When you have truly engaged alumni, you can benefit from a group of passionate supporters who drive your school district's goals and fundraising efforts. One of the ways you can get your former students more involved in your district is to hold one or more alumni engagement events throughout the year.
If you have not planned these types of events before, or the events you've held have not generated the results you were seeking, consider these ideas and tips:
- Create goals: Before you can start the hard work of event planning, create reasonable goals. Consider the events you've held in the past, the size of your alumni pool and the amount of money you have to spend on your event to help quantify some clear goals. Think about the amount of money you want to generate through fundraising, the number of alumni you want to sign up as volunteers or the number of followers and subscribers you want for your social media and email marketing campaigns.
- Brainstorm ideas with your alumni in mind: Consider the kind of event your alumni would be interested in attending. Use whatever information you have about your alumni—including their age, career paths, family status and interests—to help you brainstorm event ideas that will appeal to them.
- Market your event: Do as much as you can to ensure your alumni know about your event. Do both direct mail and email invitations, share information on social media and make calls to some influential alumni to generate greater attendance.
- Blend fun and purpose: If you don’t have anything fun or interesting to offer alumni who attend your events, they are unlikely to show up. Look to plan an an event at which people can have fun and communicate the goals and mission of your school district to generate support. You can do this with powerful videos, images or testimonials that are woven into the event, along with fun activities that your alumni can enjoy.
Planning an alumni engagement event can be challenging, but the outcomes for your school district are immeasurable when they go well. Take these tips and ideas into account as you work on your next event.
Thanksgiving is a time when we honor the people in our lives who make our days a little brighter. There are many people helping to make your organization and alumni group run smoothly—even if it sometimes feels like a one-person job.
This November, take a moment to reflect on those who make your community the special place it is. If you have a chance, send them a thank you to show that you appreciate their help.
Many school activities simply could not happen without the generous support of donors. These people are often alumni giving back to their alma mater. Whether your alumni group has a fundraising goal or you’re working on behalf of the district’s foundation, you’ve seen how a little donation can go a long way. When the holidays get hectic, remember all the good in your community.
Just as your schools benefit from donations, they are also positively impacted by volunteers. Classroom parents, students collecting service hours and alumni helping to manage events all power the ongoing activities that make your community so special. If you’re volunteering your time to manage your alumni group, rest assured that many people are grateful for your efforts. Take time to appreciate the volunteers who keep it all moving forward.
Much of the fun of staying connected with your alma mater is watching each new class of students grow. Students remind us of our time in school and how our school and community played an important role in shaping who we are today. Whether you’re cheering them on at homecoming or you have an active alumni/student mentorship program, students make alumni engagement joyful. If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be awesome alumni!
4. Teachers, administrators and staff
There are not enough thank yous in the world for all the hard work our educators put into teaching our students. They ensure young people are prepared to enter the next phase of their life, while dedicating time to making school a fun experience. Some school employees might be a great support in coordinating alumni events—and some may be alums themselves. If you haven’t done so lately, thank your teachers and staff.
Alumni of all ages are the heart of any alumni group, whether they’re from the class of 1959 or the class of 2019. No one is obligated to stay involved after graduation, so the fact that you have a community of former classmates is a testament to your strength. Your alumni are likely donors, teachers, volunteers and parents, in addition to their other roles in the community. The rich diversity of your alumni network is what makes your group unique and what attracts more alumni to join.
While we’re on the subject of gratitude, we want to thank you, our wonderful community members at Alumni Nations! Our communities depend on people like you to perform meaningful engagement. Your work inspires us daily. Happy Thanksgiving!
Giving Tuesday began in 2012 as a response to the shopping mania that has for years taken place on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Occurring the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it’s a great time for people to embrace the giving spirit of the holiday and support their favorite causes. It’s also an excellent time for school districts and educational foundations to join in on the fun and conduct a fundraising campaign.
If your district has a foundation, you can use Giving Tuesday to draw awareness to the work it’s doing and most importantly to drive donations. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for this year’s Giving Tuesday.
Begin your campaign early
The first mention of your Giving Tuesday campaign should be weeks before the actual date. Give people time to consider your campaign and whether they would like to donate. There will be many other well-deserving causes competing for their attention—and possibly requests from other alumni groups, including colleges and universities. Let your alumni know sooner than later that an opportunity to donate is coming soon. Use your website, social media and other channels to spread the word.
Prepare a list of donor types
You may want to try a different approach for each type of donor. Your messaging for a recurring donor may not be the same as it would be for someone who has never donated before. If you have the information available, sort your email list into three smaller lists: recurring donors, one-time donors and non-donors. Make a different pitch to each and see if donations increase among each group.
Harness social media
Social media is one of the best ways to alert people to your cause thanks to the #GivingTuesday hashtag. Just as you need to prepare alumni for the upcoming ask, you also need to prime your social media profiles. Share a few posts updating alumni on district happenings. Demonstrating your value to alumni will make it easier to make an ask of them later on.
