It’s budget season, and educated alumni from public universities around the U.S. are letting their state legislators know what they think. The theme is pervasive – regional and national economic progress and the United States’ competitive global position are directly dependent on an educated workforce. In this 2011 legislative session, alumni whose lives and careers have benefitted from an education in their state’s public institutions are sounding the alarm with greater force.

While alumni advocates have been a part of the scene in state capitals for more than a century, this year the stakes are much higher:

  • The New York State legislature on March 30 cut an estimated $289 million from the operating budget of the State University of New York (SUNY) system – reaching a total of $1.4 billion in reductions to the state’s public colleges and universities over the past four
  • Some of Penn State’s 24 campuses may be closed if Tom Corbett’s proposed 50 percent cut in the system’s appropriation stands. An action alert to the 30,000 alumni and other members of the Penn State Grassroots Network asked members to “Help Penn State Help Pennsylvania.”
  • In late March the president of the Texas Exes, the University of Texas Ex-Students Association, emailed 206,000 alumni supporters, urging them to protest the UT Board of Regents’ assessment that much academic research lacks value and that some tenured faculty members could be replaced with lower-cost
  • In California, hundreds of administrators, teachers, students, and alumni converged on the State Capitol for the annual “Advocacy ” Gov. Jerry Brown already has signed bills reducing funding for the University of California and the California State University systems by $500 million each, and the community college system by $400 million. More reductions are threatened to close the state’s budget gap – at a time when the universities are already educating significantly more students than a decade ago with substantially less funding.

Enrollment at public colleges and universities has nearly doubled since 1985, growing from 7.2 million to 11.6 million in 2010. Support by state and local governments to public and independent institutions of higher education had nearly tripled to $88.9 billion in 2008, and then the recession changed everything. By FY2010, state and local educational appropriations fell to a 25-year low in inflation-adjusted terms, and the FY2012 trends are not promising. As demands grow for other services (such as health care) and as tax revenues decline, the signs are clear that higher education budgets will not benefit from future state support at the levels they have enjoyed in the past.

Numerous studies over the past several years, including the Spellings Commission report in 2008, have documented two important trends – a growing skills gap as a more experienced Baby Boomer generation retires, and the accelerated demand for postsecondary education for the fastest-growing jobs in the knowledge economy. On a global scale, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland and Norway educate a greater percentage of their youth than the United States does, and the younger generation in the U.S. is less well-educated than those aged 45 to 54. In December, the international Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development concluded in its report of three-year trends that the U.S. has fallen from top of the class to average and warned of U.S. economic fallout.

California is a case in point. An innovator in higher education in the 1960s and 1970s, California now provides less than half the state support per student than it did 20 years ago; in fact, the state spends more on its penal system than its public universities. In the face of diminishing support, current trends show that by 2025 the California economy will require one million more college graduates than the state will be able to produce, according to California’s Public Policy Institute.

A Tradition of Advocacy

The role of institutional advocacy dates back to the founding of alumni associations as postsecondary education made great leaps forward at the end of the 19th century and public and land-grant universities gained increasing shares of their state budgets to fuel American progress. Alumni associations motivated grateful and passionate loyalists to advance the interests of their institutions and the quality of life around them. Some of these activities were narrowly focused – such as funding or land for a new football stadium – while a growing contingent of alumni activists joined in to advance broader institutional interests.

Typically the government relations professionals working in university central administration or public affairs offices have managed lobbying activities for their institutions. Reporting directly to the institutional leadership and representing their institutions’ policy and budget interests, these staff can be expected to maintain a fairly tight rein on managing issues and messaging.

Traditionally the troops have been called in (faculty, staff, students, community, and alumni constituencies) for an annual show of force for “advocacy day” in state capitals or for specific timely issues. However, the impacts of reduced funding for higher education on society, the workforce and global competitiveness have become so widespread that institutions are increasingly harnessing the energy of their most loyal advocates – their tens of thousands of alumni. Recognizing the value of their degrees on their careers and personal lives, these graduates want not only to protect the value of their degrees but to ensure similar economic advantages for their children and their communities.

