Alumni as Brand Ambassadors

This October I will return to Beijing to attend the China Annual Conference for International Education – or CACIE ( I am returning to speak at CACIE’s Forum on International Student Mobility (ISM). The Forum theme is “International student mobility and study-in-China — a global perspective”. More than 400 professionals from international offices and faculties will attend the forum.

The International Education Exchange Journal is published by the China Education Association for International Exchange.   ( with a readership of 2000 people across China. CEAIE has invited CACIE speakers to submit comments in advance.

I am excited to partner with Mr. Wang Yong, Deputy Director of International Office from Peking University another representative from UIBE (University of International Business and Economics, China).

For the Journal, I have submitted the following session description and am asking participants to think with me about some important considerations:

  “Alumni as Brand Ambassadors: the Advantages of an Exuberant and Connected Network”

International outreach can be much more successful when institutions involve their most genuine brand ambassadors – alumni. Their personal history with the academic institution is of incredible value to prospective students and families. The session will help institutions develop a strategic process to leverage international alumni abroad for student recruitment. These steps include developing relationships with not just alumni but regional alumni organizations, institutional student recruiters, community organizations, and more. Learn about best practices abroad and assess your institution’s next steps.

In advance of this session I am asking participants to step back and consider some key considerations that impact an institution’ ability to develop alumni-student networks:

1) Demographics

What do your demographics show? Where are your target markets for international student recruitment? Is there a correlation (or a growing correlation) between an increase in prospective students and engaged alumni poised to help? Why does this matter?

2) Current levels of Satisfaction among Alumni and International Students

A recent article captured the key findings of a new survey completed by 60,000 international students representing 48 institutions in the US, UK and Australia:

“…While students were by and large satisfied, the data show variations by country of origin. Students from Europe report higher rates of satisfaction and willingness to recommend the institution as compared to their peers from Asia: ‘It is notable that China ranks #1 in terms of number of international students, but #26 among the thirty largest nationalities on overall satisfaction, and #21 on recommendation’ (that is, willingness to recommend the institution).”

The report suggests possible causes for these variations: “for example, greater familiarity with English may help explain higher satisfaction rates for students from India compared to students from East Asia, and particular cultural traits such as comparatively open-minded or critical outlooks could also affect student ratings.”

Other key findings reported and important to consider:

“Beyond country of origin, the analysis also found variations in satisfaction level according to level of parental education: the higher the ratio of first-generation college students within the international student population, the lower the overall satisfaction rate. The report states that first-generation international students — who at some institutions in the sample make up nearly 50 percent of the international student body – are more likely to be culturally, academically and financially disadvantaged, which may lead to a less rounded and more problem-beset experience, and lower satisfaction.” These students and families may not have access to sound information or be “more susceptible to suspect recruitment practices.”

The report states that students are generally very satisfied with the academic experience and quality of teaching. But outside the classroom, satisfaction levels are a bit lower: “making good contacts as far as career prospects are concerned, friendship with domestic students, organized social activities, and visa or immigration-related advice.”

As I read the above findings I believe institutions have an opportunity (and a responsibility) for developing structured programs that will foster relationships between international alumni and current international students.

But, first, how satisfied do the international alumni feel about their own experience? How do they view the brand of their alma mater and the value of their degree?

Therein lies an equation: satisfied international students = greater likelihood for satisfied alumni. Alumni must be engaged today. Identify who they are, where they reside and work, and invite them to participate in creating more satisfying experiences for their younger counterparts who are university students today and those who desire the same opportunity to study abroad.


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Fielding Foreign Donations

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently asked me to comment on the controversial aspect of foreign gifts. The motives of benefactors may be questioned when large governmental gifts to universities coincide with or follow major foreign policy conflicts in their region. Likewise, gifts from one individual or a family may be questioned when there are several perceptions about the original motives of their donation(s).
Universities strive to be transparent, ethical and mission-driven in their academic and advancement practices. Advancement officers and leadership should accept gifts only when they meet a campus priority and not just because there is money on the table. Donors may have their own ideas about what “win-win” means when discussing a potential gift. Advancement officers can minimize controversy by doing the following: 1) research the region and know the political climate; 2) conduct due diligence on prospective donors or foreign entities such as corporations and foundations; 3) determine if there are any political dimensions surrounding the gift; and, 4) always rely on reasoned decision-making based on sound motives of both the donor and the institution.


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International Travel Management – not just for Advancement Officers!

I am writing a series of monthly articles for Academic Impressions. Each article focuses on an aspect of international constituent relations and program development. In December 2013 I began to focus on the fine details of working abroad and wrote about the importance of knowing key international holidays to best inform staff or a delegation about when (and when not to travel). Once those parameters are understood, the planning can begin  — but it’s important to have adequate time to create a successful advancement initiative based on strategic outcomes.

