Hey Calvin, could you share a bit about yourself?
Yeah. My name is Calvin Chuang. I have been working as the Executive Director of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine Alumni Association for a year. Prior to that I was working at the office as a documentary filmmaker. I got the opportunity to visit several countries. I did a documentary in Sierra Leone and Liberia on Ebola. I got to go to Africa a couple of times. And before that I owned my own production company back in Australia.
Could you tell a little more about how you transitioned from that sort of a role – to working for the Association – and then eventually into your current role as the executive director.
It’s not a traditional change that most people have. I was actually out climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and I met this group of people who were from this city Loma Linda and had a great time with them. And they said you should come work for us, we’re going to Loma Linda. I said “ You find me a job I’ll come out there.” So long story short they found me a job in this alumni office doing documentary filmmaking. So here I came.
How did you transition from doing video productions to working closely with the alumni association as you do now?
I was working in the alumni association office and my boss retired and was looking for a replacement. And they brought in some people to interview and he asked me to be one of those people and because I had been working in the office for a while, so I knew the culture.
Our office is very unique in that it is wholly run by the alumni themselves. The school actually doesn’t own it. The alumni themselves actually fund and run the operation and it is because of that uniqueness and its unique culture, that they actually appointed me as the new executive director of the association.
So, what does your job look like nowadays? I mean it’s probably quite different from what you were used to with video production. What does a typical day look like for you?
My typical day looks like a lot of meetings – more than I’ve ever had to do before. As we are our own 501(c)(3) non-profit, everything runs through boards and committees. So I’m sitting on a lot of committees and I sit and I discuss what they want to do and they give me my marching orders and I carry them out. So, that involves a lot of e-mails a lot of organizing a lot of event planning. And I try to bring in some of my old skills like graphic design promotion marketing as well into the role.
It’s interesting how you are bringing your own unique approach to it. You’ve seen the association from an outsider’s perspective and now you’re running it. So if you are asked “what were the big changes that’s been happening in alumni relations over the last few years?” What would those be?
Good question. I think I’ll expand that even more to nonprofits in general. What we’re seeing is that people don’t support nonprofits as much as they used to. There is a sharp decline. If you look at the research there’s a sharp decline of support for nonprofits across the board. For alumni association that’s even lesser support. Especially since you don’t see a lot of (well we’re not seeing a lot of) younger alumni support the organization. What we are seeing is that younger alumni love to support causes. They’ll support the things like the ice bucket challenge – those kinds of things. But the actual organization behind it, they won’t know – They want a cause to support.
So what we’ve noticed is that we’ve had to change our strategy. For the younger millennials who are passionate about causes – we can find causes for them to kind of sink their teeth into. While the older alumni still prefer supporting the association as it is.
How or where do you think all of this – technology, online communities, giving – fits in with the broader perspective?
It’s actually been really interesting. This organization is approaching 100 years old. So it’s gone through a lot of technological changes. In fact, not too long ago (probably about 15 years ago) I heard a previous employee say they were still using the typewriter in here. So it’s gone through a big change. They’ve gone from typewriters to computers and now they’re embracing the Internet and online activity. What it has helped us do, though, is to cut down the amount that we spend to mail out.
Earlier, we used a lot of mail outs, and now we’re using a lot of emails – which has helped.
We’re able to track the e-mails and see who has opened them. Their community – the platform itself – has allowed us to see who’s active and to monitor their progress and for moving forward.
I think the big thing for us is that medical school which is the alumni association I belong to is a very unique course in which these guys go through four years of intense training together. So there’s a certain bond there. Having a platform where they can all get reconnected with each other and keep those bonds alive – that’s really helpful for us moving forward.
Another thing that you’re doing a great job of – is online fundraising. Where do you see online fundraising going, a few years down the line?
Online fundraising has been interesting as well. We’ve seen more recently that crowdsourcing is becoming more popular with communities. That really just helps people to say “OK we’re going to get this”. And when they hit that goal – they’re excited and then they want to get past that goal. We have some pretty ambitious donations or causes right now that we’re trying to fill. And last week, we passed our student goal by 20 percent. So it’s been really helpful just to see that money coming in.
That’s really good to hear! So just one other question around that. You have said in the past that technology while it’s great, it needs to kind of come together to amplify the human aspect as well. So, how do you move things in such a way?
Yeah, that’s true. In the past and I think even today – technology is a tool. It’s a tool that we use to try and build the community at the end of the day. As an alumni association, we are simply a community that is our product. If we don’t have the community we don’t have a product; we don’t exist. So what we’re doing with technology is basically “Trying to get people to interact with the technology to build that community”.
So, being able to contact classmates that they haven’t seen is big. Then, we have a program for students to reach out to alumni. They do an interview at trial – so they reach out to fellow alumni in those cities to provide free accommodation. Those kinds of touch points and those kind of connections are what built our body as a community of medical alumni. So while knowledge is important, it helps facilitate that it’s those connections that will actually help grow our relationship.
You’re one of the people who has been with us as we grew as a company – you’ve been with us for a while now. So how has working with us changed your approach to your day to day work?
When we went looking for website companies and a database company online – we had very specific goals in mind and we had very specific requirements because we are a 501(c)(3).
One of those was tiered membership payments. What I really like working with Almabase is that actually they actually looked at our requirements and said “You know, our platform can do X, Y, Z but it can’t do A, B, C”. So eventually they actually modified their platform to include A, B, C and is continually still providing and looking at ways that they can meet our specific requests.
Which we are really appreciative of – because being medical alumni we have very unique things like specialties like certifications things that other schools don’t have.
But thankfully, Almabase has been able to structure their database so that we’re able to capture that information. And that’s information that gives us so much more value as an organization – because doctors often look for specific information – and we have that information now. So that’s been great.
Glad we are able to help, so let’s say someone was to call you up and ask you. “Hey, we’re checking out this company. What if I was to do business with them?” What would you tell them?
I’d say, look you’re getting a lot of support. For a great value of money. You’re getting people. It’s like it’s getting a team of professionals to do your work for what you would pay for an employee or much less than that. So why would you do the work? This kind of specialty work – when there’s a team on the platform and there’s great service available elsewhere?
So it’s definitely I’d recommend them because it saves you headaches, and it gets things done quicker. Because the platform can do it quicker than what you can do it.
Everything is becoming more data-driven, and you’re getting a lot of information end-to-end. With all of this, where do you see technology impacting alumni relations the most in the next say four to five years?
Good Question. I would say, from the perspective of this office, I can see technology benefiting us in making appropriate connections. Making appropriate connections not only for financial giving, to ask for the right amount of dollars if we do a fundraising campaign. But, to make appropriate connections when it comes to mentoring. To make appropriate connections when it comes to asking someone to essentially be on board for a specific cause.
Having that data, and being able to look at that data, and that history – will allow us to make more appropriate decisions.
Right now we’re basing it off what we know, what someone else said, or what little information we have. Which isn’t bad, but now we can actually look at the data and say this person on paper is good, let’s get a few references and let’s connect up.
That way, I think making appropriate connections will help us build a community that is stronger and more vibrant.
That’s great to hear! One of the best things that we like about the relationship that we have with LLUSMAA and you, in particular, is that we think in the same direction. It’s great to hear that we’re on the same page.
Yeah, I know. It’s been fun working with you guys. Really! Thank you for your team and what you guys have been doing for us!