Politics, Economics and International Relations Department, University of Reading-UK
The aim of this paper is to conceptualise and empirically examine the constructs that constitute the concept of Alumni Orientation (AO). Using a discovery-oriented approach, conducted by supplementing educational and marketing literatures with in depth interviews from 22 alumni personnel in six different UK universities, the author identified three second-order formative constructs and three first-order reflective constructs to measure the concept of AO. The study then developed a self-administrated survey to validate the six identified constructs that form AO. Through using rigours statistical analysis, the study confirms that the measurement instrument for AO is the 48-items which can be validly and reliably measured using the NINE multi-item components of: Case for Support; Alumni Database Management; Social Media Management; Financing Event Management; Financing Publication Management; Promoting Best Practices of Event Management; Promoting Best Practices of Publication Management; Intrafunctional Coordination and Interfunctional Coordination.
Keyword: Alumni Orientation, Scale Development, Higher Education, Alumni Engagement.
This article has not been published elsewhere and that it has not been submitted simultaneously for publication elsewhere.
Our understanding on the concept of market orientation (MO) has been developed, advocated and implemented based on a dyadic relationship between an organisation and its customers (Padanyi and Gainer, 2004). This is because the concept places the customer at the center of all organisational planning, strategy setting and marketing activities (Kotler and Armstrong, 2008) and explicitly assumes that an organisation’s long-run survival is largely dependent upon the satisfaction of its customer base as a primary constituency group (Shapiro, 1988). This dyadic relationship implies that there is no basic division between the attraction and allocation of resources – the former being the use of marketing strategies to obtain financial grants and revenue from certain publics, and the latter being the development of product offerings and marketing strategies to certain publics (Shapiro, 1973). In the for-profit sector, these two publics tend to co-exist in the same person. However, in the non-profit domain such as higher education (HE), resource attraction and allocation are two different and separate tasks that involve different publics with different needs (Kimery and Rinehart, 1998). This means that constituency groups such as donors and alumni that provide higher education institutions (HEIs) with resources are not the same groups that receive their educational services (the students).
Nonetheless, the majority of previous researchers who examined the concept of MO in HE focused primarily on students i.e. student orientation (Dwairi, Akour and Sayyer, 2012; Zebal and Goodwin, 2012; Hemsley-Brown and Oplatka, 2010; Hammond et al., 2009; Voon, 2007; Flavian and Lozano, 2006; Wasmer and Bruner, 2000; Siu and Wilson, 1998), with little attention being paid to investigate how HEIs orient themselves towards alumni i.e. alumni orientation. The reason for focusing specifically on alumni group is due to the dependency of HEIs on the resources held by this group to fulfil their missions and achieve their objectives (Lovelock and Weinberg, 1989). For example, American universities received $27.9 billion of endowments in 2009-2010 (Fearn, 2010), while Canadian universities received $453 from the alumni community in the same period (Shephered, 2010). In Australia, alumni donation counts for 7.9% of the total income of all universities (Australian Council of Social Service, 2008), while in UK HE, a total of 163,547 graduates gave £532m to universities in 2008/09, a 12% increase on 2007/08 and a rise of 24% on 2006/07.1
In addition, recent cuts in government HE funding indicate that HEIs will have to offset such deficits through obtaining resources from other sources such as alumni and donors. For example, the UK 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review announced a 40% cut of its current budgets until 2015 (EAU, 2011). Other countries such as Latvia, Italy and Greece announced cuts of up to 30% in HE funding (ibid). In this hostile environment, all strategic decisions will have to be made through understanding, discussing and responding to the target market needs strategically. Nonetheless, HEIs still lack alumni-oriented model that offers important pointers for HE managers and leaders to understand and measure the requirements of alumni more competently, and to deliver superior customer value more effectively.
The primary purpose of this paper is to conceptualize and empirical examine the concept of AO in the HE sector. To achieve that, the paper will present a sound measure of AO on the basis of systematically procedures for scale development. As such, this research makes a number of contributions to the marketing as well as educational literature. We first enrich a conceptual understanding of AO through a careful measurement model debate and choice. Second, we use a discovery-oriented approach based on supplementing the findings of the literature-based perspective with those of the field-based perspective. Such an approach offers a new insight of understanding the construct from theoretical and practical point of view. Third, we generate new items as well as new dimensions of the construct while taking into account the specificity associated with the sector. Finally, we operationalize the AO construct through hierarchical index and a multi-method strategy to construct and validate our higher-order measure.