Offer an incentive
Offer potential donors an incentive for making a contribution. See if you can secure a matching donation from a local business. Show donors what the fundraising goal is, such as a new soccer field or lab equipment. Use social media to keep donors informed of the campaign’s progress. Even though you are always willing to take donations, setting a goal of X dollars in 24 hours creates a sense of urgency and encourages people to avoid putting it off.
Engage fellow alumni to promote your campaign
You’re not the only one who cares about reaching your campaign goal. If you have active alumni who are well connected in the community or have a large online presence, ask them to spread the word. Enlist them to post on social media that they’ve just donated and to post the link so others can donate, too. Send local businesses a flier to post over the big shopping weekend. Alumni (and non-alums) may be more likely to donate when they know their friends are also giving.
The holidays are the perfect time to promote the good work your district and/or foundation performs. Be prepared for #GivingTuesday so that you can maximize donations that support your students.
If you've ever hosted an alumni event, you know event planning is not as simple as setting up a Facebook invite and hoping people actually show up. Successful events can take months to plan and require a significant amount of coordination.
Whether you are planning a reunion, tailgate or fundraiser, these tips will help you to make your next event a smash. Here's a timeline as you begin the planning process:
Three to four months prior
- Develop a roadmap: Hey, you’re doing that right now! Gather your leadership group or committee to work backwards from the event and set key deadlines.
- Set a budget: Determine your available funding for the event and whether you’ll need to charge for tickets or perform other fundraising.
- Reserve a venue: Identify and reserve a venue that fits your event and your anticipated capacity.
- Save the date: If you anticipate people will need to travel, as for a reunion, share the save-the-date information for the event across your platforms, including email and social media.
Two months before
- Contact vendors: Start securing vendors for food, rentals, entertainment and whatever else your program needs.
- Confirm expenses: Make sure you are clear with vendors what the amount will be and how/when you will pay.
- Create a program: Design a rough timeline of events for your internal team.
- Share event info: If you have not already, remind invitees to save the date.
One month prior
- Post event details: Share information like time, address and events across multiple platforms. Use tools like Facebook to collect RSVPs.
- Send an email: Remind folks about the event with an email linking to your registration page, if applicable.
- Confirm the schedule: Finalize the program for the event.
One to two weeks before
- Contact key personnel: Email any vendors, speakers or volunteers to confirm they are still attending and verify last-minute details.
- Check the venue: Verify details, including a final headcount.
The day before
- Collect all necessary materials: Gather any decorations, giveaways, tables or other items you’ll need for tomorrow in one place. If you can, drop off items at the venue now.
- Remember to print: Print anything you need, such as signage, programs, nametags and registration sheets. Don’t forget the pens!
The day of the event
- Arrive early: If you are leading the event, make sure you’re prepared to help set up, coordinate volunteers and answer questions.
- Set up: Put out any tables, tents or food. If you’re working with an event planning company or other vendors, be available to answer questions.
- Create a check-in spot: Have a welcome space with a sign-in sheet for collecting names and emails, and have name tags out to make networking easier.
After the event
- Pay vendors: Make sure all payments are finalized with vendors.
- Say thanks: Send a follow-up to any speakers, performers or volunteers, thanking them for their help. Leave reviews for vendors.
- Enter emails: If you collected emails, add them to your system for future communications!
Events are a large part of what make alumni communities so successful, as they allow classmates to reconnect. While they can be time-consuming to plan, the work is worth the memories.
You are reading this blog post because you’re committed to building a thriving, connected alumni community. That’s fantastic! Without people like you, there would be no reunions and fewer opportunities for old friends to connect.
What about the people who are perhaps a bit more reluctant? Chances are, there are alumni out there who are open to engaging in some capacity, but are unsure how or may not have ever thought to reconnect. In other words, how can you engage the unengaged?
Create diverse experiences
While high school is what unites alumni, not everyone wants to show up to a homecoming game or volunteer to mentor young students. Some are happy to grab a brew on the other side of town without having to relive their high school days. If you’re looking for true engagement and active participation, create diverse opportunities for people to engage in what interests them.
You were not all the same during school, so you shouldn't expect to have the same interests now!
Engage alumni at different entry points
You may assume that because someone is not currently on the email list, doesn’t attend events or lives out of the area, that person does not want any connection to the alumni community. That may not necessarily be the case. Use your current active network to identify alumni who may be able to help with specific roles. Someone may not be able to donate to your drive or volunteer on the reunion committee, but could still be interested in hosting a student for a career research project, for example.
Maybe you’re looking for fun ideas for alumni events, and a previously unengaged alumnus owns a yoga studio and would be happy to host (while getting new business). Even currently unengaged alumni may be able to find a niche that allows them to get more involved.
Offer useful content
Create an intentional social media plan with goals for who you want to reach and clear messages you want to send. Whether it’s school-specific content or alumni spotlights, take time to learn what your community expects from your group.
