Recently, my family and I took a trip to Disney World, our first in fact. While Disney has never been my cup of tea (sorry Disney fans), and while I accepted that this was a trip primarily for my nine-year-old and her mother, I was nonetheless a good sport about it and resigned myself to the role of Vacation-Dad for four days and five nights at “the happiest place on Earth.”
It wasn’t a bad trip at all, and I was impressed by how much effort Disney puts into ensuring that even the smallest details are handled well. For example, one is going to wait in line every bit as much as one would at any other theme park, even with those convenient “fast passes.” Disney, however, has clearly put a lot of thought into the line-waiting experience. For every show, every ride, and every meal we attended, the lines presented us with something novel to do or look at while waiting.
As one might expect, none of this is left to chance. I later learned that Disney has some very specific policies that define their goals with respect to the guest experience, two of which immediately struck me as having implications for alumni relations work. (1) Always Be “Show Ready,” and (2) Optimize the mundane.
Always Be “Show-Ready”
People who work at Disney World are not called employees, they are called “cast members.” Everyone, from the person wearing the Mickey costume to the one who sweeps up the floor has a role to play. They are each responsible for making certain they are ready to play their part to perfection so that everything comes off without a hitch.
Being “show-ready” when it comes to alumni relations can mean a myriad of things, and I will not try to list them all here. Suffice it to say, every communication that comes out of the alumni office, whether in print or online should be the very best it can be. Every alumni event must be well-planned and executed. If you cannot meet high standards, pull the event. At homecoming, is the campus in tip-top shape? Just as guests at Disney World form opinions about the quality of their stay based how things look and feel, so too will alumni form impressions about their alma maters, and whether or not they want to engage and donate. Being show-ready is about delivering the best possible experiences to your alumni – the first time, every time.
Optimize the Mundane
Just as Disney works to make waiting in line as painless and engaging as possible, so too must alumni relations professionals identify those less exciting parts of the alumni experience that could be improved with a little care and thought. Are you having an alumni event on campus? Get some student volunteers together and offer valet parking. Take the burden of finding campus parking off the shoulders of your guests. Is the website hard to use? Clean it up and get serious about making it easy for alumni to find the information they want. Is it homecoming weekend? Get some golf carts and run shuttles around campus. The less schlepping the class of 1950 has to do, the better, and they will thank you for it.
The point is to really drill down into every aspect of the alumni experience, and tweak and optimize until it is the best it can possibly be. Alumni are the lifeblood of an institution’s reputation, and sustainability. Treat them like they matter, and they will take the institution to higher and higher levels of excellence for the students it serves. The quality of the alumni experience, and the details thereof, really do matter.