In summary, the suggested AO index, which covers the critical values and behaviors in serving alumni, can contribute to yielding a pool of performance indicators in HE and can be effectively used to monitor the level of commitment of HE institutions in serving the alumni market. The scores for the various index components will offer key information on the different service practices that have to be improved in order to enhance alumni values and their level of satisfaction. In other words, the development of the parsimonious AO instrument should help deans and alumni managers pinpoint areas of weakness and swiftly make corrective action.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows: in the second section, we review the literature on the concept of AO. After that, we describe the discovery-oriented approach used to generate and validate the generated dimensions and items of AO. We then report the findings of the discovery oriented approach through providing a theoretical foundation of the construct of AO (i.e., conceptualising the construct of AO). In the last section, we validate the construct of PSO from a statistical perspective using rigorous statistical analysis.
Towards the end of the 1980s a new concept evolved called “market orientation” (MO) and was spurred by the theoretical work of Shaprio (1988) and Webster (1988). This stream of research has become the norm in marketing literature when two seminal works by Narvar and Slater (1990) and Kohli and Jaworski (1990) operationalised the construct. At the conceptual level, researchers defined the domain of the construct based on the breadth of its coverage (internal and external market focus) and the depth of its coverage (the behavioural activities performed by organisations to serve their external markets). Nonetheless, MO views the organisation as a monolithic entity, characterised by unified goals, interests and purposes. Hence the majority of previous researchers conceptualised MO through assuming that the customers and competitors are the key groups that MO activities should be directed towards. Such a view, led some researchers to criticise the original conceptualisation of MO, arguing that its scope is too narrow or ‘monistic’ and elevates the interests of customers over the interests of other groups who provide resources potentially critical to organisational survival (e.g. Hult et al., 2011; Ferrell et al., 2010; Greenley et al., 2005; Kimery and Rinehart, 1998). The theoretical root of this growing body of research is based on multiple constituency theory, which assumes that organisations have a variety of constituency groups, apart from customers, who may be equally relevant to the organisation (Lovelock and Weinberg, 1989). Hence, success does not lie in the organisation’s reaction to a single group, but in its capacity to monitor, prioritise and manage the demands placed upon it by its constituencies.
Therefore, following the logic of multiple constituency theory and as a response to the several calls to broaden the domain of the concept, some attempts were made to measure the concept of MO against other groups such as alumni (Rivera-Camino and Ayala, 2010; Pavicˇic, Alfirevic´ and Mihanovic, 2009; Hammond and Webster, 2006). However, although this work was instrumental in enhancing our understanding on the importance of other constituency groups, it suffers from the following shortcomings. First: the research instrument used by the researchers contained five items on average to measure the level of MO against alumni group. These few items appear insufficient to capture the comprehensive nature of a truly alumni-oriented operating philosophy. In Shapiro’s (1988: 222) words: “After years of research, I'm convinced that the term ‘market oriented’ represents a set of processes touching on all aspects of the company. It's a great deal more than the cliché ‘getting close to the customer’”. The view of Shapiro would suggest that the concept of AO should be conceptualised as a high order formative construct that consists of different dimensions, rather than a reflective construct that consists of a few items. However, no attempts were made so far to do so.
Second, these few items add little to our understanding on the differences between diverse constituency groups and how organisations orient themselves towards multiple constituency groups. The argument that the current paper makes is that MO is not about adding as many constituency groups as possible to broaden the domain of the concept, but about identifying the set of dimensions that capture the comprehensive nature of the concept towards each stakeholder group; an issue that has long been advocated by many theorists and researchers, but has not yet been addressed in the literature.