Not sure what you should be sharing or don’t have time to implement your plan? Perhaps a recent graduate wanting some experience or a marketing expert looking to volunteer would be happy to help.
Open the door to new opportunities, but respect where people are
Take some time to understand why people are or are not engaging. If an alumna is less engaged because she now has small children, consider what programming you could provide to serve her interests. New grads probably won’t have the money to donate to a campaign, so offer different points of entry for getting involved, such as volunteering their time to help with bond measure mailers.
An out-of-state alumnus may not be willing to fly back for reunions, but would still like to know that the school district was ranked at the top of the state or that the soccer team went to regionals.
If people still are not interested in participating, respect that decision. It’s not personal. They may decide to change their minds later, so keep trying!
Engaging alumni requires hard work from volunteers, but is worthwhile for building community. Alumni Nations is here to support you along the way.
There’s nothing quite like the excitement and nostalgia homecoming generates in a community. Besides class reunions, homecoming is the most important time for engaging your alumni.
With all the hullabaloo surrounding back to school and the end of summer, it’s easy for homecoming to sneak up on alumni groups. To ensure you take advantage of all the great opportunities for alumni engagement at homecoming, check out the following tips:
Refresh your email list
Before you start promoting your homecoming marketing plan, make sure your email list is in tip-top shape. Remove any emails that are bouncing or seem like spam. Re-engage with any silent alumni by sending a one-time followup asking if they’d like to continue receiving emails. Hold a mini-campaign on social media encouraging alumni to sign up for your mailing list to receive all the latest news on homecoming. You’ll feel better sending messages to those you know actively want to hear from you.
Create a homecoming webpage
Working with your school, create a page either on their site or yours (or both!) specifically devoted to sharing information about homecoming. A web page is much easier to locate the week of than piecing together Facebook posts. Content could include a schedule of events, maps and information like the school’s fight song and other spirited traditions. If your school sells merchandise for fundraising, this is also a great place to share the link. Create a registration form for alumni events to get a rough headcount and add some more names to your email list.
Generate excitement and tap into nostalgia
Homecoming brings back a lot of memories for alumni—memories the community would love to hear! Create a social media campaign leading up to homecoming encouraging alumni to share photos and their favorite memories. Work with the school, district and even the local newspaper to share the best submissions.
Host an alumni-specific event
Have your alumni association host an event during which alumni can interact with each other and meet the team behind your group. Designate a spot on the parade route or in the stadium stands for alumni to gather. Offer school swag like pencils and hold a raffle for larger school-themed prizes for alumni who sign up to join the group. Homecoming is a prime opportunity to show fellow alumni the value of your organization and the connections it forges.
Use the homecoming spirit to drive other events
Homecoming is a happy time for students, alumni and the community at large. Tap into the excitement to add off-campus events to the schedule, or as an opportunity to generate buzz for future events. Host a charity event like a blood drive or a restaurant night during homecoming week. Or, host a more grown-up homecoming event with an alumni happy hour during the week. If your alumni group is hosting future events, share a flier with information and how people can learn more.
Send a survey after homecoming
How successful was your group’s homecoming efforts? Did attendees enjoy the events? Why didn’t some attend? Email a survey with these questions shortly after the event to learn more about your audience and better plan for next year.
Whether you’re a Spartan, Falcon, Tiger or Bear, we hope you’re heading into homecoming week with major school spirit!
As you likely know, colleges and universities have been leveraging the support and generosity of their alumni for decades. In recent years, K-12 schools and districts have become increasingly invested in developing and maintaining a pool of engaged alumni who support their efforts, as well.
Although many schools focus on using alumni to help with fundraising efforts, you can also leverage the experience and knowledge your alumni have to coordinate an impactful student-alumni mentorship program.
It takes time and effort to design and implement a program like this, but the potential benefits of student-alumni mentorship are well worth it.
How to design a mentorship program
The best mentorship programs are carefully designed to offer the best possible benefits for students and alumni. You should think about who you want to participate in the program, how you will facilitate mentorship for students and what your goals are to help you design an effective program. You can decide whether you want to match students and alumni in one-on-one mentorship sessions or assign an alumni to mentor students in groups.
Create a plan for how you will select alumni, how you will match students with mentors, how meetings will be conducted and what the timeline for mentorship will look like.
For a mentorship program to work, you need to generate interest from potential mentors and potential mentees alike. Identify alumni who would be good mentors and reach out to them via email or phone to tell them about your program and ask them to participate. You can encourage participation by highlighting mentors in your social media and email marketing campaign and offering incentives to mentors who volunteer their time.
It’s always important to screen mentors and provide them with some training and guidelines to help them make the most positive impact possible on the students they mentor.
Your alumni represent some of your biggest supporters as a district, and a well-planned mentorship program can help you leverage this resource to the fullest. With some planning and development, you can cultivate relationships between students and alumni that encourage academic growth and shape positive career paths.