Advocacy as a Strategic Priority

Many universities today exhibit growing appreciation for the value of a strong partnership between the government relations and public affairs offices and alumni associations. At the University of Tennessee, the University of Minnesota, and Pennsylvania State University, for example, alumni advocacy is a priority of multi-year strategic plans that engage generations of alumni in their universities in segmented ways.

Functioning optimally, such partnerships acknowledge the access delivered by alumni relations to a phalanx of people to support the messages, materials and action plans that the institutional public affairs specialists produce. Like political and fundraising campaigns, these activities require alignment and internal collaboration, focus on issues that matter, and message consistency. Advocacy is a sophisticated process, operating with high-tech tools such as websites and mobile phones for updates, alerts, a pool of resources, and targeted outreach.

Through strategic and sophisticated relationship-building with opinion leaders – many of whom have degrees from the same institutions – alumni have become an essential component of the “grasstops” and “grassroots” advocacy networks that play both watchdog and educational roles in budget decisions and strengthen town-gown relationships for new projects, such as hospitals, residence halls, and athletic facilities.

The results are measurable. Alumni have become critical to an institution’s ability to raise its visibility in every county and corner of a state. They also use their connections in civic clubs, local schools, and the business community to reinforce the economic benefits of university research and tech transfer on local economies, not to mention the value proposition of a postsecondary education to career advancement and workforce quality.

Making a Difference

The Penn State Alumni Association launched the Penn State Grassroots Network in 2002, one of the largest efforts among U.S. universities. Penn State has more than 513,000 living alumni and currently 96,000 students, and its Grassroots Network counts nearly 40,000 today. Although this year presents another steep climb, the alumni network has a strong track record. In 2006, its activities helped increase the university’s appropriation from the state to its highest level in five years. And in 2008, it worked successful to help raise Pennsylvania’s appropriation even higher than the governor’s proposal – at a time when overall growth in state spending was the lowest since 2003.

In Minnesota, higher education institutions face a significant financial hit in bills approved in March 2011 by the state legislature – a 19 percent cut for the University of Minnesota and a 13 percent reduction for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. One way the University of Minnesota Alumni Association is addressing this reality is by telling the story of “the U’s” impact on the economy and quality of life across the state. Taking an educational tack, the association has posted on its website the university’s latest economic development report with data that show, for example, that the U of M creates $8.6 billion in total economic impact in Minnesota annually and its graduates account for 1 in every 43 jobs in the state.

Equally persuasive is the role that U of M alumni play in the state’s and nation’s economies. The university’s graduates have formed 10,000 companies in Minnesota and another 9,000 across the nation; they employ 500,000 people in Minnesota and another 600,000 nationally. These businesses generate $100 billion in annual revenues in Minnesota and another $130 billion nationally.

In Tennessee, a key focus for the University of Tennessee Alumni Association’s new strategic plan is to realize strong advocacy for the UT system of higher education through an influential legislative relations program. Association leaders are mapping out a five-year implementation plan that concentrates on greater internal alignment within the university around legislative activities and communications, more targeted alumni engagement on key issues and, within the association, enhanced budget resources for legislative advocacy matched with defined outcomes and metrics – essentially a business plan for alumni advocacy.

Tough Trends but Strong Voices

Although relationships between public universities and their state governments are complex, alumni voices do count. Successful alumni personify the impact of postsecondary education on individuals, families, businesses and communities – and their informed awareness-building serves to sharpen the message. Alumni provide a continuous collective presence and keep the conversation going with focus and purpose.

In many cases, though, the advantages of generating alumni engagement have yet to be fully explored. For example, despite momentum toward the power of “one” in the 10-institution University of California system, advocacy efforts are largely decentralized on each campus, and the University of California-Berkeley appears to be the only institution with a strong advocacy presence attached to its alumni association.

