More than 50 million students attend public school in the United States, but many schools and districts continually face funding shortfalls. Without the state or local funding they need, schools are hard-pressed to complete much-needed renovations, add 21st century technology to their classrooms and continue to offer extracurricular activities.
Many private and postsecondary schools have existing alumni donation programs to assist their funding efforts—and one generous donor is encouraging public schools to follow suit.
Steve Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone Group, recently donated $25 million to his alma mater, Abington High School in Pennsylvania. The donation is considered the largest ever given to a single public school. Schwarzman says he hopes his donation will encourage more public schools across the country to ramp up their alumni engagement and fundraising efforts.
Abington High School needed $100 million to renovate its outdated, 1950s-style school building. As part of his donation, Schwarzman mandated that the school build a new science and technology center and implement a computer literacy curriculum. He has made education a priority in his philanthropic efforts, having donated large sums to other educational institutions in the past.
Why public schools should fundraise from alumni networks
For years, private K-12 schools, colleges and universities across the nation have set up expansive alumni fundraising efforts. While most U.S. public schools could do the same, relatively few do so in any meaningful way. Schwarzman’s donation is thus unique in the world of public education.
Rather than create framework to ask for and receive donations from graduates, public schools often ask members of their local communities for assistance, typically through a capital campaign or referendum. However, community members already contribute to their local schools through property taxes. By reaching out to alumni, public schools can solicit larger donations from a larger base of potential contributors.
Today's public schools must be willing to ask their alumni to help them provide greater academic and extracurricular opportunities to their current students. This starts with engaging alumni, making sure they feel connected to the schools from which they graduated—even if it was decades ago. American public schools should follow in the footsteps of private schools and universities and make efforts to engage their alumni in a variety of ways.
One of the ways Alumni Nations helps schools, districts and foundations develop more meaningful connections with their alumni is by providing highly engaging content. As we have created this content for districts, we’ve found that most falls into one of several categories, which we refer to as “content buckets.” We use these buckets when developing topic ideas and creating content for each school or district we serve.
The following is a brief overview of these categories:
- Notable alumni news: Do you have alumni who are making a difference in the world? Perhaps they have achieved something big in their industry, or are working with a nonprofit to make an impact on their community. Whatever the case, you can share these success stories with your audience.
- School, district and foundation events: Keep your alumni up to date on events happening in your district, such as homecoming, concerts, sporting events, theater performances and alumni gatherings. Make sure your alumni know they are welcome and encouraged to attend these events.
- School, district and foundation news: Provide your alumni with updates regarding all the latest happenings in your school district communities. Examples of news stories might be renovation projects, referendum efforts, the hiring of new administrators, school board news, new academic initiatives and anything else your alumni might find noteworthy.
- Points of pride: These are the stories of great things happening inside your school district. If a sports team is heading to state, for example, include it in your content! Share all the details of major student achievements, anniversaries and outstanding educators. Your alumni want to hear what’s going well in your schools.
- Local heroes: In addition to news updates, offer profiles of area alumni and friends of the district who may be considered local “heroes.” This includes police officers, military personnel, firefighters, community leaders and business owners. These individuals may or may not be actual alumni of your district—but they’re still making a difference.
- Class reunions: Provide a single hub for all updates about class reunions and include information on who alumni can contact to learn more.
- Get involved: Give alumni information on all the different ways they can get involved, from donations to volunteer opportunities. Many schools seek alumni for mentoring, guest speaking and participating in events.
We’ve created these “content buckets” to keep your alumni interested in what’s happening in your school district and increase their overall level of engagement. If you would like to explore setting up an Alumni Nation for your school, district or foundation, we invite you to reach out to us.
In the world of K-12 education, alumni relations is the term schools, districts and foundations use when engaged in an effort to reach out to its graduates and turn them into lifelong supporters.
However, many businesses and corporations engage in this same sort of alumni relations, using tactics that can also be applied to educational institutions. Many companies today are developing campaigns that specifically focus on building engagement among their former employees. The main purpose of these programs is for employers to demonstrate to their staff that they value their people and recognize their importance—even after they’ve moved on to other opportunities.