When building engagement with your alumni community, you want to create an all-ages approach that generates interest from a wide spectrum of graduating classes. With so much of our marketing happening digitally these days, it can be easy to forget about older alumni.
Older alumni are a crucial group to keep active in your organization. They hold a wealth of knowledge about your school or district. They are also more likely to be well-connected and well-respected community members with more time to give, making them a tremendous asset.
It’s tempting to fall for the narrative that seniors are not online, but doing so ignores a sizeable chunk of your audience. Baby Boomers have long been the largest living adult population, with its youngest members now at around age 55. Of the 50-65 age bracket, 70 percent are active online; 38% of people age 65 or older are online, and more than half of that group are on social media.
If you want to engage more seniors in your alumni group, consider the tips below for your outreach efforts:
Speak their language
Any marketing messaging should be clear to a broad audience, but what’s clear to one age group may not be to another. You don’t need to alienate younger alumni by only using cultural references from the 1970s, but if you are trying to court an all-ages demographic, don’t rely on the hottest memes from TikTok either.
Choose the right platforms
We noted above that many seniors are on social media, especially Facebook. If you’re trying to decide which channel(s) to use to engage with alumni, look to where most of your community is already spending their time. Additionally, more than 90 percent of people age 50 or older actively use email, making it a fantastic tool for engagement. Consider a multiplatform approach to reach as many demographics as possible.
Make it easy to contact your organization
If an older alumnus wants to get involved, but is not very tech savvy, how can he or she reach your group? Is there a phone number or address on your website? Is a contact person listed? While some people may be online, it doesn’t mean they are always comfortable communicating that way.
Representatives should make themselves available to alumni at least via email, and offer to follow up by phone if it seems appropriate to do so.
Learn what they want
If you are unsure about how older alumni want to connect with you, don’t make assumptions. Ask active older alumni or members of the demographic you hope to reach what kinds of programming they would enjoy and how they would like to hear about news and events. Take the extra step to find alumni who may be disengaged to learn what you can do to help reconnect.
Don’t rely on digital alone
The purpose of this post is to encourage you to reach older alumni online, but if you want to truly be inclusive, you should still consider how you can reach people offline. If you really want to reach an older group, like for the 50-year reunion for the class of 1970, use a mix of online and offline marketing efforts. Mailing fliers and posting at community centers are still great ways to reach many members of your target audience.
For any organization, surveys offer a valuable tool to learn more about a target audience, especially when it comes to better communicating and engaging with that audience.
If you’re looking to generate greater interest from your alumni community, consider using a survey to learn what you want to know straight from the source. These surveys can help you gather key information, such as:
- Learning more about your alumni community, including their age, where they live and their average income.
- Evaluate how active they are in the alumni community, which events they have attended, what they thought of those events and which events they might like to attend.
- Measure their attitudes about the school district and their satisfaction as a student with academics, sports, extracurriculars and other experiences.
- Gauge interest in programming and communication efforts from the alumni organization.
- Learn about their interest in fundraising and support efforts for the school district.
The success of your survey depends on several factors. Alumni are ultimately taking the time to help you, so you need to meet them halfway and make the survey simple and easy to complete. Below are a few tips to help you design an effective alumni survey.
Clearly define your goal for the survey
Your questions should be brief and focused to encourage a higher response rate. Before you even write the questions, be clear on what you wish to learn about your alumni. Each question should serve the purpose of your survey, whether it’s evaluating an event or gauging interest in future programming. You do not necessarily need to share these survey objective(s) with the audience, although it may make them more inclined to participate.
Avoid numerical scales
Instead of asking participants to rate the event on a scale of 1-5, 1-10 or an obscure scale like 1-7, phrase the question as: “How much did you enjoy the event?” Answers may ranging from “very much” to “not at all.” This will give you a clearer understanding of participants’ feelings. Numbered ratings are too subjective to provide sound data.
Create questions chronologically
If you are creating a survey about an event, move from questions relating to before the event (e.g., “How did you hear about the tailgate?”), during (“Which activities did you participate in at the tailgate?”) and after (“Overall, how much did you enjoy the tailgate?”). This will help the participant move logically through your survey.
Save open-ended questions until the end
No one wants to click open a survey only to discover they’ve been tricked into a writing assignment. Start with the easy questions first, like name and age, and work up to the more extensive questions. People who have already started the survey will be less likely to bail once they get to the open-ended questions at the end.
There are many online tools that make it easy for you to collect and analyze information about your alumni and, more importantly, make it easier for them to participate. With an email list for your alumni community, you can easily send a link for participants to complete at their convenience. Whichever tool you pick, whether a Google Form or SurveyMonkey, you’ll be able to see results in real time.
Although not every alumnus will participate, surveys are a great opportunity to learn more about your community and provide them with the service and support they desire from their alma mater or alumni group.
A successful alumni organization relies on a strong marketing plan. Gaining new members, hosting events and encouraging regular interaction all require high levels of engagement to inform members of what’s happening within your network.
