What do Alumni Association Leaders have in Common?


Graduations at The University of Glasgow, looking out from the Cloisters

Have you ever wondered who leads your alumni network? We went to find out. Directors and Heads of Alumni maintain the bond between you and your university after graduation. They connect hundreds of thousands of people. The role is slightly different at each university. Some universities focus more on fundraising, others on helping alumni to support current students. The core still remains the same, it is about building a community and a culture of giving back that lasts beyond graduation.


At VeryConnect we are all part of alumni associations. Since we care about communities, and how to take them forward, we were curious about who is leading alumni networks. We researched public data on LinkedIn about alumni association leaders in the UK, and found that these leaders are more similar than you may think. Read on to learn about our discoveries.

Graduations at The University of Glasgow, in the East Quadrangle

75% of Alumni Association Leaders are Women

It is interesting to see that the overwhelming majority of alumni network leaders are women. We wondered why this was the case and looked into existing research to find out more. A large part of the Head of Alumni role is about communicating with a range of stakeholders. Scientists argue that women in general have stronger communication skills. If this is true it might be a reason why women are attracted to and succeed in Alumni Associations.

On a similar note, a Gallup study found that women leaders are more likely to engage their employees. Employees working for a female manager feel on average 6% more engaged than those working for a male manager. If it holds true that women are slightly better at engaging others even beyond the immediate workplace, this might also be a reason why more women make it to the top in Alumni Associations. Communications and engagement are key to building a successful and thriving alumni community.

3 in 5 Alumni Network Leaders have a Postgraduate Degree

Almost all alumni association leaders have studied at university themselves. 96% have an undergraduate degree. 60% also have a postgraduate degree. We asked Rachael Harris, Head of Alumni Relations at Cranfield University, and Faye Brown, Head of Alumni Engagement at University of Brighton, if their degrees have helped them to engage with alumni. Both agree that their first degree has helped them to succeed, mainly through the soft skills and transferable skills acquired. These skills include presenting, writing, organising and communicating.

Faye also did a postgraduate degree. It gave her the confidence to succeed, and she feels that the additional skills you learn by studying at a higher level can be as helpful for career progression as in-depth knowledge about a specific subject. It seems like having both an undergraduate and a postgraduate degree can help you to do well in Alumni Relations.

Graduations at The University of Glasgow, looking out from the Cloisters

Charities are Popular with Alumni Association Leaders

59% of Alumni Network Leaders started their career outside education. Charities outside universities stood out as a common career choice. 43% have worked in independent charities at some point. It is easy to see the career transition from one to the other. Charities and alumni networks have many common characteristics. Both have a core of building a community and giving back, and job roles include fundraising, communications, and engagement. Many of the skills you develop working with an independent charity are useful in Alumni Management too. If you are passionate about people and communities it is easy to see how you can enjoy working in both fields.

Many Heads of Alumni have Progressed Quickly

45% of UK Alumni Association Leaders have worked in alumni jobs for less than five years and 35% are in their thirties. These facts show that quick career progression in the field is possible. We asked Rachael and Faye about the key skills required to succeed in Alumni Relations. They mentioned the ability to speak with lots of different audiences and to balance internal and external stakeholders, as well as being resilient, patient, and adaptable. Faye also highlights that you need to enjoy what you are doing.

Rachael has been working in Alumni Relations and Development for ten years, of which three years as Head of Alumni Relations. She explains her quick career progress by that she has taken every opportunity for growth that the university has presented to her. It seems like enjoying communications and management, paired with the ability to handle pressure from different directions, are the keys to quick career progression in Alumni Relations. Of course, you also need to spot and access the right opportunities.

The Future of Alumni Networks

Our discoveries show that many Alumni Association Leaders are women with a postgraduate degree, who have experience working with charities, and who enjoy communications. We feel confident that these people can take change forward in the rapidly changing world of Alumni Relations.

It is an exciting time to lead an Alumni Association. Digital opportunities open doors for engagement and inclusion. The core purpose of building a community and a culture of giving back remains. Digital adds to this by providing the tools you need to easily connect with your alumni worldwide. Follow VeryConnect to read our next blog on digital excellence in Alumni Associations.

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