Third: the research instrument used by the majority of researchers contained either standardized items or items that shared great similarities to measure the level of MO against multiple constituency groups. However, it is argued here that this stream of research failed to recognize the distinct constituencies when developing, understanding and implementing MO. This is because it did not take into account the inherent differences between these groups and did not acknowledge that the nature of the activities performed by an organisation towards, for example, alumni, would differ significantly from those performed towards current students. This argument is supported by the assumption of multiple constituency theory which states that each constituency group has its own unique set of expectations, needs and values (Kimery and Rinehart, 1998). This means that each group will become involved with an organisation for a variety of reasons that differ from other constituency groups (ibid). If the theory holds true, then MO is constituent-specific. As such, the marketing practices and approaches directed towards one group would differ significantly from those practices and approaches directed towards other groups. In other words, organisations will be required to customise their marketing practices in order to shape and influence their relationships with each group.
This therefore requires different constituency groups to be clearly defined on a theoretical and empirical base, in order for marketing assumptions to be properly developed and applied. This issue further suggests that MO needs to be conceptualised at constituency level in order to develop a deeper understanding on the nature of activities performed towards each constituency group, and to gain an understanding of how HE institutions consider individual constituencies to varying degrees at a certain point in time. Therefore, in the following section, the needs, interests and motives of engagement of alumni group will be discussed to show the distinctive nature of this group.
Alumni Engagement and Giving
In the last stage of the student lifecycle current students become alumni (i.e. a former student or graduate of the university). This stage is characterised by two major things that reflect the distinctiveness of this constituency group: engaging with university activities (alumni engagement) and providing financial support to the university (alumni giving). With regards to the first issue, alumni engage with the university either through volunteering or receiving benefits and services from the university. Volunteering may take several forms such as supporting the university’s recruitment, marketing and philanthropic initiatives; increasing the profile of the university both locally and globally; supporting and enriching the student experience; helping the university to develop effective and mutually beneficial relationships with industry, government and the wider community; and providing advice to ensure a relevant curriculum and research (CASE, 2012). The second way that alumni become engaged with the university is through receiving services and benefits. This includes but is not restricted to: connecting alumni with fellow graduates and HE staff; receiving career development opportunities through lifelong learning; promoting social, professional and career networking; providing access to a global alumni community where membership provides unique benefits and services; and providing access to university services (Cunningham and Ficano, 2002; Harrison, Mitchell and Peteron, 1995; Leslie and Ramey, 1988).
However, as far as alumni giving is concerned, it has been suggested that those who buy the product also supply the university with a primary input into its production in the form of student peer effects (Wintson, 1999). Research indicates that alumni donors could be close to retirement and only remember the university as it was, not as it is (Cunningham and Ficano, 2002); are committed to helping out the university despite not being the best or most engaged students (Weerts and Ronca, 2007); and donate out of loyalty or in the hope that they will help them in return in the future (Harrison, Mitchell and Peterson, 1995). Alumni may also donate and support a university’s activities either because of altruism or “impure” altruism. In the first scenario, donors may give because of an obligation to provide society with collective goods and services (Keating, Pitts and Appel, 1981). As such, donors’ utility is affected directly by the utility of others, that is, the increase in someone’s utility could compensate the giver for his/her loss (Hochman and Rodgers, 1973). In simple terms, donors derive utility from a public benefit through charity or providing services to recipients. In the second scenario, donors might be motivated by “impure” altruism, which suggest that donors are mainly motivated by personal intangible benefits from giving such as friendship, respect, self-esteem or group affiliation, enhanced prestige, and other favourable psychological and social benefits (Andreoni, 1989). Hence, according to Muehlman, Bruker and Ingram (1976), giving enhances donors’ utility because people who donate to charitable causes are highly esteemed in their community. It is also thought that different alumni donors have different motives. As alumni donors are concerned by strategic planning, sound finances, project details that need funding, and benefits for the university, community and donor, then an institution should help the donor foresee the long-term benefits (Gonzalez et al., 2002).
Following the logic of the above argument, it is reasonable to conclude that the nature of marketing activities directed towards alumni (which is mainly to engage them with university life and/or to solicit donations from them) will differ from the marketing activities directed to other constituency groups. Such issues further assert the need to develop MO at constituency level to develop a better understanding of how these activities differ from one constituency group to another.