I suggest working from nine months out. This advance planning with the academic year is necessary and intentional for several reasons:

  • First, budgets will be accessed for the same fiscal year for your advance work, travel and volunteer management needs. This creates a systematic way to fiscally plan and manage resources.
  • Second, the international initiative is competing for time with other priorities and travel for busy volunteers, donors and institutional leaders. Plan ahead and confirm your spot on their calendars!
  • And, third, international travel is not inexpensive, and the extra time will afford ample opportunity for advancement staff to shop for the travel deals and to negotiate with venues.

Advancement officers are not holding the responsibility alone for reaching out to constituents abroad. It is critical to keep the institution’s entire international agenda in mind and that requires a coordinated effort from alumni, development, special events, communications and marketing, and other departments such as admissions and graduate schools’ external relations offices. Advancement officers will also need to communicate with campus leadership and with volunteers abroad on a regular basis to best manage the expectations for everyone’s participation and support.

Everyone involved is a “brand manager” and will have a piece of the promotional timeline.

For two examples of how to best utilize a nine-month planning effort see:


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Sharing a Bit of “Home” for the Holidays

Seasons greetings, friends —

It’s been a few months since my last blog post. Instead of blogging I have been writing new pieces for CASE’s CURRENTS Magazine (see Nov/Dec issue and watch for March 2014 feature article) and am now contributing a monthly column about International Travel Management for Academic Impressions. Every since our Thanksgiving in the U.S., I have been thinking about my own holiday card: when would I write it? when do I send it? should I send it before December 25 or right after New Year’s?

I’ve decided to send my card in the New Year as a wise friend and colleague cautioned me last week to wait on emails until early January (“they will just get lost in everyone’s inbox”).

Have you sent your holiday card to your constituents? I’m sure many of you have signed a stack of holiday cards affixed with the interoffice routing slip or have approved the e-card or holiday newsletter that was sent to members of your on-line community.

What about your international alumni? Whether your institution spent time with alumni abroad in 2013 or if you are planning an international visit and/or event in 2014, a special edition holiday card is one way to bridge the distance and build stronger relationships with these valued former students.

When I was at Tufts every January we sent a Lunar New Year card to our contactable alumni, parents and friends in Asia. We featured several iconic images of the snowy campus and international students. Knowing how strongly images resonate with alumni abroad, holiday or New Year e-cards are one way of sharing a bit of alma mater, their former “home.”

There is still time to create international holiday cards. Draft up language and create a collage of campus images. Collaborate with other international advancement officers, admissions recruiters and the international student services area to send a collective wish from your campus. Little gestures like this will be remembered and appreciated.


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COACHING: One step to move from readiness to action

Coaching GraphicYour institution or organization has committed the necessary leadership, staffing and budgetary support to begin to engage international alumni and, potentially, families. What’s next? Building a corps of alumni volunteers – the loyal and supportive brand ambassadors – should be one of the next goals. I recently guided Franklin College of Switzerland as their new alumni and parent ambassador admissions program moved from conception to reality. We did this in three one-hour sessions.

What if you find yourself having to prepare for your first international trip where you will be staffing the Vice Chancellor or President along with your supervisor or other deans and faculty? My recent work with UC Berkeley’s Law School included some travel management tools; my new client, SOAS (University of London), wants to focus on preparing for trips to Dubai, Doha, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. I’m glad to spend part of each of the next five sessions discussing contact and special event reports, ways to maximize time with volunteers (planning meetings, training, cultivation visits), and how to best decipher all the notes taken from the field and make meaning for you, the alumni, and, just as important, your supervisor and the institutional leadership.

Whether the challenges are being new to your role, short staffed, or not knowing how to prioritize next steps once given the “green light” to engage international alumni, I feel there is tremendous value in working one-on-one. My coaching is customized, personal and, ultimately, I want one thing: I want clients to succeed in meeting their objectives while also showing others the value of their work measured in many ways.

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The Relationship between Public Funding & Private Support

An excerpt from the panel presentation, Trends in Higher Education Financing, Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum, hosted by Nazarbayev University

Another global trend is the relationship between public funding and private support for higher education. Decreased public funding requires institutions to attract and retain new sources of private support in the form of individual giving, individual and family estate planning, and corporate and foundation philanthropy.

What are the trends in education costs in the United States? According to the National Center for Education Statistics (of the U.S. Department of Education), for the 2010–11 academic years the annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $13,600 at public institutions, $36,300 at private not-for-profit institutions, and $23,500 at private for-profit institutions. This is not the universal story for the U.S. as each of the 50 states sets their own rates at public institutions.

