Why Global Alumni Relations Matter

An example of how U.S.-centric communications can hamper worldwide giving

April 16, 2018

My time spent as a student at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) was awesome. The faculty and staff were great. The facilities, including my dorm (yes, I know, it's a *residence hall), the recreation center (one of the best in the country), and the library helped make my three year stint in Cedar Falls a memorable and worthwhile experience.

Earlier this month, I received multiple emails about a planned day of giving. It's always nice to get an email that's covered in purple and gold. The 'Panther' colors are familiar and welcomed. The campaign for this alumni development even included a catchy hashtag: #LivePurpleGiveGold. I was stoked to see how things unfolded on the day via the social web.

There were plenty of tweets and the day of giving website even included a map that showed the location of donors. I was curious when I noticed that the map on the day showed the entire world, but the donor locations were only marked if they were in the United States.

I read through the site copy and a theme became evident quite quickly: this day of giving wasn't for everyone.

The initial wording at the top of the webpage was all about spreading "Panther" pride throughout the country" and that you could "help paint the country purple" by way of a donation.

I'm all for niche alumni events and communication segmentation. However, if you're going to send messages to your alumni, why not make it a global event?

Social media is global (for the most part) and this was clearly being put forward as a "everyone should participate" style of day. Except in this case, the focus was almost Iowa-centric. Strangely, in the emails that I received, the time listed for the start of #LivePurpleGiveGold was "12:01 A.M." I'm assuming that meant 12:01AM Central Time. I mean, seriously, what about Eastern, Pacific, and Mountain (and let's not forget Alaskan and Hawaiian time zones)?

Putting aside my vexation for a moment, I should note that I was going to make a donation on the day of giving.

This was sort of a big moment for me. In fact, when I was a student at UNI, I used to work for the phone bank that contacted alumni for potential donations. However, I've never donated to the University of Northern Iowa...or if I have, I don't recall doing so.

I went to the day of giving site and proceeded to the "Give Now" section.

And then I didn't make a donation...because I couldn't. The site's form fields only accepted addresses from the United States...literally excluding potential donations from countless alumni living abroad or who were among the many international students who have graduated from the university and left the country.

I was dumbfounded. They wanted my Twitter handle, but not my money. I graduated from the public relations program at UNI with a minor in marketing. I was literally taught not to do things like this.

I figured I would give the UNI Foundation a chance to respond to my frustrations...and then they tweeted this at me: "While we have some challenges focused on Iowa and the United States, we want all of Panther nation to participate in #LivePurpleGiveGold. Go Cats!" Sigh. I wanted to participate, but couldn't.

And, to top it off, they then sent me a direct message on Twitter saying that they could process international gifts if I called 319-273-7118.

Seriously? Dial that number from the UK and see what happens. I love the 319 area code. I grew up with that area code. It's familiar. But that phone number will not work outside of the United States of America without the country code of 001.

I've watched Field of Dreams, hit baseballs at the field near Dyersville, love to eat corn and am far too chatty with people on the Tube...but c'mon. The University of Northern Iowa is a globally engaged university. It isn't just an Iowa institution.

Global alumni relations requires skill, strategy, and an awareness that a university's students come from all over the globe. If you work for a university foundation, advancement/development, or alumni relations function, you never limit the scope or reach of your giving pool. It's poor strategy. In 2018, a university cannot be successful without a strong alumni community...and Panther nation is worldwide. Next time, please let us live purple and give gold.


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*Fortunately, I still get to keep my graduate degree in higher education administration even though I still use "dorm" in discourse.

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