It is worth noting that the current paper adopted a triangulation methodology, which consists of two phases of sequential design: a qualitative approach (discovery-oriented approach) and quantitative approach (a self-administered questionnaire survey). The first approach is discussed below, while the second one is discussed under section 5 -quantitative methodology-.
A discovery-oriented approach, which is an application of the grounded theory, was implemented. This approach is based on supplementing the findings from literature with field-based perspectives to generate concepts and theories through asking open questions, which are not based on theories and models from literature (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011). It allows researchers to identify, synthesise and integrate the components of the construct as well as to delineate the relationships among and between the construct (Menon et al., 1999). Grounded theory principles such as theoretical sampling, constant comparison and theoretical saturation were adopted in the process of sampling and data collection and analysis. The process of collecting and analysing the collected data also followed a constant comparison and coding process (Charmaz, 2000). This process of constant comparison continued until the data reached theoretical saturation. The coding process can be summarized as follows: the codes were initially devised and grouped into concepts (open coding) andthe concepts were drawn together to identify categories (axial coding). Following Corley and Gioia’s (2004) suggestion, the used coding techniques were not linear, but were “recursive, process-oriented, analytic”, a process that continued until no new themes emerged or no new relationships were found.
Initially, 22 alumni personnel (i.e. directors of development and alumni relations, heads of communications, event managers) from six different university groups (Russell Group, 1994 Group, University Alliance and Million+) were contacted. Two types of interviews were used: face-to-face interviews and phone interviews. Each face-to-face interview lasted between 60 to 90 minutes, while phone interviews lasted between 35 to 50 minutes. Follow-up and clarifying questions were carefully asked during the interview process to ensure the participants were understood as clearly as possible. Although no second interview was made, most respondents were sent a series of emails to clearly represent their views and experiences. The data collection lasted for nearly five months (May to September 2012) and no further qualitative work was carried out with regard to development and alumni relations offices due to the issue of theoretical saturation.
The discovery-oriented approach resulted in identifying five reflective and one formative constructs that form AO. These constructs are as follows:
Strong Cases for Support (CS): Reflective Construct
Event Management: Reflective Construct
Publication Management: Reflective Construct
Alumni Database Management: Reflective Construct
Social Media Management: Reflective Construct
Coordinating Alumni Activities: Formative construct consists of two reflective indicators, (a) intrafunctional coordination and (b) interfunctional coordination
Following the recommendations of Jarvis et al. (2003), the current paper argues that the six identified constructs should be modelled formatively towards the hierarchical construct. In this aggregate view, the six constructs define the meaning of and constitute the abstract multifaceted index (Law et al., 1998). Hence the current paper conceptualises AO as a third order construct consisting of one formative second-order formative construct and five first-order reflective constructs (see figure1). The six constructs are discussed in the following subsections.
Explicating the Construct of Alumni Orientation Using a Discovery Oriented Approach
This section reports the findings of the discovery-oriented approach. It first highlights the different definitions emerged from the fieldwork regarding the concept of AO, which reveals how development and alumni offices (DAROs) perceive it. It then discusses in details the six constructs that constitutes the concept of AO through supplementing the findings from literature with field-based perspectives.
Defining the Concept of Alumni Orientation
Although respondents emphasised different aspects of AO, there was one theme that cut across all the definitions, which is that AO results in delivering valued benefits to alumni through building relationships with them, informing them about the university achievements, engaging them with the university activities and encouraging networking. The following definitions illustrate that:
Information and Communications Emphasis
“Alumni orientation means telling our alumni about any services and benefits we can offer to them, about university events and news they may be interested in, and eventually asking for their help with fundraising” (HoDAR, RG2).
“Maintaining or increasing brand awareness among the alumni by regular communication of the institution's activities, achievements, strategies and needs” (HoDAR, RG1). Building and Maintaining Relationship Emphasis
“Promote feelings of affinity and loyalty toward the university, and to foster a lifelong relationship with the university” (ARM, 1994 Group2).
Networking and Engagement Emphasis
“Targeting alumni with relevant information to attract them to come to events, register with our website, update their details, join our social networking sites, or donate” (HoDAR, 1994 Group1).
