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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.


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.


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:


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.


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?

International Alumni: Time to invest?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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! “
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Coming next:
How is international alumni engagement fundamentally different than domestic engagement?