by Gretchen Dobson (Gretchen Dobson, LLC)
Today, 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?
POLLING ALUMNI RELATIONS PROFESSIONALS
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.
As a follow up to it, I want to offer these five tips for improving international data management practices:
- Know the Depth of Current Data and Create Records for “Non-Traditional” Alumni
- “Internationalize” Current Systems
- Form an International Data Management Working Group
- Promote the Lifelong Relationship early and often with International Students
- 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.
For more from Gretchen Dobson, see:
- Outreach to International Alumni: The Opportunities You May Be Missing
- Representing Your Institution Overseas: Leveraging Your Alumni as a Key Resource
- Two detailed scenarios for Planning for Advancement Efforts Overseas