“Keeping in touch with your alumni, e.g. e-newsletters, social networking, the university website, event updates, and having an active alumni engagement programme” (ARM, UA+). For the purpose of the current research, AO is defined as: the set of behaviours and cross functional processes that seriously focus on keeping alumni up-to-date on what is happening on campus, fostering different types of networking among alumni, making alumni more connected and engaged with the university activities and using creative methods to solicit donations from alumni. The following section discusses the constructs that form AO individually.
First Construct: Strong Cases for Support
Strong cases for support is defined as: showing alumni projects and planned activities which will bring to life the agreed aims and aspirations for the institution. In other words, a strong case for support is communicating to alumni why it makes good sense to support the university. If alumni understand how their donations will be used and why they are important, it is reasonable to assume that a significantly higher amount of donations will be secured. The first aspect regarding this construct concerns presenting alumni with causes that match individual preferences in order to make a highly targeted case for support, and providing them with a wide range of projects/areas so as to appeal to a variety of interests and motivations. The HoD in RG2 explains this point:
The first thing is to determine what exactly it is that needs to be communicated to them [target audience]. Then – systematically ensure that the fundamental points have been covered: the personnel, the reason, the location, the time, and the course of action […] they [cases for support] must convey a compelling argument as to why prospects should pursue that course of action. The tone needs to be galvanizing, not too romantic and gushing [...] various other sources can be used to grab the interest of the reader e.g. case studies, pictures, a few powerful facts and figures, feedback from current donors and beneficiaries etc.”.
The issue of linking the causes of donations with alumni preferences could be done through classifying the areas of donations into different broad areas such as: alumni bursaries, student study fund, postgraduate hardship fund, sports scholarship programme, anniversary bursaries, international masters bursaries, disability support fund, international hardship fund, innovative teaching and learning, and extracurricular activities. Such classifications make it easier for alumni to give to projects they want to support.
The second aspect of this construct involves building cases for support based on intertwined themes and messages which reflect the character, culture and strengths of the university, and communicate the university values, aims and priorities. Such issues will ensure that everyone in the university understands where the university is going and conveys similar messages and will also ensure that cases for support do not look like a list of the projects and activities of each part of the university. The last aspect of this construct implies that cases for support need to be developed and regularly revised based on consultation and collaboration with key internal and external stakeholders (e.g., university leaders, deans, individuals, trust and foundations, corporations, etc.). The purpose of that is to communicate to alumni the university’s fundraising priorities, cover a very wide range of interests and focuses, and encourage any potential alumni donor to see themselves as part of the success. Cases for support also need to be regularly revised. This is because priorities change over time and certain projects/activities may become less important. Therefore, regular revision would ensure that cases for support are fresh and relevant to the target audience. The HoD in RG1 explains these issues:
“As part of the process, we invite the input of both internal and external stakeholders when building cases for support – including, for example, directors of the institution, heads of departments, VIP donor/alumni, trust and foundations etc. We run the cases by them and check that they are easy to absorb, and whether something should be removed or added. We check whether they are engaging. This step gives us a chance to also on board our stakeholders and let them have some input and relevance in terms of our direction, as well as provide invaluable feedback about the institution’s external image” (HoD, RG1).
Second Construct: Event Management
Event management is defined as: allocating sufficient resources (e.g. financial resources, human resources, dedicated marketing activities, expert teams, etc.) to plan, organise, and coordinate different types of events at national and global level. The importance of this construct is to offer alumni the opportunity to: interact and keep in touch with other alumni friends or colleagues; foster their personal, career, business and professional development; find new job opportunities; and keep up-to-date with new business and scientific thinking.
The first key aspect of this construct concerns allocating adequate resources (e.g. financial resources, expert teams, staff support, dedicated marketing activities, etc.) to:
Coordinate a wide range of alumni events (e.g. professional/career networking, social networking, lifelong learning, scientific events, reunion events, etc.) at national level.
Coordinate an optimum number of events at national level.
Coordinate an optimum number of events in the countries where the masses of alumni are located.
Guide and assist regional alumni groups worldwide on planning and managing their events.