In the United States and Canada private giving to college and universities has been institutionalized in the 20th century with the formation of alumni associations, the promotion of capital campaigns, and the attractive charitable tax benefits afforded to both the donor and the beneficiary. More students are attending colleges and universities on scholarships, grants and financial aid.

The story is different in the UK. Academic fees are accelerating the pace of change for what is expected across England’s higher education system. Once a public good provided at no cost to students, economic austerity measures introduced by ruling governmental parties have created new price tags for higher education institutions. The cost of education has grown exponentially since the inception of the first fees of £1,000 in 1998. Along with the most recent tuition spike of £9,000 come new requirements of universities to better serve underrepresented students. Access Agreements require universities to sponsor programs and initiatives that help students in lower socio-economic brackets get financial aid for higher education.

The culminating impact of these changes in England has raised two key questions: Will more bursary support offset the perception of an unattainable university education with a 200% increase in tuition and fees? Will institutions be able to raise more money from private sources to support a growing number of needy students? The majority of higher education institutions in England (excluding historical icons such as Oxford and Cambridge) have nascent alumni relations programs and this may affect fundraising. Have institutions invested enough in alumni relations “up front” to weather the forces produced by the newest era of tuition and fees?

A note on corporate and foundation philanthropy: corporations and foundations have succeeded in helping advance higher education goals within the country of origin, on behalf of a particular region, or by way of a wider internationalization agenda. Not all attempts, however, have been without controversy. In some cases, an equal share of negative attention has balanced an assumed expectation that all outside money is a good thing.

Finally, shifting more of the financial burden from the state to private sources created a new consumer relationship between institution and its undergraduates or future alumni. Across the world, students and alumni are more intentional than ever about how their degree impacts their employability. The university degree must bear utility. Universities must respond by creating more resources for both students and their recent alumni.

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The Four Pillars of Engagement

Does your institution want to strengthen its academic presence abroad? Are there goals for diversifying the student body by recruiting more international students? Is a primary goal to encourage more giving from alumni overseas?

These goals are often intertwined as this figure illustrates. How do the “four pillars of engagement” fit into your institution’s goals and strategy? Is the strategy to develop and support admissions efforts, alumni communities, academic programs and partnerships, all in an effort to build a strong case for support? Can the three “A’s” (admissions, alumni and academics), and their relevant activity abroad, provide enough evidence to institutional leadership, prospective students and prospective donors that they should support a strengthened presence in a particular region of the world? Can the three “A’s” lead to an increase in participation?

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International Alumni Relations is about Relationships

Alumni relations has the opportunity to facilitate “Brand Management 101” by building relationships with alumni who want to give back their time, talent or treasure to different areas of the institution. We recognize that managing the institutional brand abroad is a high priority for schools, colleges and universities worldwide. International alumni volunteers play an important role in helping maintain their alma mater’s reputation. Whether international alumni volunteer to help organize chapter events, interview prospective students from their region, or mentor students studying abroad in their home city, the volunteer management cycle has three distinct stages: recruitment, retention and referral.

The recruitment process may be different based on the activity, as volunteers are often referred by their peers or are selected based on their personal or professional backgrounds.

Much time and attention goes into the retention stage: training, mentoring, skill-building, rewarding efforts and time for regular evaluation and reflection. Volunteers succeeding in their efforts may want to become more involved as regional leaders.

The referral stage is highlighted when alumni volunteers share their positive experience with others. At this point in the process, alumni have been through the volunteer cycle and want to share opportunities with others.

Throughout each stage it is important to provide incentives for alumni volunteers to continue their interest in assisting the institution. They should feel valued and empowered to continuously improve the experience for themselves, the staff and others involved or served.

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Download summary whitepaper on alumni relations.  Listen to a podcast conversation with Gretchen Dobson.

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International Alumni Relations as a Facilitator of Change: forecasting for the next decade

International alumni relations is about building unique and personal relationships with alumni based outside an institution’s home country. The relevance of international alumni relations in light of demographic changes, economic trends, and globalization cannot be underestimated. How can we envision international alumni relations to be different than it is now? How do you imagine global engagement being realized at your institution? How can we create innovative partnerships with alumni that address student mobility, employability, and strengthened presence abroad for the academic and external relations agendas?

AIEAIn February, I will be addressing these questions in my presentation at the annual conference for the Association of International Education Administrators ( The session, “International Alumni Relations as a Facilitator of Change” looks ahead to 2020 with a discussion of two trends: 1) growing number of alumni with nontraditional affinity and 2) increased interest in operating satellite offices serving the needs of one or more institutions’ admissions, academic and advancement agendas.

With the increase of international community college graduates, more short-term international exchange programs and executive or corporate learning programs and a growing number of institutions “exporting” their campuses to other countries and continents, the opportunities for nontraditional affinities will increase in the coming years. The first part of the program reviews this trend and discusses ways to remain proactive and leverage what may become a new “norm.”

