One scenario I encounter in my interactions with community colleges is a tendency to want to invent advancement program activities from scratch. Why do so many community college development professionals figure that need to reinvent the wheel? I think it has something to do with the fact the many community college development professionals are relatively new to their roles. They may have a history in development, but they don’t have a history in the collegiate model of development, or in community college development shops.
The second reason they seem to lean toward going it alone is that they don’t consider how similar their institutions are to other community colleges. The gap between the highest performing community college advancement programs and those that have barely begun is astonishing. And those who are new to the game could save years of start-up time by systematically benchmarking with institutions that are relatively advanced in comparison.
It doesn’t do much good to benchmark with another institution that is new to the game. If you want to learn about alumni relations, find an institution that has a robust alumni relations program. How to find one or two? Check out their foundation websites. Talk to colleagues at conferences. Check in with the community college in your state system that is raising the most money. Sign up for CASE webinars.
The easiest way to get ahead is to imitate those who are ahead. The biggest obstacle to doing that is usually that the start-up institution has yet to commit the resources to achieving desired programmatic goals. There are no magic outcomes. Getting ahead in advancement requires investment in trained personnel and systems.
Many emerging advancement shops make piecemeal investments in desired outcomes and then wonder why achieving their goals comes so slowly.
If you want to see how the pros do it, benchmark against smaller or rural state college or university advancement programs. The assumption that holds community colleges back is that they think they have nothing in common with four-year college advancement. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not so much a difference in kind as it is a difference of degree and type.
Alumni are alumni everywhere. The same fundamental dynamics are in play. Yes, the specific applications and solutions you choose will vary from the four-college program, but only incrementally. And the manner in which you tailor your alumni engagement effort allows for a significant level of creativity to flow into the mix. And that can be fun—and easier than reinventing the wheel.
If nothing else, benchmark with a four-year college on how they track their alumni. I have seen scores of community colleges struggle with this aspect of development readiness. Four-year colleges had to wrestle with the same questions. And once upon a time they had to invest in tracking their alumni or suffer depressed outcomes for years at a time.
So when it comes to keeping the wheels rolling smoothly, consider the value of not trying to invent them from scratch!