If your organization is playing it by ear when it comes to marketing, it’s worth taking the time to perform some exercises borrowed from the business world to create a strategy that will guide future communication efforts.
Let’s explore some of the key components to a great alumni marketing plan:
Form a marketing committee
Bring together a team committed to developing marketing goals and improving the organization’s reach. Use your network to find some help by tapping alumni who work in marketing, or those who are interested in getting more involved with the organization.
Evaluate other alumni organizations
Take a look at what other alumni organizations are doing to increase their marketing presence. Visit their websites and social networks to see how often they post. Watch other alumni groups you are a member of to see how well they engage you and your fellow members. Even if you’re representing a small school district, there’s plenty you can learn from exploring a large university’s alumni association website.
Know your value proposition
What do alumni gain by serving as an active member of your network? How will their lives be better as a result of participating in your events? To gain members, host successful events and maintain the organization, you need to be able to clearly articulate the answers to these questions. The answers will drive your marketing plan.
Create alumni personas
This is a fun exercise borrowed from the marketing world. With your team, brainstorm the types of people you want to engage (or don’t) through the alumni network. Think about the age, gender, location, career and level of interaction of different types of people in your network. Once you’ve created the personas, consider how you can best reach each persona through effective marketing.
Set SMART goals for growth
Set three marketing goals you can realistically achieve over the next year. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. For example, increasing your Facebook followers by 25 percent by next year is a terrific SMART goal. As you evaluate your plan and your goals each year, it will be easier to determine what realistic growth is for your organization and how well your efforts are succeeding.
Make your plan
It’s finally time to forge ahead with your marketing plan. Highlight events in the upcoming year, times when you want to push for membership and a schedule of how often you’ll post and where. Don’t forget to use your goals to drive your plan. Evaluate your plan regularly, and go through these exercises each year to refresh your strategy.
A school district referendum is not just about a pass/fail vote. It is also about creating buy-in with the public and raising the conversation around educational issues in your community.
An effective referendum communication plan is based on telling the truth, being transparent and working to engage every member of the community. It’s an important time for school and district spokespeople to establish themselves as credible sources of information who can be trusted with executing the referendum, if passed.
When you’re heading into a referendum, it’s safe to err on the side of over-communicating. It’s especially important to focus on sharing the district’s financial or facilities needs, and how the referendum will help address those needs.
You may feel like a broken record—or that your message is falling on deaf ears. Many voters may not seek or pay attention to referendum information until just before Election Day, no matter how strong your communication strategy.
Offer plenty of details
Taxpayers want to know what their money is being used for and how it will help the district and the community. While they may be satisfied to know their vote and their tax dollars are supporting children, you still owe it to them to provide a comprehensive overview of how the funds will be used. Make detailed plans available for those who are interested.
Refrain from advocacy
If you are creating communications on behalf of the school or district, it’s important to know what you can and cannot say. While your job is to inform the public about the benefits the referendum will provide and to encourage them to vote, it is not your place to tell people how to vote. Your communications will imply that you believe voting “yes” on the referendum will be positive, but you must not explicitly tell others to vote "yes."
Use all available channels
You already have plenty of channels for communicating district news, so use them! Send letters home to parents and share updates on social media. Engage your alumni network with posts on referendum details and progress. Write to the local newspaper detailing the work the referendum would allow.
Engage your alumni
One important target audience you might not immediately think to tap are alumni. Your alumni are likely parents, staff and community members, making them stakeholders in the referendum process. Mobilize this group of people who have a strong connection to your school district by making them a priority.
Focus on trust
Communicating about a referendum is a great way to build relationships and trust with the community. Being transparent in messaging, answering questions honestly and operating with integrity will strengthen not only the referendum’s support, but also the district’s image within the community.
The future of public education is uncertain in many communities. This will likely not be the only referendum from your district. Pass or fail, you may be back in five years asking the same community members to support another referendum. Establishing a solid communication plan will make future efforts easier.
One of the best ways to keep your alumni engaged long after they have graduated from your school or district is to reward them for making an impact on the world around them. This can be done through a distinguished alumni award program, through which you recognize former students who have achieved any number of positive things in the community, in their careers or in supporting your school district.
When done well, these award programs can help you tell the story of your school district while highlighting the various ways your students go on to do special things. In this way, you can showcase how a strong academic foundation within your district can lead to incredible levels of personal and professional success for graduates.
Below are some steps you can take to establish a distinguished alumni awards program for your school, district or educational foundation:
1. Establish the award
This may seem obvious, but your first step should be to establish the award. This may be done through a committee made up of administrators, teachers, staff, parents, community members and (of course) alumni. The makeup of this committee may depend on your goals and how quickly you want to get the program up and running.
You may also consider naming the award after a particularly noteworthy alumni.
2. Set up a platform
Next, create an easy way for individuals to nominate alumni for your award. (If you have an Alumni Nation, you may already have this platform ready to go). Allow individuals to quickly submit the information of those they would like to nominate, along with the nominee's contact information and what he or she has done to deserve the award.