Yet even in this tumultuous state budget cycle, there are occasional pleasant surprises. One of the most dramatic shifts has occurred in Virginia, where state support to the flagship University of Virginia has been steadily dropping in recent decades – from about 26 percent in 1990 to about 7 percent last year. In January, new Gov. Robert F. McDonnell delighted constituents by pledging to restore some recent recession-based cutbacks and provide institutions with predictable state support in the future. Gov.McDonnell’s goal was economic – he pledged to increase the number of Virginians with college degrees by 100,000 during the next 15 years, and, in particular, the number who earn degrees in science and technology. In announcing his plan in January, Gov. McDonnell pointed out that education returns more tax revenue to the state than it costs. Since 2000, enrollment in Virginia’s colleges has grown by more than 31 percent, while the state’s per-student contribution to higher education has shrunk by about half, according to a report that Gov. McDonnell commissioned last year.

From state to state, issues and statistics vary, but one common thread connects alumni advocates. Whether the cause is universal health care, relief for Japan or the value of an education, the most successful advocates are well-informed, united around a shared purpose and coordinated in their efforts to achieve maximum impact. While a university’s administration may set the policies, it is the alumni association that has access to the people. And as the growth in these networks demonstrates, many alumni want to serve their institutions by helping shape public opinion in civic clubs, schools, neighborhoods and businesses across the state.

By Janis Johnson, Senior Partner

 

1 “State Higher Education Finance FY2010,” by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO)

2 “The Path to Prosperity: A Policy of Investment,” by Dan Hurley, Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, May 2007

3 The Global Ripple by the Center for Global Leadership, December 8, 2010

4 “Viewpoints: Don’t Take a Meat Ax to Higher Education,” by Hans Johnson, Merced Sun-Star, March 22, 2011

5 Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Minnesota, 2011

6 “Virginia Governor’s Proposed Covenant With Colleges Defies Other States’ Cuts,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 27, 2011

Final Report of Findings, November, 2010

Conducted by The Napa Group and PEG, LTD

PROJECT OVERVIEW

As university and alumni association funding resources become tighter and continue to change, one of the front-burner questions today is: “What is the best funding model for our alumni relations activities?” Traditional options includes dues, service fees, university or foundation funding, annual  fund support, student fees, affinity relationships and more. The reality is that strategically driven practices and funding models are more important than ever.

A strategic planning project by The Napa Group for the University of Tennessee Alumni Association and a subsequent research project by PEG, Ltd., with Oakland University prompted this survey of 20 public and private institutions. In the process, we also gathered data on several trends that are impacting alumni relations programming priorities, association structuring, communications, and mission and vision. The question about the best funding model is not being considered in isolation – in fact, a number of associations have initiated and/or completed comprehensive strategic planning projects in recent years to tackle these interrelated questions and position themselves for growth and stability for the future.

During March-June 2010, we interviewed heads of alumni associations or alumni relations offices at 20 institutions: Penn State, Lehigh, Georgetown, Duke, Oregon State, Tennessee (UTAA), Ohio State, UCLA, University of Virginia (UVA), Mills College, North Dakota State University (NDSU), University of Illnois, Chico State, George Washington University (GWU), University of Central Florida (RIT), Oakland University, University of Missouri, University of Kentucky and University of Florida.

SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

  • The traditional independence of alumni associations at many universities is changing. While many continue as dues-paying organizations and hold their 501c3 status, they also are strategically creating alignment with institutional leadership, development, and other parts of the advancement operation to increase the broader goal – alumni “engagement” with their institutions. “Interdependence” rather than traditional “independence” is a common theme. Silos are breaking down for the good of the whole.
  • The causes for these changes are many, including two key trends: (1) dues often no longer cover the costs of delivering effective alumni relations and (2) support from university budgets, though increasingly important to delivering alumni programs, is in some cases declining or holding steady at the same time that the alumni population is growing. Further, other traditional income sources, such as affinity partnerships (corporate credit card programs) are also disappearing, and alumni associations are taking a new look at more varied sources of income.
  • Perhaps most significantly, this is driving alumni relations offices toward a more strategic focus on priority-setting based on (1) creating and articulating value, (2) positioning for relevancy, and (3) ensuring ROI as defined by the interests of alumni in each institution.
  • As a result, associations are adopting a more sophisticated market-driven focus to( 1) understand what alumni need and want in their relationship with alma mater and (2) connect alumni programming more closely to institutional priorities.
  • There is no “one size fits all” for alumni programming or funding. Yet alumni offices are setting priorities and delivering services to their broad constituencies through a smart blend of high- tech and high-touch activities. In the process, they are considering opportunities for innovation as well as traditional activities they must “stop doing.”
  • Metrics matter. Alumni relations is increasingly being defined as part of the “engagement funnel,” the entry point in a lifecycle of activities (beginning with students) and ideally converting engagement to giving.
  • The umbrella theme that unites all these activities is “the case for investment” – sustainable funding for alumni relations. The common denominator for success is a thorough understanding at the university level of the importance of the role of alumni relations and the ability of the alumni relations organization to make itself relevant not only to the colleges and other parts of the university but also to the rest of the advancement team and the broader alumni body.
  • A good example of how developing the “case for investment” has paid off is the University of Tennessee Alumni Association, which undertook a year-long strategic planning project in 2009-2010. Key wins of this comprehensive project include: greater alignment and role definition between the central association and decentralized campus alumni offices; new investments in technology at the system level for the benefit of all to enhance databases for segmented alumni audiences and affinity groups and eventually eliminate “shadow” databases; a new senior-level position for alumni and development communications and enriched collaboration with the central university Public and Government Relations office; and new short- term funding from the university administration along with a plan for achieving long-term institutional support.

THEMES AND TRENDS FROM THE SURVEY

Current funding mechanisms:

  • Primarily membership dues (annual and lifetime): Missouri, Oakland, University of Florida, Penn State,Ohio State
  • Fees-for-services rendered: NDSU
  • Primarily or solely institutionally funded/in transition: Mills, Lehigh, RIT, GWU
  • Foundation-funded: UCF (in transition), UTAA (in transition)
  • Alumni gifts: Illinois
  • Primarily blended sources: Georgetown, Duke, Oregon State, UCLA, UVA, Chico State, Kentucky
  • Dues-paying alumni association are relying less on dues to fund their activities. Certain associations have taken steps recently to change their funding models. The most recent example is the University of Illinois Alumni Association. In addition, UCF is moving from a successful dues-pay model to funding by the UCF Foundation for mutual benefit – to minimize direct competition with fundraising, become more inclusive with the rest of the university, expand foundation outreach to the entire alumni base, and increase focus on building affinity and engagement with all alumni.
  • Other associations express the concern that emphasis on dues undervalues engagement and that alumni are confused about the differences between dues and giving as part of their association or institutional support.
  • Certain well-established public institutions with robust alumni associations focus on engaging all alumni and conduct this outreach at the same time that they have strong success with a membership-dues structure – including Penn State, Oregon State, Missouri, Kentucky and the University of Virginia (UVA). They believe this approach provides more stability, autonomy, and leverage. While retaining its independent status, for example, the UVA Alumni Association collaborates with central development’s Office of Engagement in several areas for mutual benefit, including regularly updating contact reports.
  • A wide range of funding sources support alumni relations, depending on the institutional history, culture, and structure – primarily dues, institutional support, affinity programs, donations/gifts, events, and conference center income.
  • Percentages of institutional funding for alumni relations continue to vary widely. At Mills College, the alumni relations office is funded 100% by the central administration; at Lehigh, the association (no dues) receives about 85% of its revenues from the university (with events and affinity programs supplying the rest); at Chico State, university support is 50%; at Oregon State, a dues association, university funding is less than 20%.
  • Several alumni associations have built endowments from membership dues, especially lifetime memberships, and rely on that income for operating expenses. Increasingly they are adding dedicated fundraisers to their own operations to build their own revenue-generating programs that are different from those in the development office (such as association-funded student scholarships or overall endowment growth for various programs and needs). Others say they are considering short-term or one-time endowment campaigns to build a firm funding base for services in demand.
  • Because of reductions in funding, participants at alumni and parent events are increasingly being asked to pay nominal fees.

