What Would Harvard Do?

Over the past few years there has been a massive expansion of colleges and universities. You can’t miss the ads on radio and TV or the billboards that line the interstates across the country.  Sound familiar? It’s reminiscent of the recent building boom of treatment centers and the explosion of advertising to reach potential patients. Colleges and universities have done a good job building strong alumni programs. Now that they’re facing increased competition, they are investing more resources into expanding their alumni programs. What can we learn from those programs and how can it be applied to the treatment landscape? Collegiate alumni programs are especially good at providing value, staying top of mind, and rallying alumni around a common cause.

Job fairs, world-class speakers, and networking opportunities are all ways in which Universities provide value to their alumni. What do your alumni want? What's important to them? We know that community is important and having the opportunity to connect with others for support and encouragement is something that is valuable to alumni. It’s important to remember those alumni who don’t live locally so consider setting up “alumni chapters” in different parts of the country or offering an online community. Providing recovery related content (articles, podcasts, videos) is another way to provide value. The next time you have a guest speaker, consider capturing it on video and sharing with your alumni base.

I’m constantly receiving emails and mailings from my University. How are you staying top of mind with your alumni? Hosting events is a good start, but we need to move beyond event attendance as a measure of alumni engagement. Email, online groups, and apps are all critical to helping you stay top of mind with your alumni. Remember to create a mix of content and  reinforce the emotional connection by sharing inspiring staff stories. There is no silver bullet, so it’s important to have a number of ways to stay connected, engaged, and top of mind with your alumni.

Have you ever donated to your college building fund? I haven’t either. I’d be much more likely to donate to a scholarship fund, to help a deserving student turn their life around. We all have the desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves! How can we rally alumni together to give back and make a difference? Sam Bierman at Maryland Addiction Center personally makes a donation to the scholarship fund if enough alumni attend meetings and other events. These types of challenges have proven to be successful (think Ice Bucket Challenge). Get management onboard to do a matching donation for scholarships or a toy drive for children around the holidays.

As you look to finding new and effective ways to engage your alumni, look around to other industries and see if incorporating those strategies makes sense. By providing value, staying top of mind, and rallying your alumni you are sure to improve engagement and connection.