Your alumni who are living full lives in recovery are those who can advocate best for your brand. So here’s an idea: invest in them.
It’s not a novel concept; however, alumni programs have only recently gained traction among treatment providers. According to Nicole Vasquez, the National Alumni Manager at American Addiction Centers (AAC), alumni programs have not always been top-of-mind for providers. “Traditionally, I don’t think residential treatment centers played a role at all in client’s aftercare. That was definitely something that needed to change.”
So what makes a strong alumni program? I spoke with Nicole about the various tactics AAC uses to stay connected with clients post-treatment. We discussed four approaches treatment centers can use to maintain strong bonds with their clients.
Before you get too forward thinking, don’t forget the value of a phone call. It’s a simple mechanism that Nicole says is often overlooked. “Actually hearing someone’s voice is so powerful,” Nicole said, “you can tell when a client is under the influence on the phone or not doing well… we’re able to call someone out and say ‘listen. You’re telling me you’re doing great, but I can hear that you’re under the influence on the other end of this phone. What’s going on? Do you need help?’ ”
“Actually hearing someone’s voice is so powerful. You can tell when a client is under the influence on the phone or not doing well.”
These individualized phone calls ensure your alumni are receiving the support they need, even when they don’t seek it out. Nicole requires her alumni coordinators to conduct phone call outreach at various intervals: one week post-treatment, two weeks, post-treatment, and so forth. These phone calls operate as a baseline for communication and hold both the alumni and coordinators accountable to the client’s continued recovery.
Providing resources post-treatment is a fantastic way to stay top-of-mind and connected with your former clients. But how do you get alumni to opt in to continued correspondence post-treatment? Nicole says getting clients connected to the program while they are still in treatment is key. “We have alumni coordinators on site who are able to develop relationships with clients before they leave and get them to opt in to alumni programs,” she said, “Where we don’t have alumni coordinators on site, we have collateral and a form that is given to a client during discharge so they can learn about our program.”
Resources and educational materials may include: recovery newsletters containing research and resources for continued recovery; social media pages that broadcast company news and alumni stories; and even alumni apps that deliver content tailored to a client’s aftercare requirements.
Meetings and other events are guaranteed connection points with those who attend. These in-person interactions maintain the positive feelings clients associate with your facility. Consistent alumni programming also becomes a reliable source of support.
Nicole’s alumni coordinators facilitate local, non-denominational, 12-step meetings once a week or once a month (depending on the region). Her coordinators also host monthly events ranging from volunteer opportunities such as feeding the homeless or helping with a Habitat for Humanity build; to fun and sober events such as bowling or ultimate frisbee tournaments. “The events are meant to keep our clients engaged and let them know that it’s possible to have fun in recovery,” Nicole said.
Your former clients are passionate advocates for your brand, and they are often eager to share their recovery experiences. Allow them to share their stories (while maintaining HIPAA compliance), via public testimonials, marketing campaigns and other avenues.
“We often invite alumni to participate in panel sessions where current clients can ask them questions about how to deal with recovery on the outside,” Nicole said. She also keeps her alumni involved in national campaigns and features their stories prominently in AAC marketing materials. One such example is the AAC podcast series “Far from Finished” which features stories from AAC alumni who share their recovery stories and experiences.
Excellent programming and communication tactics are crucial elements to a strong alumni program; however, Nicole emphasizes that it’s the quality of the coordinators that makes all the difference. “I hire great people,” she said.
A lot of times clients will say “the alumni program is great, but it’s [the alumni coordinator] I love. It’s the environment she creates and that no matter what time it is or what’s happening she’ll answer the phone if I need to talk.”
“It’s my alumni coordinators that are on the ground and building relationships with clients… a lot of times clients will say ‘the alumni program is great, but it’s [the alumni coordinator] I love. It’s the environment she creates and that no matter what time it is or what’s happening she’ll answer the phone if I need to talk.’ It’s all about the people we hire through and through.”