 Organizational Structure and Integration

  • Alumni associations typically fit in one of three categories with respect to their organization and relationship to the university – dependent, interdependent, or independent. These structures are shifting as funding resources become more critical and as associations are rebranding themselves and reevaluating their mission, vision, and value proposition for the 21st century.
  • Historically independent associations, such as Ohio State this year, are becoming more interdependent with their institutions, to strengthen their collaboration with alumni and the university, to leverage their value with the rest of the institution and its priorities, and to develop more sustainable support for their activities through additional institutional resources.
  • At the same time, associations are reevaluating the mission and outcome of alumni relations. At Missouri, for example, the association’s mission statement focuses on “time and talent” – “Support alumni in giving time and talent to the university.” At George Washington University, the mission also encompasses “treasure” – “Encourage alumni, gather the voice of alumni, cultivate philanthropy.”
  • Increasingly alumni relations and development are viewed as part of the same relationship- building spectrum, not as disconnected activities. Once deliberately separate, there is a greater appreciation of each other’s contributions to the whole and respect for the activities. In fact, the traditional terms “friendraiser” and “fundraiser” are thought to be outdated terms but the concept of not confusing alumni relations as strictly a fundraising function is recognized as very important.
  • How advancement offices distinguish the function varies. At Lehigh, the alumni program is focused on engagement – recruiting and building – and annual fund discovery. At UCLA, at the other end of the continuum, major gift fundraisers also make sure that donors join the alumni association, if they are not members, as part of the lifetime value of these relationships. At Penn State, there is a high correlation between association membership and giving to the university – in 2008-09, alumni contributed one-third of the total gifts to the university and of that group, 36% were members of the alumni association. In these examples, association membership is purposeful – alumni are cultivated as part of an overall collaborative strategy with development and as one of the first steps in   ongoing affinity to the institution itself. This has caused these organizations to align their activities for greater collaboration and interdependence. Studies at Oregon State have shown that dues- payers make more gifts to the institution and the average amount of their gifts is higher.
  • At many institutions, the alumni association or alumni relations and development report to the same person – for example at UCLA, Penn State, GWU, UTAA, Lehigh, Mills, and Missouri. This is seen as an opportunity to leverage a lifecycle of relationships and, ultimately, financial support to the institution.
  • Restructuring advancement offices is leading to broader collaboration among development, communications, and alumni relations and is accompanied by access to more sustained funding for alumni associations. Sometimes this is not structural but rather built on strong internal relationships, such as at Oregon State.

Programming

  • Many universities are bringing alumni relations and the annual fund together into one functional area.  Both activities are focused on messaging to the middle and entry level audiences on the development pyramid. Annual fund programs are becoming integrated into alumni relations and/or alumni associations at some public and private institutions, including Missouri, Lehigh, Georgetown, and Mills College. In part this is seen as the front end of the engagement curve that eventually leads to higher levels of giving in partnership with the development office, which typically concentrates on major gifts.
  • Career networking, both for alumni and students, frequently leads the list of programs with an increasingly higher priority for alumni relations, given the state of the economy, the job market, and the mutual benefits of alumni networking and mentoring. Other top program priorities: recognizing and sharing successes of distinguished alumni through awards and other spotlights, regional events, social networking, athletics-related activities, community service, and student programming.
  • Student programming is gaining ground as a strategic opportunity – not only for “alumni in training” but also for early cultivation of lifetime relationships, including giving. Ohio State calls it “investing in the future.” At UVA, for example, students receive association membership and benefits free while they are students, and then are given another seven years upon graduation to complete paying their $450 lifetime membership in the association. This early focus has helped the association grow to 54,000 lifetime members (for a onetime fee of $450) versus its 4000 annual members who pay $35 a year.

