How to More Effectively Manage Your Alumni Relations Program
Chris Fritsch, Founder & CRM Success Consultant for CLIENTSFirst Consulting, and Stefanie Marrone, Founder of Stefanie Marrone Legal Marketing Consulting | The Social Media Butterfly, recently presented a webinar on their experiences with creating and managing alumni relations programs, alumni data management strategies and how technology has evolved to help lawyers and law firm business professionals track alumni and other data.
It doesn’t matter how big or small your firm is, if you have employees who have left that you want to keep in touch with, you should consider an alumni relations program. Yet many firms aren’t investing in creating these programs or the programs they have may not have yielded real ROI… yet.
Benefits of Alumni Relations
Alumni relations programs provide a number of important benefits and can help law firms with:
- Recruiting initiatives – Alumni are an excellent source for identifying and engaging potential recruits. Your alumni are often considered by prospective employees as a credible source of information about what it’s like to work at the firm. Consider inviting alumni to speak on career panels and join you on the on-campus recruiting process.
- Lateral pipeline activities – You never know from where your next lateral will come and engaging with your alumni to help you find qualified candidates is a smart and efficient move. In addition, there are conversations going on behind the scenes every day where candidates are asking around about a lawyer’s true experience at a firm before they make a job move – especially given that you can find this information online almost instantaneously, so engaging with your alumni in a way that is beneficial for them can help bolster your reputation with them.
- Business development – It’s no secret that the main reason why law firms create alumni relations programs is to get business from those lawyers who have gone in-house to a client or a potential client. This is why it’s so important to make your alumni program about your alumni – not your firm – so that you give them incentives to engage with your firm and opportunities to build your relationship with them over the course of their careers.
- General positive brand building for your firm – Your former employees are among your strongest brand advocates – keeping them close to the firm is a win-win for all involved.
- Boomerang employees – Many alumni return to your firm after going in-house, into public service or discovering the grass isn’t greener somewhere else. It’s easier to re-onboard than to hire from scratch.
A Word to the Wise
One of the biggest mistakes we see law firms make about their alumni relations program is excluding certain groups of people. Sometimes it’s not inviting lawyers who are at other firms to events or not giving them access to the alumni directory for fear of giving away information and not wanting them to mingle with or steal potential clients.
The other group we see law firms leave out of their alumni programs are people who were either asked to leave the firm or who were fired. This is a huge mistake! Extending an olive branch to be back in the law firm’s community is a way to repair hurt feelings about someone’s departure.
If you want to repair a relationship with an alumnus, invite them back into your community. Don’t further exclude them, especially in the age of online reviews such as Glassdoor, Indeed and others where people can fire off all of the negative reasons about working at your organization.
Beyond The Directory and Monthly Newsletter
Today, a law firm alumni relations program can be so much more than a contact directory or networking events. It’s about creating a long-term supportive community throughout the lifecycle of an alumnus/alumna’s career. It is also about creating opportunities for alumni to reconnect with each other.
When it comes to events, offer a combination of educational and social networking events. Hold online events as well so your long-distance employees can stay connected with your program too, especially if you have a global alumni network. CLE credit is harder to get when you aren’t at a law firm, so offer your alumni access to your online CLE library or resources for CLEs that you have for your current lawyers.
Good Alumni Data Is Essential
Without good, clean contact data on your alumni, it is impossible to stay in touch with them, meaning that your alumni relations program generates real results or ROI.
Alumni contact lists are among a firm’s most valuable referral, recruiting and business development resource, yet they are often kept in disconnected data silos such as spreadsheets, Outlook, Word documents and sometimes even Rolodexes or printed pieces of paper, which can seriously impact the ability to leverage your alumni connections. Additionally, this disconnected data is often duplicated in several systems leading to significant data quality issues
Keeping Up with Alumni Information
The best way to begin cultivating alumni relationships is to start during the offboarding process, because once a lawyer leaves your firm, you may lose touch with that employee and it can be difficult to reconnect with them. Ensure that whoever is handling exit interviews, whether it’s Human Resources, Professional Development or a dedicated Alumni Relations team, is capturing correct and complete forwarding information, including a personal email address. Ensure this information is added to your CRM system.
It can be helpful to categorize or tag the alumni in the system or to create a separate alumni folder or area to house their contact data if possible. In fact, CRM can enhance the success of your alumni program by changing the methodology of aggregating data and helping identify who-knows-who relationships. In addition, CRM integrations can make updating and maintaining the data quality of alumni lists a more manageable task.
Keeping in Touch
Communication is the foundation for engaging your alumni network. Plan for consistent communication to engage alumni and expand your organization’s access to information as well as support your brand. Alumni engage when they feel like they are valued, so invest in them by personalizing communication to fit their needs.
One of the best ways to engage alumni is to regularly email your network with information that is helpful and relevant to them. Consider creating a newsletter with a “class notes” section where you report on alumni job moves, promotions and other professional achievements. Encouraging them to share their successes will enhance your relationship with them. Also allow them to share updated contact information to help you capture any updates or changes – you can easily create a form to do this.
Alumni Portals and Perks
Many firms house their alumni information in a custom portal that is accessible to alumni to encourage members to return and stay connected to each other and the firm. Some firms also have discount programs, special services or other perks for employees that could also be shared with alumni. We recommend making a master list of the perks you offer to employees (theater tickets, airline discounts, gym membership discounts, continuing education) and then extend the ones that make the most sense to alumni as well.
The Benefits of Outsourcing Assistance
Regularly reviewing and updating contact information for alumni and their career and company moves is essential. But this can be difficult and time-consuming even if you have a full-time CRM steward or an alumni relations point person. Additionally, as your network grows, your ability to track, update and analyze alumni data can become more challenging. If you need assistance to help you manage your alumni data in utilizing outsourced resources can really be beneficial.
A Few Final Thoughts
Here are a few final ideas and best practices for success with alumni programs:
- Alumni lists are one of your firm’s most valuable assets for business development, recruiting and general brand awareness, so what are you waiting for in creating one?
- Don’t exclude alumni – building a community is beneficial for you and your alumni – and can repair relationships.
- Remember, at the heart of your alumni relations program is updated and clean data.
You can have all the networking and educational events in the world, send out targeted communications, and offer terrific perks to your alumni, but if they aren’t reaching the right recipients, this time and effort will be wasted. So, don’t forget to focus on the data first – and if you need help, outsource it.
Want some more tips and tricks for managing your alumni program? Watch a replay of Chris and Stefanie’s full alumni relations best practices webinar.
Chris Fritsch is the Founder of and CRM Success Consultant at CLIENTSFirst Consulting, where she and her team help hundreds of top organizations succeed by delivering services, solutions and strategy for CRM, emarketing, data quality and data cleaning.
Stefanie Marrone is the Founder of Stefanie Marrone Consulting (Stefanie oversaw alumni relations programs at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Morrison & Foerster, Proskauer, Mayer Brown and Sullivan & Cromwell).
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