Alumni represent the largest population associated with a school and are the only permanent members of an athletics department. Despite this, they are often undervalued as a resource.
Countless alumni recount the same experience with their alma mater after graduation: radio silence until one day they get a letter asking for a financial contribution. The common refrain from frustrated alumni across the country sounds something like this: “I only hear from my alma mater when they want money.”
What if instead, alumni felt like they were seen as the foundation of a department, not just the funding?
The reality is that alumni have a lot to offer a department even if they never give a dime.
Perspective on Athlete Transitions
From a young age, athletes establish an identity built around their sport participation. Their skills, confidence, and sense of self are all largely derived from their identity as an athlete.
For many, that athlete identity is suddenly stripped away when the final whistle blows after their senior season. Student-athletes often struggle with this transition for many years after their playing days are over.
Alumni have been there before and can uniquely relate to this struggle. Personal stories of transition from former athletes can give current athletes confidence in their own process and can help them to identify new passions and reframe their identity.
The Hawkeye Legacy community with Iowa Football is a perfect example of this value. Through NextPlay’s Hawkeye Legacy app, alumni are able to support the next generation of Legacy Hawks by mentoring them based on shared experiences and providing exposure to potential career paths.
Industry Specific Knowledge
Student-athletes have a wide variety of post-sport career aspirations, and many struggle to identify an industry of interest at all. Despite career services available to college students, it is rare that university staff members can fully appreciate the unique set of skills, interests, and challenges that an athlete brings to the table and be able to dive deep into career fields.
An athlete alumni, on the other hand, can easily relate to the athlete experience and can share their own powerful career path story and wealth of industry knowledge. Hearing these stories and learning industry knowledge not only help student-athletes to get a better picture of what working in different industries entails, but can also map out the necessary steps during and after graduation to enter into that field.
As an example, after listening to an alumni share her story on being a molecular scientist through the Campbell MADE program, student-athletes felt like they were having their needs met in a much more specific way. “I’ve never been able to connect with someone in the science field before,” One participant noted. “The school normally has to keep events very general, so it was really exciting for me to deep dive into an industry of interest.”
With a direct connection to alumni, student-athletes can receive personalized support on even the most unconventional of career paths.
As alumni athletes grow in their careers, many eventually find themselves in hiring roles. Outside of their personal network (many of which are also fellow alumni), these former athletes will often look to their alma mater as the next stop in sourcing quality candidates.
On the other side of the table, the opportunity to access entry level roles and receive real world experience through internships is invaluable for a student-athlete. Bringing the hiring manager together with the prospective talent can create a perfect opportunity that benefits everyone.
As another example, through Nextplay’s Beyond Sparta app, the San Jose State team has connected student-athletes with dozens of jobs from companies specifically seeking the skills that athletes bring to the table. Many of these opportunities were sourced through alumni eager to give back to their alma mater.
With alumni on board as mentors, employers, and experts in the student-athlete experience, departments can lean on them to solve some of the most pressing challenges faced by student-athlete development departments nationwide.
Student-Athlete Scheduling Issues
With dozens of teams and hundreds of athletes, it can be near impossible to find a time during the day to get all or even half the teams together to deliver development programming. These times tend to fall at night and on the weekends, where attendance and engagement from exhausted athletes are often an uphill battle.
Alumni can serve as a force multiplier for small athlete development teams, broadening the range of programming to include one-on-one and group sessions. Student-athletes can connect with an alum for a conversation on their own time. Staff have the ability to set up group training sessions with alumni based on major, sport, or industry to capitalize on similar schedules and ensure a more engaged conversation.
General Skill Development vs. Specific Training
When creating career development programming, skill development topics are very general in order to appeal to a wide audience. Think building a resume, answering interview questions or developing networking strategies. While all of these basic skills are important, it doesn’t complete the college career development process. Personalization is needed so that student-athletes can receive career development knowledge tailored to their career aspirations.
Alumni are everywhere: healthcare, retail, manufacturing, finance, etc. Entry into each of these fields varies, some require shadowing hours, others certifications and licenses, and others internships. Further, many fields require a specific set of knowledge or a unique series of entry exams. While staff can provide generalized career skills, alumni can provide depth of knowledge at scale by sharing experiences in much more specific fields.
THE POWER OF ZOOM
One thing we have learned over the past year and a half is that virtual learning is effective. While it is not perfect, it has opened up many opportunities for differentiated development.
Virtual programming not only allows time flexibility, but it also allows speaker flexibility. The contact list for speakers becomes deep when programs are virtual and a national alumni base can be called upon for support. Delivering part of your programming virtually is key to the overall effectiveness of the program.
We like people who are similar to us and are more inclined to listen to them. Having a shared experience (as all alumni do) makes student-athletes more comfortable that the speaker understands what they are going through. In turn, they will be more engaged, knowing that the insights provided will be applicable. Utilizing alumni in programming and skill development increases the engagement of student-athletes and overall effectiveness of the program.
We started with the value that alumni can provide beyond money, and we’ll end with how alumni can also save you money. Speakers cost schools thousands of dollars every year. Development budgets alone can be consumed by speaker fees.
Your alumni can match the expertise of those speakers, but will be eager to cut their alma mater a deal on fees. Alumni desire to stay engaged with their alma mater and would see the opportunity to speak to current student-athletes as an honor rather than a job.
Many schools view alumni as their biggest opportunity for increased revenue. Instead, turn the SWOT analysis on its head and consider alumni your greatest strength. By re-engaging alumni and treating them as the foundation of the department rather than just the funding, their willingness to donate more than just their time will follow.
The NextPlay platform aims to elevate athlete outcomes, amplify alumni engagement and enhance donor impact. NextPlay provides employees with a professional opportunity where they are valued, empowered, and excited to contribute to a growing business organization.
To learn more about how NextPlay can help your program, schedule time to talk with us.