Connecting with Alumni
Rev. Thomas John, manager of Union Christian College (UCC) in Aluva, India, is clear-eyed about the need for institutional development. “Colleges and universities must have a development office,” he said, “but finding proper candidates to fill the post of development officer is a challenge.” Development officers, in his view, need both practical skills and a sense of how to connect with people. “The work of the development officer should go beyond finding financial resources, though that will be one of the most important tasks,” Rev. Thomas John explained. “The development officer must be able to connect with alumni in an emotional way, and should be able to enthuse our constituents through stories.”
From Rev. Thomas John’s perspective, the work of alumni relations begins before graduation. “We have been able to sustain the emotional bonds that a large number of alumni have for the college,” he said, in part because of the ways that UCC supports students – academically, socially, and emotionally – over the course of their college careers. Helping students with tutorials, remedial education, and mentoring helps builds long-term loyalty to the institution, and encouraging students and faculty to be active in various campus clubs and associations can spark enduring social networks.
UCC’s alumni association is the oldest in Kerala state, but UCC takes fresh approaches to nurture relationships with its alumni. “We encourage each academic department to form an advisory committee consisting of distinguished alumni in the subject/field, industry representatives, and distinguished scholars,” he said. “Together, they can plan for the development of a particular academic discipline, enhance industry participation, and strive to become more interdisciplinary.” When alumni are engaged in this way, they may be able to help faculty and administrators identify potential donors or make connections to the corporate social responsibility programs of large companies.
Regular communication with alumni – through newsletters, websites, and social media – is important, and that means keeping track of former students. With support from a United Board grant, UCC developed an alumni database and populated it with current contact information. “We have a database of about 4,000 alumni,” Rev. Thomas John said. “That gives us a vast base of alumni whose goodwill can be tapped, provided we have concrete plans for the development of the college.”
UCC will celebrate its centenary in 2021, and Rev. Thomas John sees that approaching milestone as an opportunity to deepen relationships with alumni. “We are working on concrete projects and plans, in 10 areas of college life, to be accomplished by our centenary year,” he said. “We hope we will be able to inspire our alumni to help us financially in making these dream projects become reality.” In that way, UCC and its proud alumni can link their history with shared goals for the future.
Linking Development to a Long-term Vision
In his role as manager, Rev. Thomas John works alongside the principal and board in defining a vision for Union Christian College. “I have much to do with governance, as chairperson of the board of directors of the college,” he explained, “and I am tasked with the responsibility for helping management, faculty, and other constituents of the college envision its future. I also am a facilitator and motivator in trying to draw out the best gifts of the faculty for the good of the college.” His responsibilities are a reminder that resource development needs should be tied to a long-term strategic vision for the higher education institution.