There was an age in which career services, development/advancement and alumni relations collaborated only on an event or two a year, but a new opportune trend has been emerging over the last five plus years which features the integration of career services with alumni relations and/or advancement.
The trend has been one of the newest, following two other major trends of combining career services and academic advising, and formerly combining career services and experiential education, leadership, service learning, etc. While this newer actual structural and reporting alignment in Advancement may not be the most practical at all institution, the case for heightening collaboration can be made most anywhere.
Trends and pressures felt by all three areas are converging. Career services is now an institutional priority, as is friend raising and alumni giving, whether made explicit or implicit, and parents and legislators are concerned about outcomes and the value of a degree. The rising cost of higher education and student debt puts more pressure on the academic venture and on students and educators who are expected to articulate their value story. Employers are increasingly looking to hire for skills vs. majors, and traditional means of connecting is often difficult to find those skills they need. Alumni Relations historically has been a social event driven enterprise, but now offices must expand social media and other connecting vehicles, as ranking scrutiny of institutions looks at outcomes and percentage of alumni giving. Advancement areas are finding more competition for gifts from growing non-profit needs in society, and higher education is more vulnerable due to increasing scrutiny of value.
So where do we begin in tackling these macro issues and trends together? Are they actually related in any way?
At the University of Richmond, we say they are very much interconnected. Analogous to how career recruiters need to interact with students and career services repeatedly and connect overtime to be effective, so do those principles apply to offices collaborating, sharing goals, pain points, and celebrating successes together. It is no longer a matter of meeting each other and planning an event together, or sharing a few contacts. It is a matter of a complete ecosystem change. I think we are getting way beyond the stereotyping of one another regarding the “evils of asking for money”, the “party gatherings only” for alumni, and the career advisors “narrow focus”. At the University of Richmond, Alumni Relations, Employer Relations, and Career Services all report into an Assistant Vice President of Alumni and Career Services, who serves on the Advancement leadership team. Division wide teams and task forces combined the purposes and articulated common mission, vision, and metrics:
VISION: The University of Richmond Advancement division will be a world Class Model recognized for:
Purposeful alumni and partner engagement
Fostering a culture of philanthropy and student success
Ensuring long term institutional distinction
MISSION: To inspire alumni and key constituents to engage in the life of the University of Richmond and invest in the success of its students.
In working towards these ends together, we found it critical to understand how we are similar and how we differ. Three keys elements are used to frame the conversation:
Who are the key constituency groups served for each team?
What are the driving measures, pressures, and outcomes for each team?
What common metric might we share?
While discussing the factors you see in this table below, we harmoniously concluded that the key common area is building relationships that last. The most common relationship/key constituents are with alumni, and engagement takes place in these ways: hiring, volunteering, attendance, giving, recruiting, and sharing stories/news. Whether or not an office provides career coaching for alumni, alumni outreach needs to be a standard for all offices in developing contacts for students. Career Services, Alumni Relations, and Development all work towards those alumni engagement goals, with differential emphasis on some vs. others.
Understanding Key Constituency Outcomes
Many career centers collaborate with Alumni Relations and Development to build those alumni relationships, to tap into a network of opportunities, and to engage alumni with their institutions. Here are some strategies to strengthen these relationships we abide by at the University of Richmond to benefit students, alumni, and the university:
1. Change your eco-system – understand your commonalities and learn to appreciate your differences
Develop common strategic mission
Develop common goal and metrics of value
Communicate common value to stakeholders
2. Build relationships with your relationship managers (Major gift officers, employer industry liaisons…)
Meet regularly with colleagues with whom you share constituents (i.e., top employers, target regions, key alumni…) Set all the meetings up for the year during the summer
Meet regularly with teams to better understand their programs, processes, and how your work connects (e.g., Might a regional reception be held on the evening of a Student Road trip to the city to visit employers and alumni? Might a career services person conduct alumni interviews with select people prior to a regional event?)
Hold retreats together, rotate venues of value to each group
Participate in regional coordination meetings for anyone that travels to meet with alumni - if they do not exist, see if you can get them started; identify top tier locations/regions by number of alumni and key outcome locations for employers and recent graduates)
Get to know advancement and the relationship capital you bring to the table; share data
Set up cross-division teams and task groups with short term projects such as professional development activities
3. Actively participate in advancement and alumni relations activities - look for, and recommend points of collaboration
Attend regional and campus events as an active participant
Help facilitate introductions
Help connect the dots (i.e. connect someone with a volunteer manager, provide a pledge card if they want to make a gift, connect one alum to another who might be able to provide an opportunity)
Volunteer to help at events where possible - sometimes working the name tag table will yield the best information; share the sign up for Reunion Weekend across the division
Suggest and/or initiate collaborations
Share materials on career services programs at alumni events
A career services person may be of value in explaining a program to a donor prospect
4. Communicate – when in doubt, it is better to over-share…
Pick up the phone and call your colleagues
Share attendee lists with colleagues
Share relevant information from donor, volunteer, and employer visits
Pass along business cards and update information
5. Be Transparent
Use shared folders and let your colleagues know that you are sharing them
Use shared databases to keep up your constituents and colleagues
Put reports of alumni and site visits in the advancement database
Prepare and share industry trends reports on hiring
6. Leverage your network and work it into your regular process
Make sure that your influential constituents (trustees, prospects, deans, university leadership, etc.) are aware of what you are doing and let them help you spread the word
Work with alumni who act as ambassadors to get resumes in front of hiring managers
Consider having career advisors talk with students more about the importance of philanthropy (in context of service to others) and have students who received internship scholarships write thanks you to the donors
Share the outcome of a common metric- alumni engagement totals
Just like when you plant something in a new eco system, it takes a while to accept a new climate, adjust, and flourish. This does not happen overnight. We work at this every day and we have had time to formalize all forms of engagement as a key priority. With that as the key priority, we have found that our work is ultimately intertwined and we need to work together.
Denise Dwight Smith joined the UR Advancement division in 2015 as the Assistant Vice President for Alumni and Career Services. She most recently worked at Old Dominion University. She has significant experience working with students, faculty, alumni, employers, stakeholders, and professionals in the fields of higher education, career development, employer and college relations, and civic engagement. She has worked with four liberal arts colleges (Bucknell and Gettysburg), two urban public universities, a major global chemical and pharmaceutical company (ICI), and a top ranked business school (OSU). She is a Past President of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), holds a Master’s degree in College Counseling, and a BS in Psychology.