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Why the SIU Alumni Association Got Rid of Its Paid Membership Model

Last year, the Southern Illinois University Alumni Association decided to eliminate its paid membership structure to be more inclusive. Having a strong communication plan and increasing their involvement on campus helped smooth the transition and led to greater alumni engagement.

In 2023, all graduates of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, including students who attended SIU for a semester or more, became a part of the SIU Alumni Association. That’s because the organization decided to discontinue its paid-dues membership approach to better serve the needs of the community.

According to Molly Hudgins, executive director of the SIU Alumni Association, the decision was a long time coming. The association’s goal is to become a bigger part of students’ lives during their time on campus, so they understand the benefits of the association once they graduate.

“SIU had been in conversation for the last seven to eight years about being more inclusive in our alumni association,” she said. “We wanted to engage with all alumni, rather than limit it to only people who could pay for membership. So, we needed to broaden who could reap the benefits of the alumni association.”

Explaining the Why

According to Hudgins, the group’s communication plan surrounding its decision to move away from a paid membership model needed to be spot on. After getting board approval, the association created a membership and communication taskforce to determine how to share the change with alumni and students.

“We educated all our board members on the messaging and created an FAQ that explained the why behind the move away from a paid dues model,” Hudgins said. “Having the board behind the decision was crucial because they’re our boots on the ground to explain what’s going on to other alumni.”

The organization also launched an app to begin promoting the communication platform before making the announcement.

“We’ve gotten questions from some alumni asking about what this means for them or why we made this decision, but when we explain that we’re doing this to be more inclusive, everyone agrees that it’s something they want out of their alumni association,” Hudgins said.

Staff also needed to be on board with the decision to not only handle questions but also so they would be open to how the change could affect their own work.

“Some staff are doing things they’ve never done before,” Hudgins said. “For example, before the change, we had a staff member for membership. Now, they essentially have a new job. They’re more involved with student programming, partnerships, and campus outreach.”

Growing the Community

With the move away from a paid membership structure, the association needed to create awareness of the organization on campus.

For example, the association relocated its alumni center into an iconic building at the heart of campus. It also created an Alumni Plaza that features a statue of three running Salukis (SIU’s sports mascot) representing the past, present, and future. The association also has a courtyard where it hosts campus and community events.

“We’ve been intentional about student programming,” Hudgins said. “We increased our student textbook scholarships for new and continuing students. We are involved with more student events. For example, we invite students to stop for coffee and donuts several times each academic year; we assist with the graduation ceremony; and we host the legacy luncheon for students and their families.”

The association has also been able to better engage with its alumni community since doing away with its paid membership structure.

“Now, every alum gets updates about important information and events,” Hudgins said. “Our quarterly magazine can go out the full community, and we have an alumni association app that people can download whether they’re still in school or not to get information about events in their area and on campus. We have a much broader reach.”

In addition, community engagement has increased: Its event numbers have grown as more alumni receive communications and feel welcome to the organization’s events, and more young alumni are participating in regional and on-campus events because dues no longer create a barrier for participation. 

“Anyone who has been at SIU for at least 12 hours can be a member of a regional chapter or affinity group, so we’re engaging more alumni in their regions and with communications and giving them better networking opportunities,” Hudgins said. “We’ve definitely seen a difference in engagement, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.”

[Andrii Yalanskyi/ISTOCK]

Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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