Part two of the program focuses on branch offices. Institutional investment and/or personal philanthropy from international stakeholders may be driving the satellite office topic. I believe international alumni should also play a role in developing regional presence. Paying careful attention to culture and how it impacts alumni affinity will be key to engaging lasting participation and support.

With this posting, I wanted to begin the dialogue about these and additional trends that involve alumni abroad. What else should we be thinking about?

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Fund-Raising for British Universities

Fund-raising at British universities could triple and yield £2 billion ($3.2 billion) a year within a decade if institutions continue to invest in building relationships with alumni, a recent report for the UK announced. About 204,000 people gave to universities last year, but this could reach 640,000 by 2022, it adds.

Professor Shirley Pearce, former vice-chancellor of Loughbourough University and chair of the report titled The Review of Philanthropy in Higher Education, stressed: “There is a real sense of momentum and this must be maintained.”

Today Go Global is working with a major UK university to assess and prioritize opportunities for increased alumni engagement both at home and abroad. A focus on student and alumni programming both at home and abroad will position the institution well in the next decade by fostering a lifelong relationship with its most recent graduates.

For the complete article, see:

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Alumni Relations and Student Success: an opportunity for Ireland

I just returned from an 11-day trip to Ireland with my graduate school cohort from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education ( The purpose of the trip was to study Ireland’s higher education system. We visited 7 institutions and met with key governmental contacts, advocacy groups and quality assurance professionals. It was a fascinating experience and I have decided that future blogs in this space will be written “from the field” per se so I can provide perspectives on how international alumni relations impacts (or is impacted by) the overall goals of institutions and organizations around the world.

There is a lot of good news to share about higher education in Ireland: the country’s completion rate (defined as the completion of a certificate or tertiary degree program) is 60%. The number of 25-34 year-olds completing a tertiary degree is 48%, ranking higher than the United States (41%) and the OECD average of 37% (source: OECD, 2011). A challenge, however, is that 40,000 who complete the Leavers application for college enrollment do not find out where they have been accepted until mid-August. It’s not an ideal time line compared to traditional first-year programs in the U.S. that include a summer orientation period for students and families. In Ireland the Central Applications Office notifies students where they have been accepted and students, in turn, are required to confirm entrance and a course of study within a week of notification. International and other non-traditional full-time students are held to the similar deadlines and requirements upon entry.

There are other challenges during these first weeks. According to Sarah Moore, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Limerick ( students enter their course without knowing the exact curricular requirements. Moreover, a study she conducted showed the number one thing first-year students worry about is the fear of boredom. Students today are choosing courses they know nothing about and are afraid that they will not be interested in the courses they choose. Institutions like Limerick recognize that transition to college is problematic and are developing new student support services to address these challenges.

Assuming Irish institutions have the ability to mobilize a cohort of alumni both at home and abroad I believe an alumni network can serve as a support network during times of transition in three different ways:

First, with no formal summer orientation alumni can help make up for this lost time by sponsoring send-off events in their city or country for new students. Informal receptions or family-friendly events such as picnics can be venues for sharing the tacit knowledge about college life, courses and the first year with students and families. Young alumni can be tapped to speak about their most recent experience.

Second, according to the Minister of Education and Skills, Ireland wants to double the number of international students in the next 8 years. International students have different needs than domestic students and they may benefit from a class designed just for them: an acculturation class. This type of class can offer international students their own forum for discussing academic or social challenges. The class empowers students to persist and succeed by helping them work through cultural differences at the beginning. John Leedock of Benedictine University in the Chicago area has sponsored such classes (see: that include group trips to enjoy an American meal or invitations to professional networking events so students can observe how the locals share career advice and job opportunities. Local alumni can easily get involved with these types of outings and be resources to student service departments.

Third, new students in general have a fragile relationship with their institution in the first semester. Human relationships are central and additional interaction from alumni can help. In Ireland institutions are under pressure because of funding cuts for career guidance. If institutions are worried that students entering their first year choose their course “blindly” and there are scare employability counseling services available could alumni be invited back to campus to participate in student programs such as “Conversations with…” series featuring a set of young and mid-career alumni who share an insider’s view of studying law, finance or art history. Ireland’s Institutes of Technology may benefit from alumni career panels on careers in animation or engineering. The overall idea is to create opportunities to re-engage alumni in the life of alma mater and the current students.

As Moore stated during her presentation to the Penn group: “It’s not that we don’t have the right ingredients, it’s just that those ingredients are not joined up properly.” I would hope that Ireland may consider how to add a bit of “support spice” by engaging alumni in their retention efforts.

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