Plan, prepare and organise each event to ensure smooth running of the event.
The importance of allocating resources is explained by the ARM in UA who stated that:
“The key issue is for how long your office has been running. We started in 2007 and therefore, our department is quite small, we only have eight people, whereas if you look at X university, they’ve got more alumni, of course they are a bigger university, but they have 50 people in their team, they have been fundraising 20 years ago a lot longer than we have, so obviously X university has been investing in their alumni every year...they bring a lot more money, they also arrange a lot more events…whereas our office can only run a few events because obviously high quality events need a lot of resources and preparation”.
The importance of the off-campus events whether at national or global level is to allow alumni in different geographical areas to gather together socially and stay connected with the university and fellow alumni; encourage alumni to participate in future events whether they take place on-campus or off-campus; and strengthen and expand alumni networks worldwide. However, it is important to note that the way that some of the off-campus events are organised whether nationally or internally is through developing and encouraging regional groups. The term regional group refers to a group of alumni - a dedicated committee of volunteers - who have formed an official relationship to, and represent, the university in a given geographical region through organising activities that provide opportunities for alumni in that area to participate in social, recreational and educational programmes. This means that regional groups need to be fully supported by development and alumni relations offices (DAROs) in order to be able to succeed.
The second aspect of event management indicates the importance of planning, preparing and organising of each event to ensure its smooth running. Furthermore, event campaigns need to be planned and executed using all relevant promotional channels (e.g. alumni magazine, the alumni e-newsletter, the alumni relations website, etc.) to ensure that alumni are well-informed in advance so they can prepare themselves to attend the events. Moreover, event planners and coordinators need to monitor the success of any promotion campaigns in order to inform promotional decisions on future events. The EM in RG1 explains that:
“Coordinating events is not an easy task; you need to carefully think about, for example, the purpose of the event (e.g. networking events, fundraising events, etc.), the preferred location to host the event (e.g. off-campus, on-campus, overseas, etc.), the characteristics of alumni who are going to be invited (e.g. young alumni, alumni couples, alumni with families, mature alumni, etc.), the number of alumni who are going to attend…You will need time to organise the event (i.e. liaising with staff across the university and external organisations to ensure the successful delivery of external events) and your invitees will also need sufficient notice, sometimes six months in advance”.
Research and analysis of events is the third aspect of this construct. This implies gathering feedback on all events and producing reports that assist in benchmarking and measuring KPIs. Evaluating and measuring the success of events using KPIs will allow event planners to assess: whether the event achieved the stated goals; the number of attendees compared to what was expected; attendance satisfaction and whether they had a positive experience; the smoothness of running the event; and what needs to be done to improve similar events in the future. The evaluation process also needs to assess whether event planners managed to draw out alumni who did not attend previous events and whether they also managed to recruit any new volunteers during the event. All that kind of information will then have to be fed back to other event planners and organisers to promote best practice and collaboration.
The last aspect of event management concerns engaging alumni when coordinating events. The aim is to ensure that events are in line with alumni interests and preferences, and that alumni expectations are clearly communicated before the event. The EM in 1994 Group2 suggested that this could be done through getting interested alumni in the area together to have a brainstorming session. The generated ideas are then put together and reviewed to decide which events are feasible and which events the majority of alumni in the area would be interested in attending.
Third Construct: Publication Management
Publication management refers to the allocation of adequate resources (e.g. financial resources, human resources, dedicated marketing activities, expert teams, etc.) to enhance the frequency, the diversity and the quality of publications directed towards alumni. The importance of this construct is threefold. First, publications provide alumni with the latest alumni news and accomplishments and keep them up-to-date with campus developments. Second, publications allow alumni to assess the current value of their degree and their alma mater’s reputation through providing them with stories that publicise current student and faculty endeavours and successes. Third, the alumni base of any DARO is scattered across different countries, hence, publications are the key means by which DAROs can keep their alumni connected with the university.
