To strengthen its alumni experience, Punahou recently sent out a comprehensive survey to alumni, inviting anonymous feedback about their experiences while at Punahou and after. The last time the School sent out a comparable survey was in 2006, 16 years ago.
Punahou’s Office of Alumni Relations initiated the effort to gain an honest, fresh take on the School’s connection to its graduates. “It’s a way for us to define a larger strategic plan we’re putting together for the next three to five years,” Alumni Relations Director Doug Rigg ’84 said. “When we come out of this pandemic, we are excited to have a roadmap to help define what we’re going to do.”
The School received nearly 2,300 completed or partially completed surveys with respondents spanning generations and the globe, and providing a wide range of perspectives. Along with answering multiple choice questions, participants offered thousands of written comments that included praise, suggestions and criticism.
“We were surprised and amazed by how many people took time to give us feedback,” Rigg said. “We read through all of the comments, and they’re going to help us do things better.”
The Alumni Relations team and the volunteer Punahou Alumni Association are now engaged in strategic planning together, informed by the survey results. Areas of focus are improved and more targeted communications, promoting a culture of volunteerism and philanthropy, and creating programs for career development, mentoring and networking with other alumni, with a special focus on engaging recent graduates. Highlights of the strategic plan will be shared in a future Bulletin.
“This all builds on the concept of a lifelong connection to Punahou.You graduate, but you never really leave the School,” Rigg said. “That’s why it’s important to do a survey like this to make sure we’re heading in the right direction, because we’re here to serve our alumni.” – By Diane Seo ’85
WHAT WE HEARD – ALUMNI RELATIONS
Doug Rigg ’84
Director of Alumni Relations
Erin Teruya ’93 Kinney
Associate Director of Alumni Relations
What was your reaction to the wide range of comments and responses received?
Doug Rigg: Overall, it was very positive. We felt the love pouring out from our alumni, and it was gratifying to see we’re hitting the mark in many areas. We also saw areas where we have some work to do. Shining a light on those areas is how we’ll get better.
What are some of those areas?
DR: About 90% of the respondents said they had either a positive or a very positive experience as a student. When asked what their experience has been as an alum, it didn’t match up exactly. That was an aha moment. We thought the student experience might feed into the alumni experience, but that’s not always the case. We’re doing really well with alumni, but we want to hold the highest bar possible.
Erin Kinney: There were also several people who shared that they didn’t have the best student experience, and we are hopeful that we can build relationships with them, leading to a really valuable alumni experience. The survey also reaffirmed that word of a mouth is how alumni learn about things happening, along with the Punahou Bulletin. Now that we know how people get their information, we want to leverage them better. We want to engage those who haven’t been engaged and give them reasons to do so. We want to make our programming so irresistible that they’re going to want to be part of it.
DR: Another big takeaway is that we need to evaluate and measure what we do in terms of what does and doesn’t resonate. We need a better way to measure what we do after someone attends an event. What happens next? How do we further engage them? Do we ask them if they would like to be a Reunion volunteer or join the Punahou Alumni Association (PAA) board? We have an opportunity to look at new event attendees, whether it’s at in-person events or online, figure out how to bring their engagement to a new level, and then measure that.
There were some critical comments about Punahou and the alumni experience. How do you regard such feedback?
DR: I want people to feel we heard them and are listening to see how we can make their experiences better. Especially when people are suggesting the same thing – that’s definitely something we want to consider.
EK: The honesty that the alumni provided is a mirror for us to see the positive effects of our growing alumni programs, and it will help us to move to an even better place. That’s what really what our charge is – to continually improve the alumni experience.
Do you see changes in terms of alumni events?
DR: For the most part, people are happy with what we’re doing in terms of events, but we need to focus on people who can’t come back to Hawai‘i. This is a big part of what we want to do in the future. We’ve learned during the pandemic that we can have hybrid events, so if people can’t come home for their Reunion, there’s still a way to participate.
We also have a lot of people who are just not geographically close to a PAA regional chapter, so that’s another reason we need to up our game in the virtual arena and create online communities that are professional and social. Then once people have the ability to participate, we have to promote it better. Some respondents said they weren’t clear on how to get involved, so we see an opportunity there.
EK: We want to find new ways to highlight all the alumni who are out there, like how we featured a lot of business owners with our alumni holiday gift guide. We’re going to look for ways to introduce all these cool people to others within the community. Overall, we’re trying to find different ways for people to engage. In the past, we grouped people by region, which means you had to be physically located in the same area to gather. But now with virtual events, you can have a Punahou book club that’s open to everyone or for our alumni chefs series, we can have a chef in Thailand, and people all over the world can cookThai shrimp with him. The boundaries have been blasted open.
Alumni said they were interested in sharing career knowledge with students. Is there potential for this?
EK: Alumni really want to share their experiences and knowledge with students and younger alumni. That was the number one thing they’re interested in doing with Punahou. So now, we’re working on how we can make that a fulfilling experience for alumni, students and faculty.
DR: We already have successful mentoring events like the Alumni Healthcare Spotlight and Global Careers Spotlight that bring together Punahou students with alumni working in specific fields. Knowing that more alumni want to be involved in this type of collaboration and knowing the breadth of our alumni network, we see opportunities to expand our offerings to students by adding new industry events for alumni to share their career experience. We might also think about adding an element to the existing College Previews event that focuses on college majors and studies so older Academy students can meet and talk with college-aged alumni studying in certain fields.
What can be done to get younger alumni more engaged?