3. Ask for nominations
Next, ask your community to submit the names of alumni they believe should be recognized. Spread the word via social media, video, a news release, email and newsletters, if possible. If you have the capacity to do so, create a mini-marketing plan to ensure you receive an ample number of nominations.
Be sure to allow plenty of time for nominations to come in. We often suggest starting at least nine months before your first recognition event (see below).
4. Develop a selection process
Working with your committee, create a sound process for reviewing each nominee. This includes having a set of criteria the committee will use to evaluate each potential award winner. Have a firm deadline of when you will name the winner(s)—usually about two months before the recognition event.
5. Hold a recognition event
Now comes the fun part. Organize a luncheon, dinner and/or banquet to formally recognize individuals selected as your distinguished alumni. This size and scope of this event may depend on your budget, but it's a great opportunity to invite your alumni and community members to a positive event that celebrates your schools.
Although establishing a distinguished alumni award program takes some work and dedication (ideally with the help of volunteers), it can be a unique and effective way to further engage your alumni and community. Consider these tips as you create your program.
Digital video has become one of the most popular and effective ways for brands to market themselves, and schools and districts are taking notice. Video allows you to show—rather than simply tell—all the great things happening in your district and what students and alumni are doing. It can help you form stronger bonds with your entire school community.
Are you ready to add video to your engagement strategy? Here are some ideas for your consideration:
Recruit new members
Video is a dynamic, engaging way to capture the attention of your target audience. You can make a quick connection and encourage viewers to join your alumni network, get involved with your schools or donate money to a capital campaign. If appropriate, end each video with a strong call to action.
Ask alumni to submit their favorite memories
Create a social media campaign asking alumni to record themselves sharing their memories of attending your school(s), from the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation. Use a different prompt each month and ask alumni to share by tagging your profile and using your hashtag.
Encouraging your alumni to submit their own videos not only facilitates a two-way interaction with your audience, but it also helps you generate video content without high production costs.
Livestream is becoming an increasingly popular way for family and alumni to participate in school activities if they are unable to attend in person. Graduations are a prime example of an event people want to watch, but may be unable to attend for a variety of reasons.
One successful example is Klein Independent School District in Texas. The district does an excellent job using livestreams to engage their community.
Create short videos for holidays
If your school does a holiday pageant or rally, compile a video with highlights from the event. Include images and video from past holidays, as well. Record staff extending holiday wishes.
This can extend to silly holidays, too—your cafeteria staff might have a message to share on National Hamburger Day!
Use video as an invitation
Leverage video to create snazzy invitations to your events. You can add several images to a reunion invite and show off the venue to make for more engaging messaging. This video can appear on numerous channels in the lead up to the event, including social media, a district website and email newsletters.
Highlight notable alumni
Go one step further beyond a column in your newsletter to highlight alumni through video. Ask them to film a quick interview describing what they are doing today and how your schools prepared them for success after graduation.
Design a video for your fundraising campaign
Asking for donations from your audience is a delicate balance. One of your goals is generating money, but you don’t want to ask too often. Video is an effective way to demonstrate to alumni why they want to donate and where their funds are going.
There are simple and cost-effective ways to get started, such as livestreaming and user-generated content. Pay attention to how well your video content does versus text- or image-only, and you’ll likely notice an improvement in your community and alumni engagement efforts.
Social media is a critical tool for building and maintaining relationships with your alumni and network. You can use social media to engage your audience and build trust, making them more likely to want to support your educational foundation through financial contributions.
Below are five tips on how you can make that happen:
1. Select the social media network that works and stick with it
There’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but what about LinkedIn, Snapchat and Pinterest? Don’t feel like you need to be actively posting on every single platform. Doing so takes time and effort, in addition to your email and web marketing. Posting everywhere is not worthwhile if your audience doesn’t see your content.
If your resources are thin and you are receiving more engagement on Facebook than Twitter, focus your energy where your audience is. This could mean selecting only one or two platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Create posts designed for your chosen platform rather than posting the same content to all.
2. Create content that tells a story
Your alumni and network have opted to follow you on social media because they want to stay informed about what’s going on at your school or district. Unlike other brands they might be following, they have a special connection to your organization.
Your audience is eager to hear what students and other alumni are doing, but a simple update is less compelling than a story. Instead of announcing the class of 1999 had its reunion, take the extra step to tell a story from the event. To encourage fundraising, tell a story illustrating how donations are benefiting students. It will make your audience feel more connected to you—and more compelled to donate.
3. Mobilize your fundraising campaign
If you are fundraising around a particular cause or campaign, create a social media strategy supporting your efforts. Create a hashtag specific to your fundraising campaign so that readers are aware any posts they see with that hashtag are related to your fundraising efforts.
Create a landing page on your website designed to share on social posts that will take readers to a simple page where they can donate. Have clear calls to action on your social, e.g. “Donate here,” “Tag a fellow Wildcat,” or “Share using #CHSsciencefund.” Track hashtags and landing page stats to help measure the campaign’s impact.
