Sunday, May 30, 2010

Values As A Means of Building Emotional Connections

In earlier posts we learned that the lack of emotional connection is a major reason why many alumni don’t give, or give more, to their alma maters. So let’s explore ways of overcoming that barrier by identifying and igniting emotions that could reestablish long-term connections.

The key is looking not just at the emotions of alumni but what might prove to be the basis of an emotional connection between school and alumnus, especially over time and if the alumnus has fallen away. That basis is shared values. We channel our passions through them and use them to determine our course of action throughout life.

With that in mind, I randomly selected from the CASE directory one four-year university (in this case with technological focus), one community college, and one independent school. Then I went to their websites to review their stated values. The university’s included integrity and ethics, diversity and pluralism, and teamwork and collaboration. The community college also listed integrity, as well as “service excellence.” The independent school spoke of citizenship, personal responsibility, and moral character. Bravo. They are all laudable virtues that have the potential of engaging alumni and inspiring their support.

Then I went further into the website of each to determine how alumni might be instructed on ways they could help advance those values with their time, talent, or treasure. In no case, could I find such options. The closest was that the university and the community college spoke to the need for scholarships and, a few cases, there were scholarships that promoted diversity. In the case of the independent school, there was no explanation of giving options, only a payment form and a list of giving level societies.

I don’t presume that the website is the sum and substance of those institution’s alumni relations or fund-raising strategies but you take my point. Values are the animating force of institutional life and purpose, and the means of building strong, sustained community and support. But we cannot build communities of support merely by stating values; we have to show how we are instilling values, and deepening them through practical applications and values-based outcomes. And we have to show others how they can help us get there.

So, let’s focus on one value expressed by all three of these schools -- integrity (or moral character) -- to see how it could be employed to build a greater sense of community and inspire support. For instance, what if any of those institutions put forward an “Integrity Plan”? What if that plan called for a series of events or rituals that would help stress the importance of that virtue, whether it was freshman convocation, an an integrity pledge, or a celebration of “acts of integrity” in which all members of the community could take part? What if teachers of art, literature, history, religion and other disciplines were asked to incorporate “exemplars of integrity” in their lesson plans or to speak to them in some other way? What if students were assigned to read stories that highlight real or imagined acts of integrity, and their parents were asked to read them as well and facilitate a family discussion? How about organizing alumni activities around the reading of certain books or the viewing of plays and movies that speak eloquently to that value? How about having a student video contest on the theme of integrity and asking an alumni panel to review the submissions and determine the winner? How about creating an integrity chat room or billboard by asking students to find and submit their favorite examples from real life? How about asking alumni to speak to students under the theme of “Integrity in Question” citing examples from their their personal knowledge or business experience where a lack of integrity led to disastrous consequences? Again, you get my point, whether like my examples or not. I think many of you would agree that raising money for an imaginative “Integrity Plan,” or any part of it, would be a wonderful way of engaging volunteers and donors. Wouldn’t the same be true of institutions that created a plan for diversity, or citizenship, or service excellence? If it involved all segments of the community, included a variety of interesting projects and drove toward certain outcomes, would it not allow more alumni to say, “I care about that. I want to be involved. I can see how I can help and make a difference”? And wouldn’t that make a great difference, particularly if their alma mater said, “Thank you for sharing and embodying these values. We need your help in making them come alive and be embraced by this generation of students”?

Wouldn’t it?

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