Activate your alumni

Whether you’re starting from scratch or building on the success of a reunion, Justin Smith explores how you can nurture relationships with former pupils

Independent schools in the UK educate only seven per cent of children, yet they raised more than £130 million from donations last year. Interestingly, 30% of state school alumni questioned on behalf of the charity Future First said they would be willing to donate to their former schools, if asked.

This suggests that, nationally, state schools could be missing out on donations totalling upwards of £100m a year, with each secondary school potentially able to raise an average of £30,000 a year from its alumni network.

For Future First, which sets up alumni networks for state schools this is a missed opportunity. ‘It’s wrong to say that private school alumni want to give back and state school alumni don’t,’ says the charity’s director of programmes Beth Goddard. ‘We have more than 250,000 former students registered with us who want to support their schools, whether as role models and mentors, governors, donors or fundraisers.’

An open door

Many people feel a strong bond or connection to their old school, but the key to making them active contributors is to develop a sense of ‘emotional buy-in’. Alumni will have many different reasons for getting involved, from a sense of duty or  nostalgia to a need for recognition, enlightened self-interest or genuine altruism. This means your school has to develop campaigns and initiatives that will appeal to a range of individuals. With the right approach to relationship building, you can reignite the passion that alumni have for their old school, and encourage them to ‘give back’.

Develop closer ties

Start small. Make sure you capture data on students before they move on. Secondary schools, in particular, can gather data on student interests and gauge their level of potential future involvement. When it comes to identifying potential support among former pupils, technology can help. Prospect-searching, wealth-screening and other analytical tools can provide raw data, while alumni management software offers communications platforms to help seek out and engage with potential donors.

However, there’s nothing like the human touch. So make existing pupils aware that you would like to stay in touch, and reconnect with former pupils through a range of media channels. Future First, for instance, supports schools in reaching out to alumni through events and school communications, such as newsletters, social media and local press releases.

It’s vital to develop emotive and engaging storylines for you communications – project narrative is king when it comes to building support. Define the opportunities and the impact donations can make, however small, so that everyone feels they have a part to play. Demonstrating what can be achieved with specific donation sums can be very effective. Supporters want to feel as though they are part of a team, says fundraising consultant and author Joe Garecht. ‘When they do, they will be inclined to give again and again,’ he says. ‘Build relationships with your donors and turn them into friends for life.’

Engaging alumni as volunteer role models will help raise the aspirations of current pupils. And using former students’ real-world expertise as part of your careers’ offer is a win for both parties.  Remember that one or two alumni can become a driving force – ambassadors can attract others, and the effect can snowball. After all, who better to lead the charge on school fundraising than those with a story to tell….

Use social media

Reaching out to alumni requires a different approach to communicating with existing students and stakeholders. It’s important to provide good reasons as to why they should follow you. Here are some top tips for using social media to reach your alumni...

  • Create a social account that’s specifically for your alumni. If resources are tight, enlist the help of trusted past students.
  • Provide your recent alumni with valuable resources. Include links to CV-building tools, job boards, further education advice and career blogs. Give them ongoing support and a reason to keep coming back. Appeal to their sense of nostalgia.
  • Posting images and videos from the past can trigger strong emotions and encourage engagement. ‘Name the teacher/building/year’ is a great way to get the conversation rolling.
  • Regularly showcase the current activities of alumni. But don’t just focus on the conventionally ‘successful’ ones. Look to those who are making contributions to the community or giving back in other ways. Make everyone feel welcome.
  • Create a #hashtag for school leavers to share their favourite photos from their year. You can easily turn those photos into a timeline video (using a tool such as Filmora) to build your followers.
  • Facebook is a great platform for promoting alumni events. Not only does it build interest by showcasing those attending, but other friends are also notified, spreading the word about your event.
  • Make your communications come alive. Take the time to engage and respond to your audience, as well as encouraging conversation among your followers. Your efforts may not be immediate, but persistence does pay off!

Case study: alumni workshops in Kirkby, Liverpool

‘We started working with Future First because we were still in touch with a lot of former students, and wanted to make better use of these connections. Our school has a family-centred ethos. Lots of our parents are former pupils so we thought we’d have a good chance of people being willing to come back into school to raise the aspirations of our children.

The alumni workshops raised the self-esteem of the children massively and widened their ideas of what they could do in the future. The volunteers had a personal impact on every child, showing them that they could do anything they wanted if they worked hard. One of the children said the workshops had helped him become a better team member. At the start, his group were arguing but the volunteers showed the children how to work collaboratively.’

Mrs Sheila Murphy, deputy head, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Primary School, Kirkby, Liverpool (338 pupils)

 

Company director Brad Ledson returned to Saints Peter and Paul as a workshop volunteer. He says: ‘I really enjoyed my time at school. I’m now a dad and my  children go to the same school. They’ve had a great experience, which is why I wanted to get involved. It was my way of saying thank you and giving back.

I’d seen the Future First poster a couple of times before I got up the courage to get in touch. I was nervous before the first workshop, as I’d never done anything like this before. The Future First team were great, and the children were just brilliant. The level of intelligence in a 10-year-old blew me away! The way they considered life was so interesting.

The one piece of advice I wanted the children to take away was, “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice”. After that first experience, I signed up for all the workshops. The time I was giving the children at my old school was as important as the time I give my paying clients. From being involved, I understood how important the school is in shaping our children’s lives. This is what prompted me to take up a governor vacancy.’

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