Below are a few lessons school leaders and communication professionals can take away from analyzing these corporate alumni relations programs:
There must be value to your alumni relations
Schools can leverage their alumni’s nostalgia to a greater degree than most businesses can, but both must emphasize offering some sort of value to their target audiences.
A company, for example, might offer regular webinars with alumni who have gone on to achieve unique or interesting milestones in their careers. Or, perhaps they hold networking events and curate job leads.
Schools should also focus on meeting the current needs and desires of alumni, rather than tapping into nostalgia alone. A good alumni relations effort offers alumni opportunities to get plugged in so that it will enrich their lives. Nostalgia will build initial interest, but these opportunities for engagement are what will keep them coming back.
Don’t get too heavy handed
Most corporate alumni programs send out a quarterly or monthly newsletter that includes all event listings and interesting stories—and that’s about it with regard to communication. The goal is to provide alumni with the information they need, while not flooding them with messaging. There’s a fine line between providing value and becoming a nuisance.
Schools should follow this example. Engaged alumni will connect with your school or district on their own time, outside of their already-busy professional and personal lives. Therefore, communication should be limited, but also efficient and effective. Focus on quality over quantity.
Accept that strategies will not always work
Corporate alumni relations programs are a relatively new concept. There has been a lot of trial and error, with businesses constantly trying new things to see what sticks.
The same is true for school districts. Consider which of your strategies and tactics get the best results and take a close look at those not meeting your expectations. It does not make sense to waste resources on outreach efforts that are ineffective. A regular examination of these outreach efforts can be incredibly helpful in maintaining a robust alumni relations program.
An advisory board is a group of volunteers who come together in an official capacity to advise the board or executive staff of an organization. Many schools and districts use advisory boards both as a way to hear from the community about the direction of the organization and its schools, while also keeping alumni and other supporters engaged and involved.
Unlike a school board, an advisory board does not have any legal responsibility or authority to make decisions. They are, as the name implies, merely there to give advice regarding decisions. In many cases, those suggestions are incorporated into administrative or school board actions.
Sometimes, organizations give the advisory board a different name to more clearly articulate the difference between it and the school board. They are often known as an “advisory committee” or “community task force.”
Starting the development of an advisory board
Forming an advisory board takes more than reaching out to your ideal members. You must also clearly specify how the board will operate. You should have a written description of the board that includes information like its purpose, the frequency of meetings, guidelines for membership and general expectations.
Once you have completed these initial organizational tasks, you should ask the following questions:
Who will lead the board? Your district may choose to appoint a chair of the board to manage its operations. Many districts appoint a community leader or a well-known alumnus to lead the way.
How can we make this board effective? Consider what you can do as a district to get the most value out of your advisory board. Think about the purpose of the board and ensure it has a clearly articulated vision. Regularly honor and recognize the work board members perform. Assign district personnel to regularly attend the advisory board meetings and report back with updates.
How will meetings proceed? There should be clear expectations for how meetings of the board will proceed, along with the kinds of rules and professionalism expected to be exhibited at advisory board meetings.
Your school district likely has many alumni who care about the direction of your schools and wish to give back to them in some way. The formation of an alumni advisory board can be an excellent way to keep them plugged in while getting valuable advice and insights that can influence the direction of your school district.
School leaders often find it difficult to both find their alumni on social media and make sure they are engaging them with the right messages. While many schools, districts and foundations make effective use of Facebook and Twitter for their messaging, the professional network LinkedIn tends to be underutilized when it comes to connecting with former students.
Below are some tips to help you find your target audience and deliver your message on LinkedIn:
- Test your targeting practices: Perform standard A/B testing for almost all aspects of your LinkedIn marketing, including the audience to which you’re reaching out. LinkedIn makes it simple to create new marketing campaigns, and so you can test different means of connecting with your audience. You might, for example, try filtering by skills instead of job title, or play around with the geographic limit functionality.
