The benches outside of the Alumni Memorial Building contain the names of donors. DARS has been working with benchmark schools to determine how Lehigh can improve alumni relations. (Ryan Bonshak/B&W Staff)

Lehigh offices use benchmark schools to evaluate progress

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The Office of Development and Alumni Relation Services’ goal is to provide information services to the Lehigh community that support and enhance the development and alumni relations operations of the university.

DARS accomplishes this goal through the use of “benchmark” schools. By comparing Lehigh to these benchmark schools, DARS is able to assess progress and get ideas from other universities to help with university objectives, alumni relations and admissions.

Janet Norwood, the senior director of communications in DARS, said some of the benchmark schools used by offices on campus are Princeton University, Rice University and Lafayette College. These benchmark schools are used to see how Lehigh can improve, expand and advance.

“Sometimes we look at schools with similar characteristics, although there aren’t too many schools like Lehigh in terms of size and combination of undergrad and research experience,” Norwood said. “Other times, schools that are very different from us might have great programs we’re interested in learning about.”

She said the characteristics for benchmark schools can be all over the place. Princeton, for example, might serve as a benchmark school because of the reunion traditions, or Rice, which offers similar combinations of undergraduate experience and research to Lehigh.

Norwood said through looking at these benchmark schools, Lehigh generates new ideas of ways to engage alumni in the life of the university. The relationship between these colleges is professional.

“Because you’re either a graduate or not of a particular place, colleges and universities don’t really compete with other schools for alumni like companies compete for customers,” Norwood said.

Instead, one can find colleges and universities sharing ideas for the development of alumni relations, she said. Through this professional relationship, colleges and universities share ideas.

There are professional organizations that allow Lehigh to network and share information in person, through conferences, listservs and other resources. Two common conferences that Lehigh attend to generate ideas are the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Association of Private College and University Alumni Directors where Lehigh staff will be participating.

Depending on what Lehigh wants to benchmark will determine which school or program will be evaluated.

“It really depends on what we’re looking at accomplishing, and who else does it well,” Norwood said. “We benchmark our alumni and volunteer programs, our fundraising efforts and many other aspects of development and alumni relations work.”

For example, she said Lehigh’s inspiration for programs and events reflecting milestone celebrations during the sesquicentennial events last year came from benchmark schools. Norwood said DARS is working to broaden its alumni relations, specifically virtually.

The Office of Admissions also uses benchmark schools to evaluate Lehigh’s application process.

Lauren Christman, ’13, ’14G, the assistant director of admissions said Lehigh looks at schools similar in programs and research opportunities to help evaluate their office.

“Whether it’s Lafayette or other schools in the Patriot League, we look at benchmark schools to get new ideas on how to appeal to prospective students,” Christman said.

The Association of Student Alumni also plays a critical role in the relationship between alumni. ASA is an organization on campus that allows students to directly create events that engage students and Lehigh alumni. ASA also uses benchmark schools to help create ideas and events for Lehigh and their alumni.

Three of the most common alumni events sponsored by ASA are Founder’s Day, First-Year Student Rally and Bed Races during Lehigh-Lafayette week.

Carly Risom, ’19, who joined ASA this year, said in addition to the three aforementioned events, ASA helps plan dinners for alumni that have been successful in years past.

“We recently hosted one on campus in Williams Hall,” she said. “Roughly 10 to 15 alumni and their spouses showed up and mingled with ASA members.”

Although the dinners have been successful, Risom said ASA is always looking for new ways to engage alumni. 

Through assessing the progress and alumni programs with other schools, ASA and Lehigh hope to find ways to virtually connect with Lehigh Alumni. 

“Our dinners and other events have always been super successful, but we are always looking for more ways to engage our alumni by means of new events and perhaps new traditions,” Risom said.

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