Engaging your community: how to create (or recreate) a sense of belonging to your network

Creating a strong sense of belonging is key to bringing your members together. You will actively work to strengthen relationships and act to sustain them in order to initiate strong bonds of camaraderie.

According to a study conducted by Celica Thellier, co-founder of choosemycompany.com, the most advanced seniors in their careers are the most committed and attached to the institution where they completed their higher education. Conversely, the younger the alumni are, the weaker the link with the association. We give you all the best practices to engage your members as soon as they arrive as students and create a strong sense of belonging to your institution.

  1. How and why to create a sense of belonging for your community
  2. Manage the expectations of your different members
  3. Gather your community in a dedicated space
  4. 4 actions to develop students' sense of belonging


How and why to create a sense of belonging for your community

The sense of belonging, based on shared values and goals, is usually expressed in the academic setting through identification with and attachment to a program, major or component. It is the responsibility of the administration to create an environment conducive to the development of this sense of belonging if it wishes to create a strong network of graduates. 
According to Christian Mouillon, President of the ESCP Europe Foundation, "what alumni want is to reconnect with the school and its strategy, to be proud of the school and to see it develop". 
Creating a strong bond of belonging is therefore essential to bringing your members together around your structure. You will actively work to strengthen relationships and act to sustain them in order to initiate strong bonds of camaraderie. 
Developing an emotional connection with the university is good for everyone. In addition, the network is a trusted third party and a definite identity milestone for any member of your community. 

Manage the expectations of your different members

Most importantly, never forget that involvement goes hand in hand with interest. To recruit, unite, motivate to join... you must first and foremost be INTERESTED. Make sure you offer a range of services and events adapted to the tastes and preferences of your students and alumni to ensure their involvement. It has been observed that for institutions where the association network is well developed, graduates return more easily to the association because they feel a certain nostalgia for their student years. They are therefore more inclined to join the association or even to become volunteers. 
"At 42 we have set up 4 types of events to meet the expectations of all our students. We have "social" events whose goal is to build relationships; "career" events where alumni can exchange and propose job offers; "pro" events to increase the skills of our alumni in other fields and "exchange" events which are based on a thematic topic. Anthony Civita, Alumni 42 Network Manager 
All occasions are good to offer Alumni the opportunity to meet during events, it is a fundamental unifying element of a network of graduates. Events are not only a way to meet up with classmates but also to develop a portfolio of professional contacts. 

Gather your community in a dedicated space

It is sometimes difficult to ensure the coordination of events for all the Alumni who are often scattered all over the world without an online portal allowing everyone to have accurate information. You need to create a single rallying point: an all-in-one platform on which the data will remain the property of the school and/or the association, and therefore its main asset! By building and owning your network of various contacts you will attract many alumni and graduates looking for a job. Once this unique tool is in the hands of the members of the network, group leaders (regional or thematic) will be able to organize events for Alumni around the world. 
You can also use the major social networks to communicate on a large scale and attract graduates and students via the official pages. However, be careful not to multiply the number of regional or thematic groups on these networks: you must not split up or disperse the community, but use these tools to attract members of your network to your platform. Indeed, Anne-Lucie Wack, President of the CGE, reminds us that "the emergence of new players like LinkedIn is disrupting the links between students and companies". The alumni network must therefore play this role of federation in order to condense on the same platform all your contacts.

4 actions to develop students' sense of belonging 

  • Organize integration activities in the first year: the much awaited Integration Weekend for example 
  • Provide informal meeting places (student space) and organize thematic exchanges on a particular subject
  • Open targeted discussion groups
  • Support associations (Junior Enterprise, Sports Office, Wine Club, etc.) or student events (Gala, Integration Weekend, etc.) in order to reintegrate into school life 


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