Alumni Engagement | Tackling Attrition

By: Brian Rosenbaum
I love our Alumni. I don’t get a ton of contact with our high school students, so working with the college-going former participants of my nonprofit – College Summit – helps me to connect to our mission and see the real impact we make each day. They inspire me, make me laugh, and give me hope. And sometimes they drive me crazy.
November has been a tough month for our Alumni in terms of meeting their commitments. In October, 24 signed up to volunteer, and another 12 showed up to mixers or other meetings. Out of those five (14 percent) canceled or didn’t show. Not terrible – that’s only a little higher than my overall volunteer attrition rate (10.6 percent so far this year).
In November, however, 27 signed up to volunteer at our high schools and seven bailed. Another 12 signed up for a professional development session and 9 canceled. Just last week, four of the seven members of the Cal State Northridge Club leadership attended our final meeting of the year. That’s a lot of canceling/no-showing. 41 percent, to be exact. Posting on Instagram through our Student Lens Project has been scant this month, too.
Some of these cancelations were valid: I was sick, I had to take care of family issues, I had to take an extra work shift. But most of them could have been avoided with better planning. For example, don’t commit to something if you’re not sure you have a ride. Plan ahead and leave on time. Make attendance a priority and plan study time around meetings. Not sure if the event is still happening? Check the six (count ‘em!) different sources of information where you could have found out: the Facebook profile or page, Twitter, Instagram, your email, or calling me.
On the technical side, this has reminded me that good volunteer and event management means checking in with your participants early to confirm that they’re good to go. Emailing, texting, or Facebook chatting someone the day before the event is not an effective strategy by itself. It’s also a reminder that while booking too many volunteers is a dangerous proposition (too many volunteers + not enough students = bored volunteers who don’t come back), if there’s an Alum in that group, I can hedge my bets by recruiting two.
Ultimately, however, Alumni engagement is a two-way street. “Getting the job done” is important, but unless the Alumni know me, trust me, and believe that attending is worth their time, no amount of Facebook posting will make them show up. In the words of my mentor, “Movement-building is relationship-building.” That is, real change in the lives of our students and our communities is built one conversation at a time.
Lastly, ‘tis the season to be understanding. We all make mistakes and I know better than to throw stones in glass houses. On a deeper level, the nature of my nonprofit’s work means that our students leave high school without the same social, cultural, and physical capital as their more privileged peers. That’s not to excuse their actions – they know when they mess up. But they also face greater obstacles than I ever did, and it’s important that we (as an organization) and I (as a social justice advocate) acknowledge that. And, it’s important to celebrate our successes: 20 Alumni coming out to help students apply to college, three attending a training on financial literacy, and four participating in a meaningful meeting are all important accomplishments and building blocks.
How do you prevent no-shows and cancellations? What works with your volunteers, students, and Alumni? Join the conversation by commenting below.
As College Summit’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Brian works to recruit and mobilize the organization’s growing volunteer and Alumni Leader base while supporting sales initiatives, program implementation, event coordination, and development.  Brian joined College Summit in 2011, seeing the organization as a place to bridge his passions for social justice, empowerment through education, and grassroots community building. Follow the adventure on Facebook by liking College Summit Southern California or via Twitter @CollegeSummitLA. Brian can be reached directly at [email protected]

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