- Use the ‘audience expansion’ feature: All campaigns you develop in the LinkedIn Campaign Manager include the “audience expansion” option. Through this feature, LinkedIn’s algorithms go after audience members similar to those you are targeting. This can help you reach out to a broader audience made up of people who may be alumni of your school or district.
- Use the ‘Click Demographics’ feature: Once you have built up enough data, you can use the Click Demographics tab in your Campaign Manager to find out how your content performs with people of various demographics. This will help you track the success of your campaigns and target specific demographics you should be searching for on the social network. High-performing demographics are likely to include many of your alumni.
- Get personal: Even if you’re targeting a fairly broad audience, you can still implement tools to target specific sub-demographics to encourage a response from those people. You can run multiple versions of the same ad, but with different “call-outs” for different niches.
In general, these processes will help you find greater success in reaching your alumni and other target audiences on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your campaigns and try different approaches, so long as you routinely measure and analyze the results of those experiments. However, you should also avoid targeting an audience that is too specific or small.
When done well, LinkedIn can be a fantastic source of reaching new alumni you haven’t been able to connect with through other means. It also gives you access to individuals who have moved on to successful careers.
By the middle of December, many college students have wrapped up their final exams and are heading back home for winter break. This offers a great opportunity to keep your alums—and especially your recent graduates—engaged in the narrative of your school.
Below are three ideas that can help you connect with your alumni during this special time of the year:
Reach out on social media
Make sure your alumni know they are appreciated through special posts to your school or district's Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles. Welcome your recent grads back to town as they visit for the holidays and invite them to any events happening over the next several weeks (see below).
Engaging your alumni through social media can help them feel a sense of connection with your school or district. It continues a relationship with the people who can be some of your most ardent supporters.
Have a presence at school events
Most schools have a variety of events happening in December and early January, including some that may take place during the winter break. While they're home from college, your alums might attend holiday band concerts, choir performances, basketball games or hockey games. These are great opportunities for recent grads to see friends they've missed over the past several months or couple years.
Consider setting up a booth specifically for alumni at these events, and get them to sign up for your school's Alumni Nation or email list. You could even organize a special "alumni night" at these events, recognizing those who have graduated from your school.
Communicate with reunion committees
It's common for these committees to hold reunions around the holidays, as they know more alumni will be in town to visit their families already. This is especially true for five-year reunions, for which many attendees may still be in college and likely to have a several-week break.
To that end, connect with these committees and ask if they can get attendees to sign up for your Alumni Nation during their reunions. You can also ask them to include references to your Nation in any email or social media correspondence they send out to alums.
Although regularly communicating with alumni is important throughout the year, the time around the holidays offers some unique opportunities for your school. We suggest working these ideas into your December alumni engagement strategy.
In many ways, your alumni can be the most passionate advocates of your school or district. However, as the years pass and people get on with their lives, they often lose a sense of connection with their alma mater. It’s little surprise that schools and districts have such a hard time maintaining up-to-date contact information for their alumni.
By establishing an Alumni Nation, you can create a digital community to find alumni, complete with a database and CRM tool that makes it easy to update and append your records. You can also incorporate social matching, tagging and filtering. Your alumni, in turn, can update their own profiles and information in your system, making matters significantly easier on your organization.
By understanding the demographics, communication methods and interests of your graduates, an Alumni Nation enables you to connect with alumni and stay connected with them for years to come. Our team also helps you develop a strategy to align your needs with theirs, with a communication plan and content marketing effort to keep them engaged. We also assist in establishing automated workflow methods so you can more easily track engagement while leveraging technology to improve your capacity.
The result is powerful member management, information tracking and event setup with RSVP and ticketing features. You’ll also foster much-improved communication thanks to an ability to send unlimited email messages.
Why is it important to maintain good alumni communication?
Effective alumni outreach is about more than just fishing for donations. Below are just a few reasons why your school should make it a priority to maintain contact with graduates:
Enhanced branding: Strategic public relations and alumni outreach help you support your school or district’s brand identity. Everything about the look and feel of your school is contained in its brand—the colors and logos, your mascot, the tone of communications and even the fonts you use. You should always have a distinct, clear brand and organizational personality.