Governance

  • As alumni associations conduct self-studies to benefit from governance best practices, there is  also a trend toward requiring donations by alumni board members – at any level (Georgetown) or at a minimum level ($1000 at Oregon State and $500 at UCF). Other associations strongly encourage but do not require giving (Chico State, Duke, Illinois, Lehigh Mills, Ohio State, NDSU, Kentucky, UVA).

Other

  • Associations are becoming more data-driven in all respects, with an eye on measuring ROI, setting priorities, and proving the value of their mission, vision, and programming.
  • Objectives for alumni communications activities are undergoing changes as association mission, vision, strategy, and structure within the institution evolve, and the balance between print, electronic, and social media is also changing. While we did not dig deeply into this issue, the survey found an increasing trend toward segmenting alumni marketing messages along with these overall messaging priorities: awareness of the institution, its priorities, and its successes; awareness of the association and its benefits; ways to engage with the association and the university; career and business networking activities; association-only activities; and broadcast emails/newsletters for campus, regional, and chapter events.

THREE TOP PRIORITIES OR SUCCESSES IN THE VALUE PROPOSITION

Having established the various funding mechanisms, we also asked the institutions to describe how they spent their revenues. Their responses indicate that their decision making is driven increasingly by (1) creating and articulating value, (2) positioning themselves for relevancy, and (3) ensuring ROI, although their spending priorities varied widely – from staff and operations to scholarships, reunions, communications and the magazine, travel and education, other events, student programming, and miscellaneous forms of outreach.

So we asked them to state their top two or three priorities or what they do best, which provided a clearer picture of how their funding mechanisms advanced their strategic direction. Again, there was wide variation but also some common themes among those who responded to this question:

Chico State: Communications, engagement, fundraising

Duke: Connect Duke alums with each other and Duke students with the institution, high-caliber and meaningful programming, engagement

Georgetown: Engaging more alumni, deepening relationship between alumni and alma mater, engaging alumni through specific and tailored programming

GWU: Strategic communications, career services, grassroots requests

Illinois: Lifecycle of affinity, advocacy, career services

Kentucky: Engagement, connection with each other, support for the university

Lehigh: Career networking, student/young alumni programming, traditional class-based reunions

Mills: Increasing engagement overall, including annual fund participation; more successful reunion programs; educating the students about the importance of giving back

Missouri: Student programs, communications, membership

NDSU: Strategic communication, student engagement, services (career and grassroots requests) Oakland: Lifelong connections, contribute to association and university brand awareness, new funding resources

Ohio State: Good value proposition for alumni, expand alumni engagement, voice of alumni to university

Oregon State: Communications, membership program, programs of increasing value and engagement with university and each other

Penn State: Membership growth that allows more programs and services, student and young alumni relationships

RIT: Helping development raise $50 million/year, staff retention for long-term relationship-building

Tennessee: Engagement, legislative advocacy, volunteer leadership for university

UCLA: Strategic marketing community, engagement, being seen as experts in alumni relations

UCF: Consistent communications, right messaging, increasing sponsorships and affinity programs

UVA: Engagement, high-value programs, volunteer training and support

 

“If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.” Tom Peters

While much uncertainty remains in the post-recession economy, one trend is clear. Many previous jobs will not exist again as companies resist returning to “what was” and, instead, invest in flexible staffing approaches to optimize productivity. They are augmenting core fulltime staff with special just-in-time expertise at lower costs and leveraging technology to limit staff expansion and optimize the historical productivity of the last 18 months.

Both for-profit and non-profit organizations are responding to the significant expansion in the “contingent workforce” – positions that can be quickly added or cut to meet fluctuations in business demands. And this group is larger than ever – as much as 30% of the workforce today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

This significant trend prizes individual talent – especially the proven, experienced professional who brings extensive expertise and a strong track record of delivering results. Of particular importance to employers will be the multi-skill capabilities of these experienced professionals. Future positions will require not only technical and analytical skills, but a blending of the softer capacities such as strategy development, people management and marketing. Those who have this range of capabilities will be the most attractive to employers.

