What’s On Your Alumni Magazine’s “Not-To-Do” List?

I admit it: I’m a magazine maximalist. I love figuring out ways to take a good magazine all the way up to 11.


I obsess about this stuff! I always think it’s worth it to spend the extra time to make every word, every image, and every story earn its way into your magazine’s pages. Your magazine is your flagship publication for your alumni and donors, and you should treat it like the valuable communications channel that it is.

Still: you’re probably part a pretty small team, and you can’t do everything.

So for this issue, instead of focusing on all the things you can add to your magazine to-do list, I’ll talk about some of the things the you can add to you NOT-to-do list. These pages, processes, and approaches often require a lot of time. They can feel important or productive! But they often don’t actually lead to a better or more engaging magazine.

In many ways, your not-to-do list is as important (sometimes even more important!) than your to-do list. When you can avoid or minimize the time you spend on things that don’t meaningfully affect the impact of your magazine, you’ll have more time to focus on what does.

What’s on your not-to-do list?

The things that are worth putting on your not-to-do list will depend on your institution, your resources, and any relevant data you can collect. But there’s almost always something that magazine teams do that takes up way more time than it’s actually worth.

Here are some (but definitely not all) of the things that might make your list:

  • Lists.I’ve talked about this many times before: Board of trustees lists. Donor lists. Award-winner lists. These are pages that can lead you to spend hours of time compiling and proofreading information — but that readers often don’t care about, and are included in your magazine for no clear reason.
  • Elaborate content categorization.I appreciate spreadsheets and Airtable databases as much as anyone — maybe you do, too! But if you’re putting every story into a database, cross-referenced 13 ways, even when you feel confident that 50-word campus news piece on an inner-tube water polo team won’t need to be featured in another publication or channel in the future, there’s probably an element of overkill in your process.
  • A separate magazine website.I know I’m a heretic here! But your dedicated magazine website might not be as valuable as you think it is.
  • Convoluted approval processes.Do your stories get reviewed by what seems like everyone on campus, from a proofreader to your entire advancement team to the president’s office? Could you eliminate, say, ONE layer of approvals?

This is just the beginning. As you think about this list, there might be some things that make you say, “Nope, Erin, you’re wrong, we spend a lot of time on these things, and there’s a reason, and it’s worth it.”

GREAT! You don’t need to put these things on your not-to-do list. You’ve made the choice deliberately because it works for your institution or your readers.

Perhaps there are some things that you see on this list and you think: Yes, it’s time to ditch this thing. It’s not that useful for our institution or our readers.

ALSO GREAT! Move it over to your not-to-do list, or make a case to the folks who can help you put it on your not-to-do list.

The point is to be intentional about the time you’re spending on your publication in ways that help it become as valuable as possible to your audience.