Keeping Husker Fans Connected - An Interview with the Nebraska Alumni Association

The 2010 college football season is nearly upon us, and I promise that we'll have plenty of football content coming your way. But first, an interview with Diane Mendenhall, Executive Director of the University of Nebraska's Alumni Association. 

Why, you may ask, why would we do an interview with the Alumni Assocation? Simple - CN has something in common with the Alumni Association - we both strive to keep Husker fans connected. I figure if CN can help them get their message out, the more Nebraskans can find each other, and everyone wins! Whooeeee!!!! 

So....... here's information about what your Alumni Association is doing to make sure you stay connected. 

Over the past year or so, the Alumni Association has made a big push into social media. You've got things going on LinkedIn and a nice Facebook Page. How have those helped in keeping in touch with alums - are you seeing much more involvement because of social media? 

We are really excited about the opportunities social media offer us to connect UNL alumni and fans with campus, and with each other. Through Facebook, we've reached people in about 20 countries-our top five outside of the United States are Malaysia, Canada, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

These international alumni, as well as others who live outside of Nebraska, have a real appetite for campus news and photos. One of our most popular features is the "Campus Photo of the Week," which showcases a building or area of campus. We have also received great responses to fan photo contests, including our most recent Husker License Plates contest. Be sure to watch for more contests and giveaways this fall. 

My understanding is that you're also helping Alumni groups with social media and setting up web sites, so that if an alumni group is looking for assistance they can connect you, correct? 

The alumni association is committed to helping our chapters, which are already strong, grow their membership even further. Obviously, an online presence is important to that effort. We understand that it's not realistic for every chapter to have a web designer, so we offer an alumni-association-branded website template to official chapters as an option. Claire Abelbeck, our assistant director of online engagement, offers assistance in creating and maintaining these sites.

Increasingly, our chapters are reaching out to Husker fans through social media. We support these efforts and link to all chapters' Facebook pages from our alumni association Facebook page.

Any more on the social media front coming alums should be aware of? 

We have a YouTube channel that is in its infancy. Currently, alumni can view informational videos about programs available to them. We will continue to add content from some of our most popular events, like Football Friday and our Athletic Travel program, in the coming months.

We are also investigating Renren, which is akin to Facebook in China. This could be another way to continue our outreach to international alums.

Several years ago I was involved with a local Alumni chapter. I remember someone from your organization stating that Nebraska had a lower percentage of membership in its alumni association than the other schools in the Big 12. Is that statement true, and how does Nebraska fair in the Big Ten? 

Today, the alumni association has about 25,000 members, including 16,000 life members. Annual membership fluctuates from year to year, but the Nebraska Alumni Association was consistently ranked in the top five among our Big 12 counterparts when evaluating the percentage of members among living alumni. 

Alumni support can also be measured in intangibles. For example, Big Ten officials frequently mentioned the nationwide strength of the "Nebraska brand", as well as UNL's high standing in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of the nation's best colleges and universities. Neither would be possible without a strong history of support from alumni.

We will be one of the smallest alumni associations in the Big Ten Conference, in membership and staff. Part of that can be attributed to the size of UNL's enrollment, which will rank 11th of the 12 schools. But we also see the move to the Big Ten as a chance to grow Nebraska Alumni Association membership. There is an exciting opportunity to reach out to UNL alumni and fans living in these states.

It should also be noted that while membership is important to us, our primary focus is engagement. We work really hard to connect alumni and fans to the university through programs and events, athletic travel, chapters and more. That said, membership will always be one of the best ways to connect to the university (you can join at www.HuskerAlum.org/membership).

How do you expect the change to the Big Ten Conference to affect the Alumni Association? Are you worried about losing involvement in the Big 12 area? 

The Big Ten Conference move offers the alumni association a tremendous chance to grow. From a numbers standpoint, our membership has traditionally been concentrated in metro areas outside of the Big Ten states (with the exception of Chicago). However, within days of the Big Ten announcement, we received several inquiries from alumni interested in starting or revitalizing chapters. In July, we helped alumni form a new chapter in Indianapolis. Revitalization efforts are underway in central Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. We are surveying alumni in Milwaukee, where there is interest in forming a chapter. All of this has happened within the span of two months, so that is very exciting. 

Response from alumni in the Big 12 area to the Big Ten move has been mostly positive, though there is some disappointment from fans living in Big 12 territory accustomed to attending a Husker road game every 2-4 years. Some chapters are optimistic the move will help them grow their football watch parties. For many, those watch parties are the best way to reach new members.

Finally, we have heard from alumni who take great pride, from an academic standpoint, in the university's move to the Big Ten. The move has the potential to help the university attract more research dollars, better recruit faculty and out-of-state students, and increase opportunities for Innovation Campus. Because of its Big Ten affiliation, UNL has already been approved for membership in the prestigious Committee on Institutional Cooperation. The value of having a degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is only going to increase.

Nebraska football seems to dominate everything at the University, at least from an alumni perspective. Do you think this helps or hurts an alumni association? Basically, does the constant focus and attention on Husker football keep alumni more connected or does it detract from the academic mission of the University? 

A critical part of the alumni association's mission is to connect alumni and friends with their passion at the university. For many, Nebraska football is that passion, and they join the alumni association because they're interested in Football Fridays, our athletic travel program, chapter watch sites or our members-only football ticket lottery. That's great-we love football, too! But even when football is the initial motive for joining, members often become interested in other alumni programs or university initiatives. And membership dues support not only the alumni association's athletics-related programs, but also scholarships, mentoring, alumni engagement, national visibility for UNL and more.

The alumni association has strong relationships with university administration and NU Athletics, perhaps more so now than at any other time in history. We are proud to partner with both in many areas.

Now that the redoutaroundtheworld.com web site has launched, how does it tie into the Alumni Association? 

The Red Out Around the World campaign was created and continues to be led by NU Athletics, with support from University Communications and the alumni association. The goal behind the campaign-to connect Husker fans, wherever they are in the world-falls in line with our mission, and we are proud to support this effort.

Our role in the campaign is to get the word out. Through our publications and online communications, we're encouraging alumni and fans to participate and register at redoutaroundtheworld.com. We're also working with Athletics and a corporate sponsor to feature some of our chapters on the Memorial Stadium HuskerVision screens during Nebraska home games.

If you haven't visited redoutaroundtheworld.com, we encourage you to do so today! The site offers participants one daily prize, including the grand prize awarded on Oct. 2: two tickets to the Nebraska vs. Texas football game and a two-night stay in the Holiday Inn Lincoln-Downtown.

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