New technologies are also smoothing the way for adaptive leadership styles and structural changes inherent in these shifting dynamics. Using “individual contributors” with industry-specific knowledge to fill skill gaps in critical areas allows organizations to bring in knowledge workers to move a project forward, mentor a talented younger employee, contribute fresh perspectives and engage collaboratively and efficiently without adding to fixed costs. Many companies have tremendous needs for workers with higher skills and credentials. Yet, because they are only recently leveling from a period of economic upheavals, many early innovators are just beginning to ramp up such new thinking and strategies. As a result, they lack the training programs to on-board these professionals most strategically and efficiently, and they are only beginning to manage the issues of an intergenerational workforce.

In our whitepaper, Rethinking Volunteerism as a Workforce Growth Strategy, we wrote about how demographic and economic changes are leading to greater reliance on volunteer talent for critical jobs once held by staff in nonprofit organizations. Now it’s time to build on a parallel development – the large inventory of professionals who can contribute valuable expertise in short-term positions and then move on to the next opportunity. The huge potential of this flexible workforce is a win-win for the individuals and the companies who employ them if approached thoughtfully and with the appropriate level of front-end management by both parties.

Baby Boomers Are Part of the Solution

More than 76 million Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, and many are beginning to retire. Their departure from fulltime jobs will create significant gaps in the workforce as they take their considerable talent, expertise in multiple areas and leadership with them. This group is not only the best-educated generation in recent history; it is larger than the two next generations that follow. At more than 40% of today’s workforce, Baby Boomers have been leaders in for-profit corporations and non-profit associations, and as they retire, they will collectively take decades of knowledge and deep experience with them. We noted in Rethinking Volunteerism that as many as 500 of the largest companies can expect to lose half of their senior management in the next few years.

Today’s Boomers view retirement as a chance to continue learning, contributing and staying productive. In fact, 70% of them want to include work in retirement as a way to do this, as well as help pay the bills, according to a May 2009 study by Age Wave and Harris Interactive. The study also predicted that more companies would introduce new policies and strategies to “recruit, retain, and engage talented, experienced, and knowledgeable older workers.”

Baby Boomers look at retirement differently from previous generations. Their ambition is to enter a dynamic new phase of life. For them, “encore careers,” flexible part-time work and/or volunteering will facilitate personal meaning, social impact, more control over their time and compensation. They are prime candidates for this newly flexible workforce, particularly if they are self-aware, flexible and can commit to the team’s success – and if the companies hiring them have strategies to ensure successful selection and on-boarding.

The Shape of Things to Come

Distributed networks, remote access and onsite project teams have reshaped the global workplace in the past two decades, facilitated to a large extent by the Internet, diverse software platforms, social media and mobile technologies. Such advances also allowed tech companies to keep leaner, more cost-effective core staff and flex up or down through project-based contracting. Today’s workers who contribute to a knowledge economy accentuate how professional know-how has become a measurable part of the supply chain.

The recession intensified the “war for talent” as organizations with agile human resources management attempted to maintain their competitive advantage and others considered doing business differently. About 52% of the respondents in a study of 175 U.S.-based companies worldwide said they are more concerned about attrition of critical-skill or top-performing employees as the economy recovers than they were before the downturn.

Non-profit organizations are also aware that they must respond to generational shifts, new technology tools, workforce changes and an evolving marketplace that calls for new approaches to leadership, structures and collaboration. “The sector is only as strong as its workforce,” noted a recent study sponsored by The James Irvine Foundation. “To attract and develop the leadership, ingenuity, and commitment needed to do this important work, nonprofits will need resources and information about recruitment, retention, mobilizing non-traditional workers, succession planning, and new models of shared leadership and management.” Smart investments in specialized talent in short-term or interim roles enable non-profit organizations to advance their mission while planning for longer-term service and financial stability.