4. Build and leverage relationships
The greatest value in participating in social media is reconnecting with and maintaining relationships with your alumni and extended network. Again, this is a unique relationship your audience doesn’t have with other organizations. Share content that makes alumni feel part of your organization with compelling stories about current students and staff and throwbacks to when alumni were in school. Encourage discussion in the comments that allow alumni to reminisce and reconnect.
When you’ve built these relationships, leverage your network to expand your reach. Is there a social media influencer in your network—or a popular local business? Activate them when you need to expand your audience, such as during a fundraising campaign.
5. Provide your audience with value, not spam
The purpose of practicing storytelling and sharing engaging content is to show your audience your foundation’s value, and that includes your value as a social media profile. Your alumni didn’t click the “follow” button because they want to see requests for donations filling their timeline. Posts should generally provide value to readers, making them happier or more informed for having read it.
Still, your purpose is fundraising. So when do you ask for donations? Try sticking to the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your content is engaging or educational, while 20 percent is a direct appeal for donations.
For social media to be an effective fundraising tool, an organization must use platforms to build engagement and trust. If social channels provide value, alumni will remain engaged in many forms, including as donors.
For any number of reasons, a school district and its board may find itself in a situation in which they need to change the name of a school building. This may be due to a change of grade levels in a building, such as a former high school becoming a middle school. Or, a building may have a name attached to it that students or community members deem inappropriate.
Regardless of the circumstances, school leaders must communicate openly and proactively when moving forward with a school name change. They especially must be sensitive to the needs and concerns of alumni, who may feel particularly attached to the former name.
It's true that, no matter what you do, some alumni and community members will simply never support a school name change. However, there are some actions you can take to ensure your stakeholders know and understand the reason behind the change and the process the district and board used to move forward.
The consideration phase
A school or district should begin communicating and engaging their stakeholders as soon as it appears that a name change could be possible. To start, you may have your board president write and submit an op-ed to a local newspaper, explaining why a change may be necessary and how the board is going about considering the change.
If you have the means to reach your alumni more directly, such as through email or direct mail, take advantage of that ability as soon as you can.
At this stage, focus on being open and honest about the need for the change and how the district and board are working to ensure they receive ample feedback from alumni, students, staff, families and community members. Make clear that you understand that change can be difficult, and that the district and board will only take action if it is absolutely necessary to do so.
Additionally, it is often a good idea to conduct a community-wide survey at this point in the process, asking respondents to weigh in with their thoughts on a potential name change.
The action phase
Once the district and board have received feedback and are ready to take action, it is time to prepare for the elevated level of communication and engagement you will need in the coming weeks. Prepare several items for distribution in the community, such as:
- A letter to parents, staff and (ideally) alumni and community members explaining the reason behind the change and why the district/board decided to move forward.
- A second op-ed in the local newspaper, written by the board president.
- Several social media posts, ideally using a variety of social platforms to get your messages across.
- A fact sheet to distribute to local restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
- A news release announcing the school name change after the board votes to move forward.
Throughout these communications, be sure to reiterate your understanding that change can be difficult for many members of the school district community. Continue to speak to the process the board used and the positive aspects a school name change will bring about for students, staff and families.
While navigating a school name change can be difficult, it is possible to move through this process while building a greater level of trust between your district and its community. Keep these tips in mind as you begin your effort.
In today's educational environment, schools and districts often must seek additional funding and support for programs beyond the money they receive from federal, state and local sources. This means engaging stakeholders, and especially their alumni, to garner support and encourage financial contributions to a district or foundation.
For this to be sustainable, you must constantly engage your alumni and other supporters into the challenges and opportunities of your schools. You must highlight what is going well, where you need to improve and where additional support is needed. Below are several messages to share with your alumni on a regular basis.
Highlight the best things about your schools
We find it beneficial to start with the positive. What is it about your schools that make them special? What makes graduates feel a sense of pride in their alma mater?
On a regular basis, check in with your alumni and supporters to share all the positive things happening in your schools, such as recent milestones, student achievements, faculty awards or new programs and services. Your alumni want to hear about how their former schools continue to innovate and provide current students with an engaging, high-quality educational experience.
Share your school district's goals
You should also be very clear about where you want to be in terms of your district's financial situation, enrollment, test scores, program offerings and the closing of achievement gaps. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have a vision for the future. You may have some challenges in front of you, but with the support of your alumni and community members, you can reach your goals—to the benefit of the children and families you serve.
Do not be afraid to get repetitive here. Throughout the year, as you reach out to alumni via email, social media and other channels, keep reinforcing your goals and vision. It may take some time for the message to stick.
Drive home the need for continuous improvement
Even if your school or district is already very good, it is still important to communicate that you are not resting on your laurels. Explain how you are working to continuously improve so that you can ensure you are offering the best possible academic and co-curricular experience to every student.
