Most recent college graduates may not be in a position to make major gifts, but they’re perfectly suited to give their time in support of their alma mater. In fact, young alumni are in many ways the BEST possible volunteers. They’re close enough to the college experience to relate well with incoming students and current students, yet they’re also immersed in the professional world and able to interact tactfully with seasoned donors and established alumni.
Getting young alumni to volunteer is important, as it keeps them closely engaged with the life of the university and ensures their affinity remains high. It also exposes them to older, more established alumni volunteers and donors, whose habit of giving back can serve as a model for the younger generation. As young alumni grow in their careers and establish a solid financial footing, giving to their alma mater will be on their to-do list—especially if the school has done a great job leveraging their skills, interests, and connections as a volunteer!
Here are some ideas for involving young alumni as volunteers:
Who better to represent your school to a prospective student than a young alum who recently experienced campus life and academics for him or herself?! Many universities leverage young alumni as volunteers for admissions work, both on-campus and in cities globally where alumni live.
For example, a school might enlist a group of recent grads to speak on a panel for high school students and their families. Some schools have formalized alumni liaison programs through their admissions offices, empowering alumni to interview prospective students in their cities and weigh in on the students’ potential admission. This can be an especially attractive option for young alumni, as it helps them feel that they are playing an integral role in selecting the next generation of students at their beloved institution.
New Student Programs
Another way for young alumni to volunteer is through speaking to incoming students. Many schools offer “new student send-offs” in cities across the country, offering incoming freshmen a chance to meet local alumni and ease their pre-college jitters. This is a great volunteer engagement opportunity for young alumni, as it lets them act as the seasoned experts and answer questions for new students (whose ranks they were among just a few short years ago).
Another idea is to involve young alumni as online ambassadors for incoming students, corresponding with selected students or answering questions on message boards to get the incoming students excited to attend. This type of micro-volunteering is ideal because it lets them carve out time to volunteer at their own leisure.
Some schools have career mentoring programs for particular disciplines (i.e. students in the sciences are mentored by alumni in the sciences) or for affiliation groups (i.e. students from underrepresented ethnic populations or disadvantaged backgrounds). For young alumni seeking a more ongoing type of volunteer experience, mentoring might be the way to go.
Also within career services, alumni can serve as panelists or guest speakers about their career exploration. They can share job leads for current students and new grads. They can even volunteer to contribute blog posts or video interviews about their career paths. In my experience, students love hearing from graduates who are just a few years older, as they find their career insights to be particularly relatable.
Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to enlist young alumni as volunteers is to solicit their support as “connectors” or “advocates” for your school’s annual giving efforts. Universities (such as Columbia) have executed high-profile Giving Days, leveraging online alumni ambassadors to spread the word and galvanize support among their peers. Young alumni are especially well-connected on social media, so involving them in this way can have a particularly strong impact. Plus, this early exposure to development and philanthropy will educate young alumni and potentially inspire them to give at a higher level once they have the means.
Whatever way you choose to rally your young alumni, don’t forget these three tips:
1. Make the commitment clear and the requirements easy to understand. Whether it’s a speaking engagement, a micro-volunteering opportunity, or an ongoing commitment to be on a board or council, young alumni are most likely to participate if they know precisely what’s expected of them.
2. Provide appropriate stewardship and ask for feedback. It’s important to give young alumni the opportunity to share feedback on their volunteering experience. This helps them feel invested.
3. Tailor the “ask” based on their particular skills or interests. I’ve seen a MUCH stronger response when I ask individuals to volunteer for something based on their unique talents compared to when I send out mass emails requesting volunteer participation.
Harnessed effectively, young alumni can be incredible advocates and volunteers for your institution. What programs or strategies have worked to inspire your school’s young alumni to volunteer?
Learn how to start an online ambassador program for young alumni in this post!
Dan Klamm is Director of Young Alumni Engagement for the NYC office of his alma mater, Syracuse University. He has seven years of experience across higher education career services, alumni relations, and marketing. Feel free to connect with Dan on Twitter and LinkedIn.