Your school’s alumni network is likely an untapped - or underutilized - goldmine for both engagement and fundraising campaigns. Alumni have a very specific connection to your school and by leveraging their specific experiences, associations, and memories about their time in school, you can vastly increase their engagement in your community as well as increase your annual fund and other fundraising contributions.
Here are four ways to engage your alumni network to meet your fundraising goals:
What better way to captivate your alumni audience than by sending tailored communications by class? Find a few enthusiastic alumni who are willing to write quarterly or monthly messages to their classmates. These types of correspondence can ask for updates, alumni news, and of course, include a reminder to give back to their school.
If a class graduated in the 1960s, their time at your school was wildly different from someone who graduated in the 1990s. Use your alumni to pull on each class’s individual personalities and memories to develop communications that get opened, read, responded to, and generate gifts.
Peer-to-peer solicitations overwhelmingly receive better reception and higher take rates for donations than form letters from development offices since they’re coming from someone who lived that class’s experience with them. And with email being a preferred method of communicating, sending regular messages from these class representatives is easy and efficient.
Bring your alumni together! Nothing breeds fondness and goodwill like a social event among alumni. Depending upon where your alumni live, host regional events, from happy hours to cultural outings, to unite local alumni and help them create or rekindle friendships and even business connections. These events are fairly simple to plan, and often, alumni will offer their home or club as the venue, making the event even more inviting to your local alumni base.
Gilman School offered its alumni three occasions to gather in Florida this year. Their invite explained who would be there and that any friends of Gilman were welcome at the events.
By having regional events that merely bring alumni together, it makes everyone feel good. Your alumni will feel like you have their best interest at heart and that they have received a benefit of being part of your community. As for your development team, during the event or as follow up, it provides a natural opportunity to ask for donations, even nominal ones for participation. While you don’t want to lead with giving to the school, every event should include a moment where a board member or notable alumnus makes a call for support. By ingraining solicitations into your alumni events, it will become an accepted part of your get-togethers.
One thing alumni love to do is help and mentor other alumni. Give them ways to connect with older and young alumni by industry, region, or another area of interest. Is your school known for its lacrosse program? Make a lacrosse alumni email distribution list so they can stay in contact and discuss the latest rankings. If young alumni are looking for career advice, make introductions to successful older alumni in specific industries so they can meet in person or on the phone to gain insight into what certain jobs are like day-to-day.
These small gestures go a long way and mean a lot to the alumni who benefit from these connections. They’ll form long-lasting relationships that can skyrocket their careers and broaden their social circles. Regardless of the outcome, your alumni will be more receptive to school solicitations once they have reaped the benefits of being an active part of your alumni network.
Whether it’s your annual day of giving or another important time at your school, drum up a little bit of friendly competition between your alumni classes. Establish a participation challenge where the class with the highest participation percentage receives something - from credit in the annual report to a car decal. Using online fundraising tools, such as thermometers and real-time gift updates on your website, will drive engagement and foster a healthy competitive spirit amongst the classes.
Mayfield Senior School used #GivingTuesday as a way to generate gifts from their alumnae classes and included a running list of donors and total gifts by class to create some competition. Alumnae could easily check their class’s standing and see the immediate impact of their gifts on the leaderboard.
This is another opportunity where you can use alumni-written communications to engage your alumni community. Alumni love hearing from their classmates and when it’s mixed with friendly banter, they’re even more likely to participate. It’s a great way to create an artificial deadline and get gifts from alumni who generally skip out on annual fund donations.
So when you’re wondering how to refresh your fundraising efforts, keep this list of alumni opportunities at the ready. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how eager your alumni network is to connect, participate, and help your school and its fundraising initiatives when you provide the right circumstances.
Julie is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Before becoming a full-time writer, she spent nearly ten years fundraising for non-profits and private schools, where she focused on alumni annual giving. She loves sharing her insights and helping schools improve their development efforts in service of fulfilling their missions of improving each child’s life.