was in engaging international alumni.

More than 85% of responses agreed that incomplete, insufficient, old, and/or the lack of international alumni databases proved their most challenging obstacle.

You can order that training here.

As a follow up to it, I want to offer these five tips for improving international data management practices:

  1. Know the Depth of Current Data and Create Records for “Non-Traditional” Alumni
  2. “Internationalize” Current Systems
  3. Form an International Data Management Working Group
  4. Promote the Lifelong Relationship early and often with International Students 
  5. Improve the level of engagement with international alumni at-large

1. Know the depth of current data and create records for "non-traditional" alumni

First, do the research needed to track when the first international students attended your institution and how the demographics have changed over time:

  • Understand the history of your international alumni and your student records, where there may be gaps, and where data may reside other than in central advancement records (such as with academic departments, graduate schools, summer language programs, or admissions).
  • Consider non-traditional contact information for students and guests spending time with your community: international honorary degree recipients, study abroad students, visiting international faculty, research fellows from government scholarships programs.

2. "Internationalize" current systems

Output is only as good as input. The success of engaging international alumni relies heavily on how sophisticated and "user-friendly" our systems are for fulfilling our objectives:

  • Make sure current systems can record international information such as postal codes, country codes for phone, three or more spaces for first or surnames, and social media profiles that are regularly used in home countries.

3. Form an international data management working group

Yes, another committee! Resolve to address the importance of sound international data management by including a cross-section of staff who interface with international records on a daily basis:

  • From advancement, invite the areas of prospect research, alumni relations, development officers, and advancement operations.
  • Inform and invite contributions from international student services, the registrar, and graduate and undergraduate admissions.

4. Promote a lifelong relationship early and often with international students

Build and enhance relationships with international students by creating partnerships between alumni relations and international student services:

  • On campus and off, develop ways for alumni relations to participate in the students' important transitions, such as international student orientation, designated information sessions about work or internships, and preparations for graduation and the tenure of their visas.

5. Improve the level of engagement with international alumni at-large

Whether you engage international alumni face-to-face or virtually, commit to building more complete and updated databases:

  • If international alumni chapters exist, employ their service in communicating the importance of maintaining the most accurate records. In correspondence, chapter leaders can include a footnote to their emails promoting the online community. At events and programs, encourage members of the leadership team to collect updated information, business cards, and even enter up-to-date information on a laptop at the registration table.
  • Develop a social media campaign exclusively for the international community. Invite the alumni abroad to join the online community and provide incentives for validating and updating their contact information.

Additional resources

This article is one of a series of resources offered by Gretchen Dobson. You can read other recent articles in the series here:

We also recommend the upcoming conference Alumni Boards: Strengthening Strategy, Growing Engagement, where you can learn how to make the most of your alumni board members' involvement. Representing alumni relations, annual giving, academic and board member’s perspectives, our expert instructors will share practical tips and advice on the following:

  • Intentionally defining a board's purpose, roles, and strategy
  • Identifying and recruiting effective board members and leaders 
  • Onboarding, educating, and training new members 
  • Executing effective board meetings 
  • Addressing communication issues within the board
  • Establishing board metrics and assessment

Learn more here.

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About the Authors

Gretchen Dobson

Gretchen Dobson is a leading global alumni relations consultant who develops international advancement programs for educational institutions and non-profit organizations around the world. Her specialty services include strategic planning, campaign management, volunteer management, and special event facilitation for clients with particular needs outside their home country. Gretchen also provides professional coaching for international alumni relations, development, and academic officers new to global engagement practices.

Gretchen is the author of Being Global: Making the Case for International Alumni Relations (CASE Books, 2011). She was recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the leading “Innovators in Internationalization” for her work at Tufts University. Dobson received her EdD in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

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