The first aspect of this construct indicates the importance of allocating an adequate amount of resources (e.g. financial resources, human resources, expert teams, dedicated marketing activities, etc.) to:
Ensure that alumni magazines are delivered to the largest number of alumni
Enhance the quality of publications
Ensure that the frequency of e-communications with alumni is optimum
Ensure that the frequency of printable communications with alumni is optimum
The second aspect of publications management concerns the adequacy of the content of publications. The HoC in RG2 explains this point:
“Unlike companies in the corporate world which appeal to very specific and targeted segments, the main challenge for us is that we have to appeal to 21 year olds and 90 year olds who live in 100 different countries. It is very ‘very’ difficult, technically it shouldn’t work in terms of appealing to different alumni age groups in one magazine. When we have to do this magazine we say is there some science stuff in there. Some arts stuff in there. You know we have students who graduated from different disciplines, so the issue becomes how to appeal to all of them in one magazine!”
Meanwhile, the HoC in 1994 Group2 cautioned from the adoption of a demand-led perspective regarding the content of publications; that is, providing alumni with publications content based on what DAROs think is relevant to alumni, which may not be the case from an alumni perspective. This means that the content of publications should not only have engaging stories but also should be crafting targeted to match the preferences of different alumni age groups. There are different stories that could be included in alumni publications such as history/tradition, campus facilities, alumni in their professions, cultural events, issues facing education, student achievements, alumni activities, student research/academics, faculty publications, stories about donors, curriculum.
The last aspect of publications management concerns the format preferences of reading publications (i.e. e-magazines or printable magazines or both). The idea here is that the alumni base of any institution is diverse with young and old alumni; hence, some of those alumni would still prefer to read print magazines, particularly the old ones, while young alumni may prefer online magazines, yet other alumni may prefer both. This suggests that, if DAROs want their alumni to remain connected and motivated, then their publications need to be delivered via alumni preferred formats.
Fourth Construct: Social Media Management
SMM is defined as developing and executing a social media strategy (e.g. calendar for content updates, content suggestions, content format, event promotions, etc.) for alumni relations using tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. The importance of this construct is that social media can be used for: affinity building; increasing connection and participation among geographically diverse alumni; fostering different types of networking among alumni; disseminating information about employment opportunities to help recent graduates who are job-seeking or those who are already employed and are looking to move up the ladder; and providing tailored content to different alumni segments.
The first aspect concerns having a well-developed social media strategy (e.g. calendar for content updates, content suggestions, event promotions, content format, etc.) and a dedicated social media presence for alumni. The importance of this is to identify the audience targets, for example: Who DARO is aiming to reach? Is it all alumni? Or a specific segment from a particular country? Do these share similar interests? Have they studied the same major? Having a strategy is also important to determine tools, tactics and capacity, and to identify and establish lines of responsibility for who is going to develop and look after content and monitor the different sites.
The second aspect involves investing time in defining the demographics characteristics of online communities (e.g. the average age of audiences; the countries of audiences; the languages audiences speak; their majors, the percentage of them that give to the university, etc.) in as much detail as possible. This in return will allow DAROs to: understand the characteristics of the audience joining their online networks, identify opportunities which will extend their current efforts to reach that audience, and determine how best to mobilise this audience in support of specific strategic objectives. Such issues show the importance of administering social media accounts by a professional team.
In line with this, DAROs also need to use qualitative and quantitative metrics to gauge the effectiveness of social media sites. Such measurements include, but are not restricted to, # of fans/friends/contacts/followers acquired; # of comments/likes to update on status; # of discussions started on groups or pages; # of fan videos uploaded and comments on them; # of fan photos uploaded and comments on them; # of comments left on profiles; # of downloads/installs; # of questions answered and # of answers to questions. These measurements can then be used to inform and modify the social media strategy.
The last aspect of this construct indicates the need to update social media accounts with fresh, timely, tailored and a variety of content formats. The HoC in 1994 Group2 explains this point where he states that:
“It can be deceptively time-saving and attractive to hit every available communication channel at your disposal in one fail swoop – Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, YouTube… but the problem with this is that you will swamp people who are subscribed to more than one channel, and they may not appreciate it. You also have the problem of not tailoring the content to suit the particular audiences for each channel – which are not interchangeable at all.”
