Sue Martin joined RSM in January 2018. Her career has been remarkable and diverse; from being the national lead for community relations for the UK’s immigration enforcement and removals during 25 years with the UK’s Home Office ministerial department with postings in Nigeria and Cyprus to head of alumni engagement at a UK Russell Group university. The skills she developed in posts all over the world – and what she discovered about building communities – will inform her plans for making sure RSM’s 36,000-strong alumni community get lifelong value from their relationship with RSM.
Good business sense
Sue joined the University of Southampton in 2008 and took a variety of roles: student recruitment, faculty management and a major change project. Then she was appointed associate director of alumni relations, looking after 200,000 graduates. ‘I have seen the enormous value that alumni networks add to an institution, and it makes incredibly good business sense to build meaningful relationships,’ she says.
In 2015, Sue took up new challenges with the University of Reading as it entered a campaign to gather 60,000 volunteer hours and to raise £150 million. The resulting “Imagine” campaign presented the idea of fundraising projects to a global alumni audience as the university celebrated its 90th anniversary. Her experience there has inspired Sue’s preparations for RSM’s own 50th anniversary in 2020.
Accessible global community
‘RSM’s alumni network is almost 50 years old; it comprises people at every stage of life. A good alumni programme will understand that alumni will want different things from their alma mater,’ she says. ‘We should cater for those who want continued education or a network to help them in their career as well as those who want reunions and family-friendly events.’
But what drew Sue to RSM? ‘I was attracted because RSM is a business school. I really like business graduates; they understand networks, they’re international, and often successfully entrepreneurial. The idea of working with an accessible and global community was appealing.’
‘I read about RSM’s mission to be a force for positive change before I visited Rotterdam. Then I saw the “I WILL” statements on the walls when I got here; they were incredibly compelling. These two initiatives made RSM stand out, and I have seen that alumni respond; they recognise themselves and they are proud of RSM.’
RSM’s 36,000 alumni are spread all over the world but already have one thing in common. ‘I immediately noticed the warm relationships and how much pride alumni have for RSM,’ she observed. ‘Our international graduates have made a great personal and financial commitment, and could be considered to have the strongest affinity.’
The way that alumni experience the relationship with RSM can be improved, Sue thinks. She proposes creating relationships that are akin to partnerships so alumni feel valued and supported. ‘I want alumni to feel they can approach us for advice or help with making or re-establishing RSM connections wherever they are.’
Current students may be first to experience the new approach. Sue plans to focus part of the RSM alumni team to work on engaging current students and recent graduates, perhaps helping them to join a Local Chapter straight after graduation.
‘Some alumni are already very engaged in what we do; in mentoring current students, in bringing their experience into the classroom with guest lectures, and in raising scholarship funds – all are valuable activities. We are also proud to have a strong network of active Local Chapters. However, we want to take it to the next level.’
Alumni can look forward to a refreshed approach to Local Chapters. ‘I want to consolidate the existing networks, give them support that works where they are, and build connections with alumni in other locations. I also think we need to build a stronger community on our doorstep with a Benelux Chapter.’
Sue describes the “virtuous circle of alumni engagement” in which students choose to go to a particular university when they are inspired by its graduates. As a student, they see an alumnus give a guest lecture or company presentation during their studies that motivates them to seek a job with that company after graduation, or they are mentored by an alumnus or get an internship through this network. The cycle repeats with the new alumnus mentoring or giving advice about their industry sector.
‘This happens again and again, particularly in this school,’ she says. ‘There are companies employing significant numbers of our graduates who in turn look back to RSM for the next generation of RSM talent.’ Sue believes the alumni team can facilitate this succession of proud RSM alumni. ‘We want to allow alumni to tell their success stories as part of RSM’s story through better communications.’
Feedback to build relationships
Sue recognises these steps will take time. ‘Good engagement is for the longer term; it takes a while to build it up and I am delighted that RSM has recognised this,’ she says, and plans to launch a package of services to support reunions and other events.
Sue intends to further professionalise RSM’s approach to these increasingly important relationships, and welcomes feedback and ideas; she understands that building relationships is the most important first step, but knows that many alumni find it rewarding to play a part in developing a stronger, more useful and engaging community; one in which RSM alumni – no matter where they might be in the world – are proud to belong.
If you have ideas to help encourage the RSM alumni community or would like to connect with alumni near you, get in touch and get involved via firstname.lastname@example.org.