Creating the CRS Alumni Forum

The CRS Alumni Forum was developed this past summer and rolled out to all alumni at the end of July. Since going live, the Forum has gained nearly 500 members and approximately 2,600 posts on a variety of topics relevant to our community. The following is a behind-the-scenes view on the project to build the Forum by three alumni on the Alumni Relations Committee: Sarah Uttermann-Merritt (’02, ’03, ’12-’15), Orian Marx (’97, ’98), and Inna Kuvich, (’01, ’02, ’06).

Why did we build the forum?

We wanted to create a place for alumni to come together online to have meaningful conversations about a variety of topics, including their camp experience, their careers and interests, and camp news. We also wanted to encourage an open dialogue between alumni and the LAJF staff, Board and committees.

We thought that the existing methods alumni were using for conversation (such as Facebook groups, email threads, and platforms specific to individual alumni associations) were limited: you couldn’t find previously posted information, conversations were unorganized, and there was no document repository. We thought that one central online forum would provide a way for alumni to have organized, searchable, moderated discussions with the whole CRS community.

How did we go about building it?

In the past year, there were several different conversations about creating a better channel of communication with and for Alumni. We worked with the Alumni Relations committee members and LAJF staff to develop a plan and execute it. Christina Busso and Tim Connors (committee co-chair) deserve special thanks for their advice and support.

We identified four types of tasks that would need to be resolved before launch: technical, marketing, content, and moderation. Sarah was the Project Sachem, making sure that all components were on track and coming together. Orian has a computer science background and does tech consulting, so he took the lead on everything technical. Inna is a consultant with a focus on marketing & sales functions so she handled our marketing plan. We shared work on the other tasks and were constantly in communication with each other throughout the 2 ½ months it took to set up the forum.

First, we researched some platforms to host the forum, and chose IPS Community Suite due to its ease of use, feature richness and active development. While looking at the technical side, we were also thinking about what content we want to have as well as a structure that would work for our community and help drive meaningful conversations. We then thought about what functionality we wanted in the forum and how to configure it so that it’s easy to use. 

Once we had the platform and basic structure in place, we did a beta launch to the Board and the Board Committee members in order to gather feedback and further refine the site. We used Libby and Mandy Day to announce the Forum to the community this summer, along with email communications. We spent a lot of time deciding how else to get the word out about the Forum. This part is still ongoing – we want the number of users to be reflective of the alumni we have!

How do we think it’s going so far?

The conversation is engaging, interesting, and constructive, especially the participation from younger alumni. Alumni have logged in from 85 different countries to date, and our post count keeps growing. We notice high traffic spikes after communications are sent out from the Foundation (we had 43 alumni logged in at once recently!). It’s been really great to see alumni connect with each other for career advice, education guidance, shared hobbies, and of course talking about Camp.

We want more voices on the Forum – that means more alumni registered and more alumni posting. If you haven’t yet checked it out, please do! The Board and Staff frequent the Forum to receive input on questions they have for the Alumni community as well as to respond to questions from Alumni.

What are our favorite threads on the Forum?

Inna: Introduce Yourself! Because it’s where we learn a bit more about Forum members and I am always fascinated to learn more about fellow alumni, especially when it’s someone I haven’t yet met. 

Sarah: I like the threads where alumni are connecting and helping each other, like the great discussions between Alumni Association members about how to improve their AAs and threads where older alumni are providing career advice to younger alumni.

Orian: I’m excited to see the hobbies and careers sections grow. Our alumni have so many great passions. Now we have an easy way for the entire community to become aware of them!