Alumni associations are axing dues. Should you?

What’s the duty of an alumni association? At times, it may seem that the pressure to meet giving goals supersedes the effort spent on actual alumni services.

Even with alumni giving dropping across the board, many higher ed alumni associations are scrapping the conventional playbook and moving to a dues-free model. Why? Because these groups recognize that all former students are alumni, whether they have the means to pay for inclusion or not.

StoriedU talked to alumni groups that have recently said adieu to dues and learned how it’s affecting them:

Michigan State University

When the Michigan State University Alumni Association began to consider an alternate membership model in 2010, it reflected on its mission to enrich the lives of Spartans everywhere.

“We exist to create an environment of lifelong growth and enlightenment,” says Maria Giggy, director of programs for MSUAA. “Dues simply didn’t fit into this equation.”

The change – which took effect July 1, 2016 – has allowed the group to shift its energies from fundraising to fostering deeper levels of engagement with alumni and students, which Giggy says will ultimately help generate increased support.

“The change has allowed us to completely rethink our engagement strategy for students and alumni,” Giggy says. “We’ve reorganized internally to create a director of student engagement whose purpose will be to work with our campus partners to create more student/alumni interactions and to help create a culture of philanthropy on campus.”


Arizona State University

The Arizona State University Alumni Association, which went dues-free earlier this year, also looked inward for inspiration when reevaluating their model.

“The charter of our university is one of inclusiveness,” says Tracy Scott, ASUAA’s director of marketing and strategic communications. “When we were looking to make a change we thought, ‘Let’s model the university’s charter and make it inclusive and make everyone a member.’”

While offering a slate of benefits to all graduates of the university, ASUAA embraced a model that could best be described as “freemium.” The freemium model offers a basic set of services for free, but also included opportunities to upgrade those services to a paid, premium level – think Spotify or LinkedIn. For members who choose to donate, expanded benefits are offered, including access to professional networking events, career counseling, and legacy scholarships.

Scott notes there is an added bonus to giving within the freemium model: “Now, membership is a donation, a gift to the university, so it’s tax-deductible.”

Much like MSU, the Sun Devils are currying favor with current students by sponsoring both numerous scholarships and the campus’ largest spirit organization, the ASU Student Alumni Association.

“One of the things we wanted to do with this dues-free model is to start to build the culture of philanthropy,” says Scott. “I think it sets that mindset from the beginning.”

What we can learn from this:

  1. Reach out and make connections now. Alumni don’t spring forth fully formed on graduation day. As we’ve discussed here before, colleges and universities need to engage not just young alumni but pre-alumni. It aids students’ transition, letting them know that once a student, always a member of the university community.
  2. Listen up. Your alumni and students are telling you what they want and need from their alumni association. Keep the lines of communication wide open and make sure you are providing them with a package of services that will help them succeed. Those alums that have gotten a leg up thanks to your programming will become some of your best evangelists.
  3. Practice what you preach, to thine own self be true, etc., etc. You know the multitude of platitudes telling you to be authentic? Heed their advice. If your alumni association and your school stand on the pillars of inclusivity and mutual benefit, then it’s going to look out of place if you put up barriers to admittance. Instead, create an alumni group that caters to all, plan events and services that speak to your audience, and make sure you spread the good word about membership early and often.

Has your university recently made a change in your Alumni Association? Tell us how it’s going on Twitter at @StoriedU.


About John Tolley

John Tolley is an editor for StoriedU, concentrating on the fields of content marketing and social media strategy in the realm of higher education. He is particularly interested in how schools leverage their various... More about John Tolley »

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