Association Alumni Networks

I was recently reading an article in Harvard Business Review on the changing employer-employee relationship. The main point of the article, to quote, is:

The time has come, we [authors Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh] believe, for a new employer-employee compact. You can’t have an agile company if you give employees lifetime contracts—and the best people don’t want one employer for life anyway. But you can build a better compact than “every man for himself.” In fact, some companies are doing so.

Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh propose taking lessons from start-ups and learning to work with and accommodate the “entrepreneurial” employee. They have a lot of interesting suggestions, and if you have time, I recommend reading the entire article, but one in particular drew my attention: Employee Alumni Networks.

Again, to quote:

The first thing you should do when a valuable employee tells you he is leaving is try to change his mind. The second is congratulate him on the new job and welcome him to your company’s alumni network.

The idea behind employee alumni networks is similar to that behind college alumni networks: they allow you to maintain long-term relationships with good people after your formal relationship ends, and for them to keep affiliation with you, even if they no longer have a direct financial relationship with you.

According to the article, 98% of Fortune 500 companies have formal or informal employee alumni networks. The benefits to the company include rehires, expanding your network of evangelists, new business opportunities, and collecting competitive intelligence.

The authors also stress that there needs to be a two-way exchange of value. They posit things like discounts, company swag, free insights or intelligence reports, and alumni newsletters for company alumni.

It got me thinking: why don’t we have association alumni networks?

When members leave, we tend to write them off. Why? Members leave for a variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with the association: they changed careers, they retired, their employer stopped supporting(financially or philosophically or both) association membership, etc.

What if, rather than treating them as disloyal pariahs, we could figure out a way to keep them engaged as an alumni audience?

Why wouldn’t your association want to get the benefits of rejoins, added evangelists, information sharing, and new business opportunities?

What could you offer to your membership alums? A LinkedIn or Facebook group? Discounts? A special newsletter? Association swag? Occasionally sending them a free publication?

I think this all gets to a larger question I plan to address in an upcoming post: why do we feel compelled to act as if “membership” is the only relationship people can have with our associations?

3 thoughts on “Association Alumni Networks”

  • Well, the short answer is colleges and employers expect you to leave the nest and are okay with that, whereas associations are not. The membership model expects you to be a member. Always. If you leave, you’re not an alumni. You’re just a prospect again, because we expect you to come back. Colleges and employers don’t expect you back. They’re okay if you do, but don’t expect it. Basically, colleges and employers understand that YOU are the center of your universe, and they position themselves to partner with you when that works out for both parties. Associations act as if THEY are the center of the universe, and your role is to enter into their orbit.

  • Jamie, good points, no doubt. One of the things the article mentioned, though, was the idea of re-hires and referrals. And, of course, there’s the point I’ve been beating to death (or at least it feels like it) recently: why do we persist in behaving as if “membership” is the only possible relationship? I think we have to start thinking a little more broadly and being more open to other types of interaction.

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