Alumni members are, for the most part, the foundation upon which your chapter has been built. Where are they now? Are they still a valuable resource for your chapter?
Many suggestions have been offered for building stronger Psi Chi chapters. Most of these suggestions can be classified into two general areas. One group of suggestions focuses upon ways to build membership. These suggested activities describe ways to identify and recruit prospective members early in their academic careers. The second group of activities focuses upon ways to generate interest and participation within the current student membership. These latter activities include interesting lectures, seminars, field trips, fundraising projects, and social events.
While these two general activity areas provide good suggestions for building stronger chapters, there is a third, equally important, area that has received relatively little discussion: How to maintain the interest and participation of alumni members after they and their classmates have graduated. Upon graduation, most alumni members will become involved with new graduate programs or jobs. As their new involvements grow, new priorities develop and old interests begin to fade. Unless specific efforts are made to maintain their interest and participation, alumni members will quickly feel as if their Psi Chi chapter no longer meets their personal or professional needs. They soon stop attending meetings and we rarely notice their absence.
Until now, there has been relatively little written about retaining alumni members. Indeed, if one thinks of Psi Chi as only a student-based (rather than a professionally based) organization, it is reasonable to expect members to lose interest after they graduate. It would be easy to assume that alumni members will not have the time or motivation to attend activities, so why make an effort to encourage their involvement? Or, we might assume that if alumni members really wanted to remain active, they would make the effort to maintain the contacts. Finally, we might realize that it takes time, money, and effort to develop and maintain a system for continuing contact with alumni members. So, the question might be asked, "Is it desirable for Psi Chi chapters to attempt to maintain alumni involvement?"
I believe that the answer to the above posed question is "YES." It is desirable to maintain alumni involvement for at least five reasons. The most obvious reason is financial. If alumni members are routinely informed of chapter activities, especially special projects, they may be inclined to contribute money from time to time. An occasional chapter announcement costs only a few cents to mail and may produce sizable financial contributions. For example, if your chapter has adopted a shelter this year and you are able to send a list of its specific needs to all current and past members, many alumni members would probably be happy to help financially. Universities have long recognized that alumni are willing to make financial contributions to their alma mater if they are informed of its financial needs. In fact, after they become employed, alumni members may be in a better position to give financial assistance than when they were students.
Staffing for Events
The second reason for maintaining alumni involvement is that alumni members can provide staffing for special events. Although they may be unable to attend regular chapter meetings, alumni members frequently welcome an invitation to return to the campus and assist with special projects. If there is an annual event of special importance, many will mark their calendars in advance so that they will be available to provide their assistance as needed. If publicized properly, the event could assume the role of a Homecoming week and be viewed as an opportunity to preserve the fond memories of one's undergraduate experience.
A good example of such an event is the food concession booth operated by the Athens State College Psi Chi Chapter during the annual Old-Time Fiddler's Convention. This convention is held on our campus every year during the first weekend of October. For 30 hours over a two-day span, our chapter cooks and sells hot dogs, nachos, chili, and baked goods. This concession booth functions as our primary fundraising activity of the year. To be successful, we need at least 50 people donating four to eight hours of their time. Without our alumni members, we would not have enough staff to make this a successful fundraising event. This year, we had 16 faithful alumni members who came back to help. One of our most faithful alumni members is Howard Roberts who was a charter member of our chapter when it was established 11 years ago. He has helped to open and close our booth every year since he was inducted into Psi Chi.
A third reason for maintaining alumni involvement is that alumni members can provide current information to student members about job opportunities and the graduate school application process. The job market and graduate school programs are constantly changing. Although professors attempt to stay abreast of these changes, it is virtually impossible to do so. On the other hand, alumni members have recently experienced the realities of applying to graduate school, relocating to a new city, getting involved in current research, or working in the contemporary managed-care environment. As such, these alumni members are in a much better position to help our current students anticipate the obstacles they are likely to encounter after graduation. Alumni members have valuable knowledge and can present this knowledge from a student perspective.
A fourth, but related, reason for maintaining alumni involvement is that they can inspire our current students. Alumni members are in a unique position in that they can say, "I was in your position a few years ago, and I thought that I wouldn't be able to overcome certain obstacles, but I persevered and overcame them. Now I am a much better person for having met the challenge." By sharing personal thoughts and experiences, alumni members can provide inspiration for dealing with academic, vocational, and personal adversities.
A final reason for maintaining alumni involvement is to provide a historical perspective for the chapter. When student members are discussing a current problem, alumni members can share information about past problems and how the chapter dealt with these problems. Alumni members can provide informed insights into the things that are likely to work well and the things that are likely to cause problems. Alumni members can remind current students about the past successes of the chapter and inspire current members to undertake equally challenging projects.
Now that some reasons for maintaining alumni involvement have been briefly described, it is desirable to list a few ways to encourage their involvement. First, it is recommended that each chapter keep two mailing lists. One mailing list, consisting of current members, would be used to send frequent newsletters and chapter announcements. The second list, consisting of alumni members, would be used to send occasional announcements describing special projects or fundraising activities. A second recommendation for encouraging alumni involvement is that each chapter frequently invite alumni members back to speak at monthly meetings. For example, each year Athens State College has a graduate school information seminar at which alumni members are asked to share their knowledge and impressions about preparation for, application to, and successful completion of graduate programs. Usually, five or more different graduate programs are represented at these seminars. At other meetings, Athens State invites alumni members who have found jobs in a psychology-related field to share information about their work. A final recommendation for encouraging alumni involvement is to schedule occasional activities at night and on weekends so that alumni members who have daytime responsibilities can attend some activities if they would like to do so.
In sum, there are several reasons for encouraging alumni involvement. If we are able to involve more alumni members, our chapters will be stronger, more exciting, and able to successfully undertake larger projects. So, after we talk about how to recruit new members and how to schedule interesting activities, we need to talk about how to keep our alumni members more involved in our chapters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frazier M. Douglass IV, PhD, is professor of psychology and Psi Chi faculty advisor at Athens State College in Athens, Ala., where his activities include teaching, conducting research on marital quality, and advising undergraduate students. Dr. Douglass earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Auburn University and his PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In addition to his academic position, Dr. Douglass has served on the board of directors for the Alabama Alliance for the Mentally Ill and was active for many years in clinical practice.
Dr. Douglass's contributions to Psi Chi have been many. Besides being an active and successful Psi Chi faculty advisor, he has also served as a reviewer for the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research and as a participant in Psi Chi convention programs.
Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 14-16), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1998, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.