Below are key characteristics of the workforce of the next decade:

  • There will be a continued and increased demand for top talent.
  • Firms will become adept at engaging talent around short-term needs.
  • Employees will expect flexible employment options, both short-term and long-term,
  • Workers will put themselves up for bid for specific jobs, hours, duration, minimum price, benefits and perks, and employers will contract with each worker for the job to be delivered.
  • “Agile” organizations will be the survivors.

Redefining and Repositioning Individual Value

Making the transition to this new workforce model is not a simple “plug and play.” It’s a big challenge for senior professionals to move from influential executive roles into consulting positions, collaborative teams and even line responsibilities, let alone the junior managers who often supervise them.

Here’s what we’ve found among our clients:
• Individual contributors bring specialized skills suited for particular areas of the business, but not necessarily the ability to articulate a broader vision of their capabilities or position themselves for strategic value to a specific team, company or nonprofit organization. This becomes more complicated as they move from position to position without the tools to navigate in different organizational cultures.
• Organizations typically lack the orientation and training programs necessary to integrate these professionals into the culture effectively and quickly. Not only that, but shorter-term thinking may prevent integrating or measuring their contributions beyond a given project for more permanent value.

When individuals with talent understand their own personalities and how to navigate among the diverse styles of co-workers, and when organizations recognize how to truly tap into and leverage their talents, the flexible workplace will become more productive, with measurable satisfaction and ROI.

Incorporating Individual Talent Effectively

For more than 25 years, The Napa Group has been counseling organizations and individuals on the change dynamics that implement timely strategies, leadership and growth. Today we firmly believe that these substantial workforce shifts call for new thinking and new behaviors. That means reshaping structures and systems to incorporate the considerable individual talent that will allow for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations to grow and flourish in the post-recession economy. Failure to do so will at best maintain the status quo while others are shaking up their internal dynamics with creative, often out-of-the-box approaches.

We assist our client organizations in assessing their current circumstances against the possibilities and in taking a more comprehensive approach – deciding where and how to invest, developing strategies for managing their talent and productivity, building collaboration and teamwork, supporting leadership growth and devising methods of ensuring mutual satisfaction. Today, this means developing an organization-wide vision that not only relies on a core full-time staff, but also encourages and supports the value of individual contributors and creating formal approaches to recruiting and managing contract talent. Some organizations already do this very well, but many do not invest in critical areas of success, such as helping line managers strategically integrate individual contributors into their units, teams and organizational culture.

For individuals, whether you are inside in an existing job or seeking new opportunities, positioning yourself as a successful contributor in this new workforce is not a path for the insecure. Through a combination of proven methodologies, our executive coaching program will direct you toward really knowing yourself – your capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and strategic value – as the first step to reframing your job skills, potential contributions and workplace savvy. This often requires a new awareness that, in reality, your success will depend on the success of the business outcomes; in other words, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Identifying and articulating your individual value proposition and how and where to leverage it will open many new doors, whether you interact with clients as an external consultant, work on onsite teams for the short term or engage with them virtually. These capabilities also will help you adapt your personal business marketing to various situations and move successfully from organization to organization.
The workforce is changing. It’s flexible, and the value of experienced individual talent ready and willing to reinvest skills to reinvigorate the economy is one of the brightest spots on the horizon.

By RJ Valentino

March 2010

Resources:

“Retirement at the Tipping Point: The Year That Changed Everything,” by Age Wave, Conducted by Harris Interactive, May 2009. www.agewave.com

“Effect of the Economic Crisis on HR Programs,” Update: August 2009. www.watsonwyatt.com

“Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector,” by LaPiana Consulting and The James Irvine Foundation, November 2009. mwww.irvine.org

“The Flexible Workforce: A Secret Weapon in the War for Talent,” MSquared Insight Newsletter, 5th edition, 2009. www.msquared.com

“The New Economy: More Startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity,” by Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine, May 22, 2009.

“Top Predictions,” Workforce Management. http://www.workforce.com/section/09/feature/26/04/79/260481.html