Spring is upon us and you may be engaged in final budgeting activities for both this year and next. You’re considering your available resources and how they may be spent; you’re considering how to best carry out next year’s plans. Efficiency is a watchword, but so is engagement. Engaging international alumni remains a top-level goal and one specific tool is central to the process: the budget.
Here are seven considerations when establishing an international alumni relations budget:
- Budgets define priorities – Some would say it’s “the power of the purse,” and others would say it is just power. Budgets create clear opportunities to develop, build, sustain, expand and grow programs over time. Strategic priorities may shift with changes in leadership. That’s ok. The goal is to know exactly what the institution has budgeted for international alumni programs. Some feel this can be difficult when institutions have devolved budgets. An overall budget for alumni may be scattered across a number of departments.
- International alumni relations programs benefit constituents-at-large (alumni, families, prospective students, current students studying abroad, future employers, recruiters, and corporate partners). This second point builds from the first. Perhaps this budget is called “the institutional international alumni budget.” Moreover, alumni relations’ budgets must be spread over several priorities and these offices should not shoulder the international bills themselves. As the campus works towards greater integration between offices that work abroad and build relationships abroad, each should consider contributing to the overall outreach account that will service and support institutional efforts.
- Budgets should be developed with maximum utility and maximum impact and directly linked to institutional strategy. What happens abroad and who benefits? Think about the international travel budget for just the fall term. What are the goals for the trip and how will your measure success? This is a key issue. As one international programs director recently stated, “To get budgets approved we need to demonstrate measurable outcomes, alignment to strategy and return on investment. Not always easy! “
- Clarify priorities and plan accordingly before the next fiscal year. Are you doing this today? Are you waiting on some leaders to confirm their interest in traveling to meet alumni and prospective donors? Have you been in touch with faculty that may be excellent ambassadors to advance international relationships with former students, corporate partners, and their fellow colleagues at universities abroad?
- Plan for a rainy day: anticipate changes in travel costs, cancellations and acts of nature or world events that are out of one’s control. Purchase travel insurance. Book economy travel but don’t risk safety. Stay in good hotels and ask local alumni for reputable car services if local transportation is not advised.
- Aim to have complimentary international events. Budget for this. Become comfortable and supportive of the idea of investing in your alumni up front. Be comfortable with the idea that budgets will be spent in the spirit of not expecting a sudden return on the investment but, at the same time, try to be clearly focused on the anticipated outcomes of each event and activity. Over time, community will be built and that’s a priceless resource.
- Seek in-kind support from regional hosts/contacts. This is one of my favorite budgetary tools. I have spread my programming budget over the last decade to cover twice as many events when families and alumni offer to host the local expenses of lodging, group meals, special events, and the costs involved with including students studying abroad in that region. Alumni and families are honored to host. Involve them in the planning discussions and reciprocate their generosity with gifts and post-trip recognition and or event publicity.
Money talks and international alumni will respect well-planned efforts that are sustainable from year-to-year. The key is to involve alumni early and to include their voices in proposing a vision and plan for the coming year.
How is international alumni engagement fundamentally different than domestic engagement?