Fifth Construct: Alumni Database Management
Alumni database management is defined as the extent to which alumni information is detailed, comprehensive, reliable, accurate, up-to-date, high quality, relevant, necessary and accessible to all managers who use it. The importance of this construct is explained by the following quotation:
“[…] If you really want to forge a long-lasting relationship with your graduates, it is essential to monitor their activities and locations [...] Once they’re graduated, you must gather their contact details and determine what their plans are– postgraduate studies or a career. Without this data, you can’t produce informed, tailored alumni fundraising initiatives that result in profit for the university as well as something of value for the alumni” (DM, RG1).
Moreover, having well-established alumni databases will allow DAROs to avoid duplication of records and sending emails to unsubscribed alumni. The following quotations capture these points:
“Departments and schools must provide ongoing backing for RE to be kept up to date. Primarily, this consists of passing on alumni data, such as job and contact information. However, local departmental databases should not be set up, as it leads to in inefficiencies in terms of the unnecessary repetition of tasks” (DM, 1994 Group2).
However, the way that DAROs manage their databases is through developing a complete basic profile for each alumnus. This consists of a home address, telephone number, business address, e-mail address, giving history and communications history. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that gathering such information is not an easy task and it is not clear from the fieldwork whether DAROs maintain comprehensive and detailed information about their alumni. This is because “Maintaining databases is expensive – the total cost of data entry is around £2.33 per record!” (DM, RG1).
Sixth Construct: Coordinating Alumni Activities
Coordinating alumni activities is defined as the extent to which alumni activities are coordinated within the DARO – intrafunctional coordination - and between the DARO and the rest of the university’s departments – interfunctional coordination. Hence, coordinating alumni activities is conceptualised as a formative construct and is measured by two reflective indicators: (a) intrafunctional departments and (b) interfunctional departments. The importance of intrafunctional coordination stems from the fact that there are different teams involved in creating and coordinating different types of alumni activities. These teams include, but are not restricted to, alumni and community relations teams, campaign, strategy and planning teams, development and communications teams, events and community fundraising teams, major gifts teams, resources teams and high value fundraising teams. As the title of each team suggests, these carry out different activities such as managing communications with the alumni community, overseeing content quality on alumni web pages, coordinating different types of alumni events, building and strengthening relationships/networks with the alumni base, updating alumni on recent developments and raising funds. This shows the importance of having coordination mechanisms among alumni teams in order to perform different alumni activities efficiently and effectively.
Furthermore, these teams might be located off-campus which further asserts the need to develop coordination mechanisms to ensure that alumni activities are structured and productive to create significant values towards alumni. The coordination mechanisms imply that: the leaders of all the central teams need to meet regularly to discuss issues related to their alumni base, staff of all teams need to be regularly updated about their responsibility/role to ensure that policy is effectively translated into operations, and staff involved in central alumni functions need to meet regularly to share ideas, good practices and plans. However, the importance of interfunctional coordination stems from the fact that DAROs need to link alumni to specific areas of the university and to also give advice and support to colleagues and departments on how to raise funds for particular projects. One of the important departments that DAROs need to connect alumni with is academic affairs. This is because the greatest impact universities have had on their alumni is the academic experience while they were students. Hence, DAROs need to collaborate with the university’s continuing education department to connect alumni to: programmes that respond to intellectual interest, credit programmes, and certification and training programme. Another department that DAROs need to partner with is admissions. This is because alumni represent the institutional ‘output’ in which potential students and their parents have considerable interest, and they also enjoy talking with prospective students and sharing their own experiences with them. Alumni can also offer admissions offices an objective evaluation of potential students’ interpersonal skills and evaluate how well they will fit into university life and culture. Schools/faculties also represent another area which DAROs have to partner. This is because DAROs may host events that feature some faculty members; or they may coordinate overseas events which require faculty members to travel abroad to participate in those events; or faculty members may want to use alumni at different stages of the student lifecycle (e.g. mentoring, modelling, guest teaching, etc.). Such activities further assert the need to coordinate alumni activities with schools/faculties.
Figure 1 summarises the four constructs that form AO. However, to confirm that AO is a valid and reliable construct, the following hypothesis is formulated:
H1: AO is a third-order construct made up of one formative second-order construct and five reflective constructs