Engaging alumni—whether to have them help current students or for fundraising—isn’t easy for many colleges and universities. And it’s arguably been getting harder (especially on the fundraising side) even as the alums of any college or university are often their most valuable asset. What’s the benefit to the alums that their alma mater promises? What sorts of engagements are meaningful to them? In this conversation with Max Leisten, founder of Protopia, he talks about how his company uses artificial intelligence to answer this question. The company does it without creating an app for users—there are enough of those he told me, and he doesn’t want to create more friction. And he does it by intentionally avoiding the use of the word “mentor” when he asks alums to support current students—because that’s a word that implies a real commitment on the part of students and alums. More friction, in other words.
As he told me: “Sometimes I talk about this in Venn diagrams. You’ve got the alum that is looking for impact. The student that’s looking for you to deliver on that promise of life-long community. You’ve got that front line fundraiser that says I need more and better conversations with the right donors. And that sweet spot, that’s where we operate.”