Fundraising: strive for an alumni love pact

Report says universities must turn alumni into long-term 'life partners'. Hannah Fearn reports

August 20, 2009

Students and higher education institutions are like lovers - and a pointless breakdown of the intimate relationship between the two means that universities miss out on their perfect life partners.

The analogy is made in a paper due to be presented at a fundraising conference held by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) next week.

It argues that institutions must follow a traditional romantic- courtship model if they are to build financially rewarding relationships with alumni, starting from the moment they meet.

The report, authored by Precedent, a communications agency, compares the progress of a student through university and into their career to a burgeoning romance.

Strangers when they meet, universities and students become "colleagues" by the time an application is made for a place at the institution.

On the first day of their first semester, the student is already a "friend" of the university, and by the end of a three-year course, the pair are intimate "lovers". They should then go on to become "life partners", as is often the case in the US, but this does not happen often in the UK, the paper says.

Instead, the relationship frequently breaks down.

"We think of it in terms of intimacy and relationships," said Dean Russell, head of digital marketing at Precedent.

"What often happens is that the relationships drop back. They go from being lovers to being friends, and then essentially become strangers again."

In the UK, graduates become "just good friends" with their alma maters almost as soon as they complete their finals, the analysis suggests.

"They have already lost some of that intimacy and it's very hard to get that back," it says.

The report, Alumni online: students are alumni, recommends that universities should engage with students as alumni as soon as they arrive as first-year students.

"The basic premise is that alumni fundraising in the higher education sector in the UK needs to learn some lessons from the US," Mr Russell said.

"The alumni relationship should start from day one. Students should be giving something back straight away."

This gift need not be financial; universities could use students as ambassadors to reach out to the community and other prospective students, he said.

"If you enter that relationship from day one and get older alumni more involved with students, it becomes clear how they can get involved and benefit from that, now and in the future," Mr Russell said.

The report adds that alumni relations should be part of every university school and department, so that students are exposed to them every day.

"The alumni office is quite often an 'A.N. Other' office that deals only with people who have left the university. That should change," it says.

The Case conference will be held in Liverpool next week. Speakers will include Shirley Pearce, vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, and Sir Duncan Rice, vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.

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