Schools without an effective alumni engagement strategy are wasting a golden opportunity. A school’s alumni are ready-made brand ambassadors, who are uniquely suited to extol the virtues of their alma mater. From recruitment to fundraising to mentoring, their role and potential impact must not be ignored.
At a time when institutions are scrambling for resources, schools that don’t invest in their alumni or invite them to be partners in shaping the school’s future, are squandering a priceless resource. But, the relationship between a school and its alumni must be reciprocal and mutually beneficial.
Many independent schools, despite their best efforts, lose contact with their former students when they move on beyond university. Independent schools need to focus on alumni, as much as universities traditionally have. Many alumni are willing to give back to their school and can be a great source of inspiration to students as well as a financial resource.
A successful alumni engagement strategy must take into account a number of things. Firstly, the support of the alumni must be earned. They are under no obligation to help the school. If they do so, it is because they have chosen to commit their time and resources to help further the mission of their alma mater. As a result, the strategy must be built around their needs, not the needs of the school.
Messaging is a key component in any alumni engagement strategy. Financial investment should be a secondary concern. The alumni are less likely to be actively engaged if they perceive their contribution to be strictly financial. It is critical to successfully communicate an investment in their success. This can be achieved a number of ways:
- Establishing mechanisms to facilitate alumni to alumni interaction – This can include online communities, reunions and special/networking events.
- Creating alumni specific communications – By using newsletters, magazines, a dedicated website and email, the communications should strive to engage the alumni not just rattle off a list of news about the school. Draw them in. Get them interested. Create an emotional connection through storytelling.
- Giving them a seat at the table – Alumni have invaluable information that can help guide the school in creating a better environment for its students and faculty. They should have representation on boards and committees.
- Allowing them to lead – Alumni can provide a unique perspective and opportunities to current students by providing internships and mentoring opportunities, as well as, recruiting and recommending prospective students.
- Providing feedback – Alumni can offer an ‘insiders’ perspective that can be incorporated into the school’s development strategies.
Let the alumni determine how and when they want to be involved. By removing the focus from contribution to engagement, you allow the alumni to participate in a way that will be most meaningful to them while creating a strong committed alumni community in the process.
Remember, there is no one size fits all message. Tailor the outreach. Different generations will engage differently with the school and its methods of outreach. Be certain to speak to their needs correctly.
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