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The Alumni Campaign

The “I know I should do something, but where should I start?” market…

Alumni, both recent and from years past, are an important component of a successful annual campaign.

  • They have a personal connection to the school, and often to the people in it
  • If cultivated correctly, they can continue to be engaged for years to come

So why are they so often ignored?

First, we are terrible at collecting and maintaining data on our alumni community, and an alumni campaign or cultivation effort is very difficult to kick off without a good set of data.

Second, alumni endeavors are often looked at as separate from the annual campaign effort, sometimes with another department planning events, writing newsletters and creating networking opportunities.

While there certainly is an admissions related component to this opportunity (we want our alumni to return as parents!), the ultimate goal of any alumni effort is to develop long-term relationships with our graduates in order to turn them into loyal and committed donors. Alumni-related cultivation and stewardship activities are truly development functions, and should be incorporated into the annual campaign strategy.

Universities spend an enormous amount of time and money on cultivating their alumni because they look at the long-term return on investment.  So too should Jewish day schools.

What does the campaign look like?

Cultivation of alumni, especially those who have been out of school for many years, is a slow and steady process. If you are just beginning to build an alumni group, it may be several years until you see the fruits of your labor.  It will come, but you must be diligent and patient.

You may want to organize the campaign (or programming) by creating several target markets within the larger alumni group, as the messaging and cultivation strategy may differ:

  • Alumni 1-5 years out of school
  • Alumni 6-15 years out
  • Alumni 16+ years out

By the time your graduates are 15-20 years out they are likely linked to 2-3 other schools (high school, college, and/or graduate school), so winning back their loyalty is no small task.

Start early and create a culture of giving!

Educate your alumni about the annual campaign early on – even starting in their last year of school.  Show them that making a personal gift to the campaign is a meaningful way to give back to the school:

  • Talk about the needs and purpose of the annual campaign;
  • Invite older alum back to talk about ways to stay involved;
  • Recruit student leadership to encourage participation in the campaign;
  • Ask graduating students to make small individual gifts or larger class gifts

Instilling the value of philanthropy (and giving back) while students are still in school, and then continuing to steward and build a relationship, will turn your young alum into long-term supporters.

The work of stewarding young alum starts immediately. Here are some ideas:

  • Create an alumni Facebook group (if age appropriate)
  • Build a dedicated alumni chat group on Twitter
  • Hold a video contest on YouTube
  • Invite students back for an alumni/staff basketball game over Thanksgiving break
  • Ask recent graduates to participate in school events and/or mentor current students
  • Offer alumni summer jobs in the office, supporting your school’s development or financial professionals
  • Throw a back-to-school barbeque for young alum as they begin their new school experience (middle/high/college)
  • Ask a board or faculty member (who plans to be in Israel) to take alumni studying there to dinner
  • Give students a school email address to keep in perpetuity as a graduation gift… this will help you to stay in touch in the years to come (they’ll likely forward this address).

Engaging Older Alum

Your older alum create more of a challenge, especially if you are reaching out for the first time in years.

  • Their charitable dollars are committed elsewhere
  • You may not have current contact information
  • Time away builds distance and disconnection
  • View sample cultivation tool here

The solution? Cultivation!

  • Bring back the memories (view sample by clicking here)
  • Recreate engagement
  • Build relationships
  • Offer networking and social opportunities

This is often achieved through the development of alumni associations/societies.

Alumni Associations

The ultimate goal of an alumni association is to build support for your annual campaign, but they also serve to connect, build relationships and renew loyalty to a school.

Alumni associations are attractive options for young and older alumni alike, as they provide opportunities for:

  • Networking
  • Social gatherings
  • Leadership

Alumni who have been disconnected from your school are more apt to contribute via an alumni association membership than to a direct mail appeal, as they see the cost as a membership fee rather than a charitable gift.

Organizing an Alumni Association

1) In order to begin structuring an alumni society or association, begin by recruiting alumni as leadership for a steering committee.  This committee:

  • Is lay driven, supported by staff (link to below- a word on staffing)
  • Can include representation from different years, decades or groupings
  • Is driven by communication that comes from alumni to alumni
  • Is responsible for
    • Acquiring data
    • Recruitment of additional leaders/participants
    • Cultivation planning
    • Solicitation (often later in the process)

2) Create a mission statement and action plan (view sample talking points and Overview of Alumni Association here)

3) Begin to brainstorm about cultivation events to bring together alumni via

  • Family events
    • Picnics and carnivals
  • Educational events
    • Lunch and learns in the business district
    • Family learning opportunities
  • Networking opportunities
    • Business forums
    • Networking events
    • Job Fairs
  • Using the skills and talents of your alum
    • Is there a yoga instructor who can teach a yoga class?
    • A chef who can host a cooking demonstration?
    • A musician to perform a family friendly concert?
    • Someone who can give a book review or lecture?
  • See sample cultivation invitations by clicking here and here.

4) Create giving levels – start small ($18, $36, $72, $118)

5) Determine benefits of membership

  • Give a small gift at each level branded with school logo/alumni association
    • No need to spend a lot of $
    • Think water bottles, umbrellas, beach towels
    • Great marketing opportunity for the school
  • Password protected membership site/chat rooms for networking
  • Discounts on fees for school and alumni programs
  • Name on website, newsletters
  • See sample alumni association invitations by clicking here and here.

6) Start an alumni group on Facebook

7) Write an “alumni focused” newsletter

8) Begin to plan (and create policies around) alumni reunions

  • Great way to bring alum back to the school
  • Good opportunity to educate
  • Offer Shabbatonim – incorporate learning and social time
  • Look for sponsorship opportunities
  • Great way to gather recent data 

A Word on Staffing

Devoting staff time to the cultivation and stewardship of alumni is crucial!  With a small department, this can create a big drain on staff time.  Be creative about how to get the work done.  This might be a wonderful opportunity for a college or graduate level intern or volunteer to take part in the planning or implementation of a strategy.

Staff (or intern) time will focus on the following:

  • Maintaining your database – this is key!!
  • Locating email addresses
    • Incentivize a group of students or interns to help- give a gift card for every 25-50 good email addresses found
  • Monitoring an alumni Facebook page
  • Creating newsletters
  • Providing administrative support for your alumni association (mailing out membership gifts)
  • Helping to plan cultivation events or reunions
  • Managing and executing the social media strategy
    • Does Ken want to add anything here?

Once you are ready to solicit…

  • Determine the best strategy
    • Face to face
    • Phone
    • Direct Mail (e or tree?) View Sample Alumni Letter.
    • What type of gift are you seeking?
      • Annual Campaign
      • Restricted
      • Capital
      • Endowment
      • Who should do the ask?
        • Another alum?
        • Committee member?
        • Head of School
        • Campaign chair?
        • Revisit your campaign messaging

Remember…

  • Patience!  Alumni cultivation is a long term process that may take 2-3 years to generate revenue
  • Start now by recruiting viewership through Facebook and gathering email addresses
  • Begin cultivating your youngest alumni while they are still in school- it’s always easier to retain a current donor than to create a new one!

PEJE acknowledges Giving Tree Associates for the development of the materials above.