The Most Desired Qualities of a Leading Alumni Director

How often has a job description for an institution’s chief alumni officer been crafted by the guiding hand of the HR department? You know what I mean – a posting that is more or less a rundown of basic “skills,” “qualifications” and “experience,” but it does not necessarily reflect the desired characteristics of a more contemporary alumni director.

The HR department is just following historical personnel guidelines. However, the evolution of the alumni relations profession over the years has led to the need for a much more progressive leader – an executive – someone that possesses a great deal of business savvy, and can inspire a culture of innovation, creativity and collaboration.

Candidates for alumni director positions at leading institutions must obviously be fluent in the mechanics of alumni relations management and best practices, and this satisfies the core requirements of the job. But, as we counsel our clients, there is usually more to the story – if, that is, the organization desires more transformational leadership.

So whenever I hear a football coach explain that you can’t coach “speed” or “heart” in their athletes, I think of similar qualities for today’s alumni directors. Beyond the vitae, the leading alumni director:

  • Provides leadership with a vision, and can translate vision into action.
  • Is organized and confident – someone that can BE the leader.
  • Is someone who can move the needle; doesn’t settle for the status quo.
  • Is able to understand the meaning of engagement, and how engaged alumni advance the institution.
  • Possesses not only strong communication skills, but understands the importance of effective communication in building the alumni and institutional brands.
  • Openly and willingly contributes to the success of campus partners.
  • Is a “connector” that understands that relationships are important.
  • Is approachable and seen as positive.
  • Is, or has the ability to be, a visible member of the local community.
  • Has the ability to influence up, down and across the chain – a 360 degree leader.
  • Is not necessarily an alumnus/a. This may be a preference in some cases, but certainly not necessary.
  • Strives to be in tune with the vision of the institution’s President and Advancement leadership.

Alumni offices are vital in their role of engaging and mobilizing graduates as a collective asset of the institution. As such, the chief alumni officer must view the alumni organization as a proactive and involved campus partner that contributes to a well-rounded institutional advancement program – and often, to a future campaign.

Sounds like the characteristics of a pretty good quarterback! I’d welcome your thoughts on other desired qualities.