It is homecoming time at colleges and universities across the country. Rivalrous football games with savory smelling tailgate culinary efforts are often part of an agenda-packed week on campus. But what if your campus doesn’t have a football team to drive alumni home? That is the circumstance at my alma mater. For those with large athletic programs and thousands of loyal fans, it might be difficult to conceive how one can have “homecoming” if there is not a big draw like an athletic event. My alma mater establishes October traditions during the student experience, and even without a major sporting draw, the university still celebrates Homecoming—a time for alumni to come “home.”
Alumni relations professionals are frequently challenged with the puzzle of how to induce alumni to come back to campus. The enticements of our student experience may not be the same ones that motivate alumni to return to campus. Interests shift and change as we grow through the various stages of adulthood. A campus in a sparsely populated mid-west town many not be a destination spot for an alum who has limited time and resources.
Is there a way to create that feeling of homecoming without making a trip to campus? I advance that there is. A few years ago, I attended a regional event for alumni in the LA area. My alma mater hosted this event in coordination with a student program that was happening in LA at the same time. In attendance were familiar faces of old faculty members, the university president, alumni (several generations represented), current students, and prospective students. If I suspended my disbelief for just a moment, I swear it felt like I was back on campus. And to seal the deal, the university shipped out sandwiches from a local eatery that are indigenous only to this small town in the Midwest. It was truly like “coming home.”
It is not only alumni who have limited resources; our institutions also have limited resources. Purposeful and well planned regional events can be cost effective and meaningful for alumni. So, as you cheer for your favorite team this month at campuses all over the country, consider what happens after homecoming. How will you provide that type of experience? Can you bring homecoming TO the alumni? Can you effectively meet them where they live? How will you determine the location of these events? What approaches will you use to engage alumni and encourage attendance at these events? What will entice them?
Whatever the approach, might I recommend that “location matters.” Even if you host a homecoming 1500 miles away from campus, one of the shared experiences that all students had was the physical location of the campus and the city where campus was located. Don’t forget to bring a bit of local flair to your event. Your alumni will be so grateful that you did, and you will truly make them feel like they had a little bit of home shared with them. May your favorite team win this homecoming season!