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Washington State Alumni Association
Connecting Through CougarStart.org
There is one question that all Washington State University (WSU) alumni would probably answer the same way. What do you immediately think of to represent your days in Pullman? The Cougar, of course. So when it came time to pick the online address for WSU's alumni portal it was easy, it had to be www.cougarstart.org.

Naming the portal was obvious, perhaps. But implementing it and choosing the content demanded planning around an already existing site and the issues of e-commerce and brand control. According to Brian Bates, alumni membership manager at Washington State University, preserving the university's brand identity - and highlighting alumni affinity with the Cougar - was a guiding principle as they planned the new alumni portal. Washington State, he noted, has one of the most recognizable collegiate logos and mascots in the nation. "We have incredible numbers in terms of alumni participation. We did not want to endorse products or services that put that loyalty at risk. We recognized the need to be associated with a quality solution provider."

The search for a business partner who shared a similar philosophy and approach led the school to My Personal.com, Inc. The WSU Alumni Association received proposals from eight prospective vendors to host and help build the cougarstart.org portal. MyPersonal emerged as the winner for its commitment to flexibility, customization and brand philosophy. "Each alumni group is a little different," noted Brian. "Our existing sites had always been made by Cougars for Cougars with a real WSU feel, so we did not just want to slap a logo on the portal and call it done."

As Brian discovered, MyPersonal clients have the flexibility to choose all branding elements of the portal, including the features, content and 'look and feel.' In this way, MyPersonal's clients are able to preserve, integrate and extend their brand identity online. Additionally, clients choose and own the domain name.

With MyPersonal powering the portal, a huge burden was lifted from WSU staff, since resources are limited. The growing number of requests from alumni for additional features and information on the university's portal, http://cougnet.wsu.edu, was becoming unwieldy and time consuming.

While the WSU portal was a huge success, it didn't necessarily meet all of the needs of WSU's sophisticated alumni population. An initial attempt at creating internally an alumni portal became daunting. "It was a huge challenge and we did not want to re-invent the wheel. Since we had begun building the site ourselves and had some content relationships in place, we needed a partner willing to accept our previous vendor relationships. And we wanted to own the domain name. MyPersonal also offered group leverage, economies of scale and co-marketing that benefit our site."

Within the last six months, MyPersonal has launched more than 40 affinity portals, such as University of California, Davis-Cal Aggie Alumni Association; University of Connecticut Alumni Association; Georgia Tech Alumni Association; Northwestern University Alumni Association; and Sigma Chi Corporation.

As a school, Washington State also was discussing its concerns about e-commerce and its Web sites. Alumni had been exposed to some e-commerce on the Alumni Information site before, through links to the campus bookstore and the membership process, which could be completed and transacted online.
"Since we did not want to commercialize our .edu domain beyond that which was considered University business," Brian explained, "we decided to keep the commerce side away from the .edu domain. CougarStart.org was perfect, however, since it was not associated with course content or the academic side of the university."

Washington State maintains and continues to grow its existing alumni sites with event listings, an alumni center tour and details of programs and services for alumni. Additionally, all of CougNet's services and a site dedicated to the WSU Foundation for donor giving and fundraising continue to operate. All are conveniently accessible from CougarStart.org, with its personalized content, services and commerce. With the MyPersonal approach, content is a custom blend of organization content with commercial content selected by the client. For example, the client can integrate an existing relationship with an e-shopping mall vendor or implement a MyPersonal mall - all without advertising or commercialization on the first page.

In discussing the question of e-commerce on its sites, the school realized that "affinity" - the feeling of a close personal tie to Washington State University - was very high. "Affinity is important," Brian explained, "because of the time spent pursuing a degree, sometimes several degrees. It is unusual to look back at college and feel negative. It is a unique experience, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood - a community beyond family. Because of the Internet and the explosive growth of affinity portals, community will only rise in importance, we felt."

"Most importantly, My Personal respected our knowledge of our alumni community and is working now with us to market the site around our own events and communication vehicles to reach out to the community at points that will reach the most people in the most sensible way. I think our alumni will respond well to the portal, since the e-commerce revenue comes back to benefit the school," Brian added. Revenue generated through the portal is shared with WSU.

Now WSU alumni can easily become part of a larger community instantly at www.CougarStart.org, powered by MyPersonal. Washington State is going to push those alumni participation rates way off the charts. Go Cougars!

 Our existing sites had always been made by Cougars for Cougars with a real WSU feel, so we did not just want to slap a logo on the portal and call it done. 
 Because of the Internet and the explosive growth of affinity portals, community will only rise in importance, we feel.