Daniel Brennan from UQ opens up about alumni engagement

Alumni are a powerful source of support and advocacy. But for schools, keeping in touch with those who are often several years removed, can be a mighty challenge. What are the most effective methods for cultivating, engaging and maintaining a large and globally dispersed pool of alumni?

There are few people better placed to answer these questions than Daniel Brennan, director of alumni and community engagement at the University of Queensland. It has one of the largest alumni networks in Australia: 250,000 across more than 180 countries, though the majority are situated Down Under; plenty of them in Queensland. Perhaps more impressively, the university is in contact with 70 per cent of its alumni, and many of them give back with time, experience or financial donations, for example to further the university’s work developing a potential cure for dementia.

Read on for insight into how Brennan has cultivated this loyal and engaged alumni base, plus tips on what schools can do emulate Queensland’s success.

How many alumni do you have and where are they around the world?

The university has more the 250,000 alumni. Being an Australian university, the majority are in Australia, with many situated in Queensland.

However, we have a diverse network of alumni across the world. As of 2018, we have alumni situated in more than 180 countries. Many of these countries also contain alumni chapters or otherwise are linked through regional events, which allow our alumni to continue to interact with their alma mater, former classmates and other UQ community members.

How many of them are you in touch with and how do you keep in touch?

We have contact information for approximately 70 per cent of our alumni and are constantly urging our new and existing constituents to update their details so that we can continue to keep in touch after graduation.

We use a mix of electronic and print communications to provide them with information of recent research outcomes, upcoming events and other exciting developments at the university.

The two primary pieces of communication that we produce for our alumni, are the print and online publication Contact Magazine, and our alumni website. The latter won a bronze award in a recent university communication awards competition.

What alumni engagement strategies have been the most successful for you?

UQ uses a broad mix of engagement strategies to connect with its alumni community, including our publications and events.

We have found that simply providing our alumni with content and events that are relevant, timely and of direct interest to them is the best approach.

For example, we have events like those in the Global Leadership Series (GLS), which are highly engaging. In addition, we provide information presentations on topical issues, created by researchers and academics who are world-leading authorities in their fields. The GLS series is wildly popular, not just with alumni but the wider community, and the events typically sell-out well in advance.

We also have events geared towards our young alumni community that focus on career and life development and mentoring, such as our upcoming Tax and Tacos event.

Do past students ever come back to visit the university?

We have many alumni who frequently return to the university for events or simply to enjoy the beautiful campus and visit some of our research centres.

We encourage our alumni to pop into our Alumni Centre, which is located next to the student Centre in JD Story (building 61) to say hello.

We’re also aware that many alumni who live locally will come by on weekends with their families to spend time by the lakes, have a picnic in the Great Court, or visit the UQ Art Museum.

Have you ever asked for support from alumni, for example financially (donations) or otherwise?

Many of our generous alumni give back with time, experience or financial donations to causes they are passionate about, such as saving the Great Barrier Reef or world-first Dementia Research through UQ.

We recognise that everyone has a different passion and we seek to provide them with a way to make real and meaningful impact in that area. At UQ, 100 per cent of donor contributions go towards the donor’s nominated cause.

We have been working on building a consolidated approach so that we can rally the support of our community members behind things like creating a potential cure for dementia, because we realise that it is only together that we can truly tackle these kinds of mammoth tasks. This is why we have recently launched Not If, When – the Campaign to Create Change.

Do you host reunions and if so, how often?

Yes, we host approximately 40 reunions per year, and they are really popular with our alumni.

What is your advice for another university or school for cultivating an alumni network?

Consider initiatives that are unique to your university and mutually beneficial. When cultivating and creating this network, think about what their needs are and how you can best serve them, then deliver on this by providing events and communications that are of value to your community.

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