Strong messaging: Your messaging is an important aspect of your brand. By maintaining regular communication, you can make emotional connections by using the same branding and tone they remember from their days as students. Trust, nostalgia and pride are big points of focus.
Long-lasting connections: You can get your alumni to participate in surveys and discussions on a variety of issues, news and events. This becomes particularly important if you are in the middle of a referendum or ballot measure, or if you’re raising money in a capital campaign.
Alumni make up an important stakeholder group
In an era of tight budgets and increased competition, schools and districts must market themselves like never before. As you develop the strategy for your organization, don’t forget to include alumni as you identify and think about reaching your target audience. Establishing an Alumni Nation could be the solution you need to make it happen.
One of the fondest memories of any alumni’s high school career is homecoming week. It’s typically filled with school spirit days, pep rallies and, of course, a charged-up homecoming football game. All the festivities lead up to the main event: the homecoming dance.
Although their pep rally days are behind them, alumni still enjoy the experiences they had during their own high school years. That’s why this year’s festivities are a great opportunity to reach out and connect with them.
Make a special invitation
A common misconception among alumni is that homecoming week is just for current students. However, it’s actually the ideal time for graduates to revisit their old school and take part in celebrations with old classmates.
The best way to welcome back your alumni and involve them in homecoming week is to extend an invitation. Send an email blast to active alumni inviting them to the homecoming game, set aside an alumni float in the parade or engage local alumni as speakers at pep rallies. Many will be delighted to take part.
If you do formally invite alumni to events, make sure they’re recognized. From a general shout-out at halftime during the football game to thanking them in the homecoming newsletter, a little recognition goes a long way.
Acknowledge the value of alumni
Alumni are more than just past graduates—they can also be great resources for your current students. These are individuals who received their formative education at your school or district, and most have gone on to become successful professionals. They may have a lot to share with your current students.
Consider setting up booths at homecoming events and inviting alumni to come and connect with students. Many juniors and senior looking into colleges will relish the opportunity to speak with a mentor who, not so long ago, was in their same situation.
Make the most of homecoming
Homecoming week is one of the very few times so many alumni can be gathered in the same place. It’s important to make the most of this opportunity. These are individuals who often volunteer time toward mentoring and tutoring, make financial contributions, support referenda and ballot measures and share the district's story in the community and through social media.
This homecoming, be sure to think about how you can incorporate alumni into your festivities and events. It can be a great opportunity to engage one of your key stakeholder groups.
The Menasha Joint School District in east-central Wisconsin was facing a challenge.
The district needed to make some upgrades to its athletic facilities, including it's more than five-decade-old football
/soccer stadium and the high school track. It was also in need of new band uniforms, another significant expense that was not in its operational budget.
A referendum was out of the question, and so district leadership knew that its best chance at securing the funds necessary for the renovations would be a capital campaign. That's where Alumni Nations stepped in.
After several months of planning and implementation, the Menasha Joint School District was able to raise about $3.5 million — enough to take care of most of its facility needs. The campaign, nicknamed "Menasha Strong," was a huge success. And, it involved a healthy mix of local leaders, prominent regional businesses, notable alumni and important members of the district community.
Read our full case study on Alumni Nation's work in Menasha
Social media offers a powerful tool for schools, districts and educational foundations to engage their key stakeholders—including alumni. You can use social media to connect with alumni, provide updates on events, share important stories and ensure they remain engaged with the success of your schools for the long term.
Specifically, you can leverage social media for the following:Read more
Graduation is always an exciting time for high schools. There’s so much to be done in a short amount of time, and school staff members spend weeks helping seniors prepare for their big day.
However, during this busy time, it is important to remember that this could be the best opportunity you will ever have to ask your future alumni for their contact information. This includes students’ personal email addresses—rather than their soon-to-be-discontinued school accounts. Taking these steps now can save your school or district considerable time, energy and money in your future alumni engagement efforts.
But how can you ensure you get as many graduates as possible to sign up? It may require a multifaceted approach. The following are five effective methods you can use:Read more