DR: We have some younger alumni events like Mingle and Jingle, College Previews and the Brews & BBQ event, which we couldn’t have this past year because of the pandemic. But we want to do more during the summer break to engage our college-aged alumni who are back home. We also want to reach out to future alumni, current juniors and seniors at Punahou, and let them know about the value of staying connected as alumni. We’re potentially even thinking of having a one-year reunion for recent graduates, because waiting five years may be too long. If we brought the Class of 2022 back in 2023, for instance, and involve them with Alumni Week, that might make them feel like they still belong, instead of them thinking, “I’m in college, and Punahou doesn’t really matter to me.”
What’s the next step in terms of getting alumni input?
DR: As we become more intentional with our programming, we hope to convene alumni to brainstorm as a group, potentially by generation. We want to know what a 27-year-old living in Massachusetts wants to see from the Punahou alumni office and from PAA, as well as the interests of a 74-year-old living in Hawai‘i and everyone in between too. We also want to invite alumni to become content providers and come up with event ideas and programming. We have these engaged people who answered this survey and raised their hands to participate further, so now it’s figuring out how they can help.
WHAT WE HEARD – ADVANCEMENT
Noelehua Lyons ’91 Archambault
Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Why is it important to ask our alumni these questions?
We want our alumni to connect with each other and with the School, and we want to do everything we can to offer creative ways for people to find huge value in being Punahou alumni. We have a diverse Punahou community, and there are things we’ve been doing for years that are beloved and highly valued, like Alumni Reunion Week. Most folks don’t want those things to change, but we want to continually check in to see what our alumni care about. Do they like having a Bulletin mailed to them? Do people enjoy engaging in virtual sessions about something that’s happening right now at the School or with an alumni author or chef? Do they only want in-person experiences? We need to make sure we’re on the right track. We’ve tried new things during the pandemic, and we want an honest assessment of what is and isn’t interesting to our alumni.
What were your biggest takeaways?
There were many! I think the most refreshing takeaway was that so many alumni cared to fill out the survey and spend even more time on thoughtful and reflective comments. They want their school to be the best that it can be, too. Another was to continue with the Bulletin in print – it was wonderful confirmation that we put a lot of resources into something people care deeply about. It was also affirming to hear how connected people are to their classmates, to the School and to the alumni Reunion program.
We also learned that some feel they receive too many communications, especially if they’re also a current parent, faculty or staff. Meanwhile, there are other alumni who read every Buff ’n Blue email newsletter and every Bulletin, and they want even more information. We’re trying to find a balance, and hopefully technology will help personalize that going forward. People should be able to select their desired level of communication with the School.
Were you surprised that so many people wrote in responses?
We were thrilled that we received so many thoughtful suggestions, including constructive criticism, because we’re always trying to improve. After the pandemic, we want to make sure our alumni feel welcome at Punahou and have opportunities to engage with each other and take part in events and activities both virtually and in person. We hope they feel that they are a part of a treasured, thoughtful and caring community.
How will Punahou use the feedback on charitable giving and giving to Punahou?
We learned that people are responding to the values they share with Punahou and our vision for educating the next generation who will positively impact their communities. The survey confirmed that what we’re sharing is resonating with folks and that Punahou is a priority philanthropically.
We’re asking alumni to let us know if they want to be part of future focus groups. What more information is the School seeking?
We strive to enhance the lives of our alumni. Building on the great insights we received through the survey, we’d like to gather alumni across different ages and regions for focused conversations about creating engaging programming, communication preferences, and building out specific affinity groups that might be of interest.
We also want to continue gathering data that can be used to advance our curriculum. For instance, some of the questions we asked focused on mental health, well-being, student safety and a sense of belonging at the School. We’re sharing this data with counselors and others at the School, so it can help with how they support students.
What should alumni do if they have questions about the School?
Reach out to our Advancement (email@example.com) and Communications (firstname.lastname@example.org) team members. We’re happy to answer any questions, hear new ideas and provide more detailed information about future plans or historical background about anything at the School. We welcome any and all questions, concerns, thoughts and suggestions.
WHAT WE HEARD – COMMUNICATIONS
Robert Gelber ’92
Director of Communications
What were your takeaways from the survey in terms of communications?
The survey showed us how important communications from the School are to our entire community. Whether it’s through our Bulletin stories, social media, Buff ’n Blue emails and other announcements, our alumni are able to stay connected to what’s happening at Punahou, as well as what’s happening with their fellow alumni. This sense of connection is something that has taken on even greater importance during the past two years with the challenges presented by the pandemic.
More than 1,000 people shared personal thoughts about the School’s communications to alumni. What was your reaction to these comments and suggestions?
My reaction was one of gratitude. To see our alumni as engaged as they are was a reminder of the important role and responsibility that communications plays in telling Punahou’s story. I am reminded of the Banyan Tree and its many branches. Wherever our alumni go in the world, there are deep roots that connect us all back to this place. Our job is to nourish those roots and remind folks of our interconnection.
How can Punahou improve communications with alumni?
The changing face of technology has opened up new possibilities for communicating. The key now is to capitalize on these advances, but to also do so in a way that feels relevant and personalized to alumni. People want tailored experiences, so managing how we segment our alumni constituents will become something that we pay particular attention to.
Will the Punahou Bulletin be going all-digital?
Digital has its place, but so does print. There is something about the physical experience of the print magazine that you just can’t replicate on digital – the scale of the photography, the way people leaf through it, set it down and come back to it, or share it with family members. Folks wait for it in the mail, then read it cover to cover. Most magazines wish they had a readership like ours. Similarly, digital has its own unique qualities. Digital allows us to provide rich storytelling throughout the year and to present dynamic, interactive content only available online, such as audio clips, podcasts, related stories, expanded photo galleries and more. Going forward, we really see a place for both the print magazine and digital edition in our communications.
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