Alumni management for dummies
April 30, 2012 12:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a low-cost web service for managing a (very) small alumni database.

I am a recent graduate of a high school robotics team. It's a fairly new organization — this past year has been our seventh — and as of right now we have no organized system for keeping track of our alumni, but we're at the point right now where that's something we want to start doing.

We are extremely small, as alumni organizations go — we have maybe 30 existing graduates, with 5 to 10 new graduates added each year. (This number will increase slightly as the team grows, but will never exceed ~25 graduates per year).

That's few enough people that we could manage an alumni database manually, but that has various issues including organization, location of the database, and turning over management from year to year. I'm hoping there's a web service that will make it easier. Ideally, I'm looking for a very simple, lightweight web service that would allow newly minted alumni to register to our group, enter basic information, and after registering, access the contact information of other alumni, if they choose to make it public. Extra social networking features are not necessary.

I thought I would be able to find some potential sites easily, but so far, all my Google searches have turned up large, expensive software packages aimed at high schools and universities with tens or hundreds of thousands of alumni. What I'm looking for is many orders of magnitude smaller than that, and would have to be fairly cheap. (I can't say exactly how much we're willing to spend without seeing some potential sites and costs, but right off the bat I'd say definitely no more than a couple hundred dollars per year, and much less than that if at all possible.)

I guess my first question is, does anything like this even exist? Am I looking in the right places? Or is a web service not the right place to be looking for a job like this? If anyone knows any "best practices" for alumni management, I would be interested.
posted by mekily to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered setting up a private group at It sounds like that would meet all your needs.
posted by jacalata at 1:26 AM on April 30, 2012

Excluding speciality software, for which you will pay, the acronym is CRM (contact/customer relationship management), lets you store details of people you know and details about them. Invariably have a web interface and means of producing reports. Sounds like your needs are much more modest (but be aware, people always think of extra requirements.

Here is a web freebie for up to 100 contacts (know nothing about it, in fact the fake testimonials really put me off, but as an example)
posted by epo at 1:55 AM on April 30, 2012

Erm, disregarded the bit about new alumni self registering, that is probably not a feature of most CRM systems.
posted by epo at 2:59 AM on April 30, 2012

I would not use an online programme for this myself, but if I did I would use Podio. They also have a programme for non-profits where if you put their logo on your site, you get the second-best package for free, which I think includes 1,000 names. That should allow you room for progression and categorization. I do not think it has e-mail functionality, however.

One thing to keep in mind is that data processing lag happens online and offline, so don't worry about having to wait to pull data.
posted by parmanparman at 4:29 AM on April 30, 2012

How about a simple Yahoo or Google Group? Seems like it will do everything you need, for free. You can keep the address list in a spreadsheet stored in the Group.
posted by COD at 5:10 AM on April 30, 2012

Based on your requirements and the changing nature of your alumni organization, I would look at a completly hosted service that makes it easy to assign new people to various admin roles. So check out Yammer, Google Apps, Ning, etc.

One thing I would do is to put some space between your online presence and the solution you select so that members always have a fixed resource to go to if the service would disappear. Basically this means registering a domain name (you can hook it up to Tumblr for free) that points to your Yammer, Ning or whatever page. This is what Startup Guild does: they have their own .net domain but it essentially points people to Yammer. Having your own domain is also nice since you can hook it up to Google Apps and give all members their own email and related services.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:41 AM on April 30, 2012

I would go with Google Docs if you basically want a spreadsheet with everyone's info.

If you want a discussion forum, which might be a good idea for a group like this, pretty much any cheap web host (e.g. Hostgator) will let you easily set up something like Simple Machines Forum (SMF). Then users can put their contact info in their profile, and you can restrict viewing of profiles to members.

lefora provides free forum hosting. It has less capabilities than something like SMF, but is totally free and less hassle to get started with.
posted by philipy at 5:43 AM on April 30, 2012

It may be old fashioned, but I'm always leery of giving data to third parties and relying on them for access to said data.

I would go with a self hosted solution -- an inexpensive hosting account and some open source software (WordPress, Drupal, etc.) should fit your budget. Any halfway competent web guy or interested amateur should be able to handle installation and configuration.

I recently setup something similar for a local non-profit and we got in at under $300, including domain registration, Drupal installation and a year of hosting.
posted by cedar at 6:17 AM on April 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions so far. I'll spend the next few days looking into the solutions you've proposed.
posted by mekily at 8:45 PM on April 30, 2012

a group on LinkedIn?
posted by at at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2012

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