Data surveying alumni professionals shows a bias toward alumni programs that appeal to extroverts, yet the most popular programs appeal to both introverts and extroverts. Ignoring your introverted alumni population is like a slap in the face to this potentially powerful alumni segment.
(About a 4 minute read)
We all spend some time as introverts and extroverts. But in the context of psychology and science, the terms are less about sociability or reclusiveness, and more about the types of activities that energize us.
If you’re an alumni relations/advancement professional, you’re likely energized by meeting and being with people. You thrive in a fast-pace environment where you have to think fast on your feet. Maybe you prefer to talk through challenges or ideas. And you’re probably good at multi-tasking, effortlessly jumping from one task to another.
This personality type is considered an extrovert. I would argue that alumni relations professionals need to be extroverted. After all, isn’t alumni relations about fostering “relationships?”
Some sources claim that extroverts make up as much as 75% of the population. And among alumni relations professionals, I’m guessing the percentage of extroverts is closer to 90% or even higher.
But what about your alumni population? What percentage of your alumni are extroverts and introverts?
Research using the respected Meyers-Briggs personality test shows that introverts account for a far higher percentage of the population than many of us extroverts may assume. In the USA, according to this study, roughly half of the population are introverts (50.7%) and the other half are extroverts (49.3%).
So what’s an introvert? Let’s start with what it is not. Introverts are not just shy or reclusive. In a nutshell, introverts gather strength from low stimulation environments. They are energized by ideas, pictures, and memories. They are comfortable being alone and doing things on their own. Introverts are often more formal, and are less buddy-buddy with others. They tend to think about the future more than extroverts. They can also appear somewhat submissive and can come off as uncompromising or even arrogant at times. They’re not completely averse to socializing, but do so more cautiously, and after they’ve had time to assess the social landscape and the potential risks.
For introverts, being around people isn’t energizing, it's draining. So for introverted alumni, attending an alumni social or reunion could be exhuasting, and a risky and potentially negative experience.
But extroversion is not a world-wide phenomenon, and most scientist and psychologists agree that Western culture tends to favor extroverts. Even our education system rewards extroverts who speak up and participate in class discussions. In many cases, grades are based on how much of an extrovert you are, as introverts tend to be penalized for not acting like extroverts.
Eastern culture favors more introverted characteristics like being thoughtful, contemplative and sensitive. One study comparing pre-teen students in Canada and China, found that in Canada, sensitive and introverted children are avoided by their classmates. But in China, those types of children were popular among other children, and were more likely to be viewed as leaders.
Which Group is the Focus of Your Alumni Programming?
Alumni professionals tend to be extroverts. Our Western culture favors extroverts. Our education systems favor extroverts.
Which is likely the reason why most alumni programming focuses on attracting and engaging people like us extroverts. Events like club and chapter events, mixers, socials, happy hours, reunions, networking events, career workshops, career fairs, 5-Ks, recognition events/banquets, etc., all favor extroverts.
But are we considering how much of our programming will attract and engage the other half of your alumni population, the introverts?
Fortunately you don’t have to create programs for just introverts or extroverts. The most effective programs appeal to both.
And the data bears that out.
The VAESE alumni relations benchmarking study indicates alumni programs that fare the best, are programs that don’t focus on extroverts.
Our survey shows the most popular category of alumni programming/benefit is (drumroll) content!
See our article here discussing the data around the power of content. (Content includes well written articles, social media posts, original video, podcasts, webinars, etc, and some cases printed collateral, as long it's compelling and relevant.)
Career Services That Appeal to Both Introverts & Extroverts
The survey data also confirms the types of career services benefits that are most engaging are those that don’t necessarily favor extroverts, and allow introverts to take advantage of them online or on their own terms.
According to the VAESE study, overall the top three alumni career services benefits are Networking Events (47%), LinkedIn Communities (26%) and Online Job listings (16%).
But for much larger institutions alone (the Power 5 conference schools), those numbers are much different and greatly skew the overall numbers. Networking Events are 77%, Online Job listings are 43% and LinkedIn Communities are at 35%.
So by removing the Power 5 schools, and looking at the data for the vast majority of higher education institutions, we see the popularity of programs that appeal to both introverts and extroverts. Networking Events and LinkedIn Communities are tied at 45%; Online Networking is third at 21%.
I’m not saying that face to face events should be avoided, but neither should programs that allow introverted alums to engage on their own terms, without necessarily having be in a social setting.
Extroverts Hire Other Extroverts to Administer Programs for Extroverts
We extroverts tend to think that most people are like us, or at least aspire to be like us. That bias is manifested in how we hire, and how we intend to grow our alumni programs. The VAESE survey reveals our partiality toward hiring staff and building programs that appeal to others like us.
We asked respondents this question: If your organization unexpectedly received the budget and authorization for a new full-time employee, what would be the primary role of that new employee?
The top three responses involved hiring extroverts who are mostly (although not exclusively) focused on serving other extroverts; jobs like event management, career services, and constituent fundraising.
When we look at the data for all types of potential jobs, and pinpointing what the new employee’s role would be, 67% were focused on extroverts, such as event management, chapter/club development, volunteer management, student engagement, membership growth, and fundraising. Only 18% of alumni professionals would hire a new employee whose primary role could appeal to both introverts and extroverts, such as online/social media engagement or content creation. The remainder (15%) of the jobs listed were administrative positions like database management or clerical personnel.
I’m not suggesting we avoid hiring extroverts, nor am I suggesting we should ignore common sense and hire introverts who are socially awkward and lack social intelligence. But I am suggesting we be aware of our biases toward hiring other extroverts at the exclusion of people who may lean toward introversion.
I’m also suggestion we be aware of our penchant for creating alumni programs that appeal to extroverts at the exclusion of introverts.
What can you do to re-focus your alumni programming to include both extroverts and introverts?
- Consider the ROI of less popular and poorly attended extrovert-focused events/programs, and re-dedicate those resources to programs that appeal to a broader alumni audience.
- Begin to develop a long term content creation strategy, or hire a company or professional to help you improve your content, and deliver customized content according to each specific alumni’s preference.
- Consider hiring creative people with specific skills like persuasive and entertaining writing, video production or social media skills.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, and contribute regular, meaningful updates and content. Although LinkedIn has become increasingly painful to use and woefully ineffective, it’s still not completely useless…yet.
- Improve your digital program offerings, such as offering a nationwide online discount program.
I’d love to hear your comments.
(P.S. You can download the 2017 VAESE study here)