Here, you can start by outlining some of the ways in which your organization is currently falling short of its goals and expectations. Then, introduce the strategies in place to help you improve.
Discuss potential roadblocks to success
Any school or district committed to improvement will have some obstacles in the way of achieving its goals. Often, these obstacles are substantial and require the input and buy-in of alumni, parents, staff, students and an entire community.
Be clear about the challenges that lie ahead and how you plan to overcome them. Share how your alumni and supporters can make contributions, whether they take the form of monetary donations, volunteering or simply spreading the word about your school or district.
Speak to the importance of alumni
When engaged in these efforts, it's important to highlight exactly how alumni can help. While many college graduates generally understand how they can get involved with the higher education institution they attended, fewer really know that they can make an impact on their former K-12 schools.
This is where you can start making an "ask." Encourage your alumni to get involved by inviting them to events, sharing news and updates and profiling former students who have achieved great things. As you continue these efforts and foster this greater level of engagement, you can eventually begin to ask for financial contributions.
As you work to continuously improve the programs and services available to your students, families and community, remember the importance of alumni in your efforts. Work to have these conversations throughout the year, and you'll likely see positive results as time goes on.
When your school district has a referendum or bond question on the ballot, you must communicate actively and openly about your district's needs and how the ballot measure will help address those needs. This is true whether you are seeking an operational or capital referendum.
Unfortunately, many districts forget about a critical group of stakeholders: alumni. Your former students can be some of your schools' most ardent supporters, and you must make every effort to engage them before and during a referendum or bond election.
Here are some tips for connecting with alumni as part of your referendum communication efforts:
Be proactive: Rarely should district leaders feel as if they are communicating too much about a referendum. This is an easy mistake to make, especially if we find ourselves sharing the same messages day after day. However, we must realize that each time we share a message, we are hitting only a portion of our target audience. Repetition from the start defines the needs and makes clear how the solution on the ballot will help students.
Be transparent: Educational leaders have an obligation to be open and honest about the challenges facing their schools and students. While you will want to have a list of 3-5 succinct messages to share, you should also be willing to provide details when asked. Consider setting up a page on your district website that provides the level of depth alumni and community members are seeking from you.
Use diverse channels: There are many communications tools you can use to get your messages to your target audiences. Avoid relying too much on any one tool, such as social media. Use different channels—such as email, op-ed articles, news releases and community presentations—to reach stakeholders who prefer to be communicated with in a variety of ways.
Communicate with integrity: A bond or referendum is not only an opportunity to get the funding you need for programs, services or facilities. It also gives you the chance to build a greater sense of trust between your district and the community, including your alumni and potential donors. This comes back to communicating with integrity and transparency throughout the process.
As your school or district begins its referendum or bond measure planning, don't forget to consider the needs and importance of your alumni. This critical stakeholder group could very well make the difference between pass or fail on election day.
Alumni make up some of your school or district's most passionate supporters. They provide good word of mouth, make financial contributions and volunteer in schools.
It’s easy to reach out to your alumni if you have their contact information on record, but trying to get in touch with them without a phone number or email address can be much more challenging. Fortunately, there are several actions you can take to engage your former students, even without contact information.
Here are some tips to help you make this happen:
- Create a strategy: You won’t be able to reach your alumni successfully without clear goals or an outreach strategy. Start developing your strategy by gathering together your alumni outreach team to identify your key messages and the tactics you will use to reach your audience. Consider segmenting your alumni by age, career and family status so that you can target your content strategically.
- Engage social media: Social media is a powerful tool that gives you the ability to reach scores of people instantaneously. Use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep your alumni and other members of your school district community up to date on the latest news and happenings from your schools. Incorporate stories, photos and videos to create more engaging and relatable content.
- Create a website or page exclusively for alumni: Have a place online where your alumni can get information, stay informed about upcoming alumni events and connect with each other. A designated alumni page or online community can help you engage with alumni, even if you don’t have their personal contact information. These platforms can also work well for gathering information (including contact information) from your alumni.
- Ask for more than just money: Many alumni hesitate to get involved with their former schools for fear that they will be continuously asked for money. While alumni can be incredibly valuable donors to your district, it is also important to focus on the other resources your alumni can offer. Ask them participate in surveys, create mentorship and volunteer programs and plan events through which your alumni can reconnect with old classmates and get to know more about how they can contribute.
Engaging alumni when you do not have their contact information is possible with a little creative thinking. Eventually, these efforts enable you to gather more contact information and reach your former students more directly in the future.
Class reunions give alumni the opportunity to reconnect with old classmates. These events also provide a great opportunity for schools, districts and foundations to connect with alumni and foster closer relationships.
Unfortunately, a lot of reunion committees and schools that host class reunions experience underwhelming turnout. There are ways to make the most of your time, energy and resources to ensure more alumni attend these events.
What causes low turnout?
It's first helpful to understand what causes low turnout to events in the first place. One of the main reasons why people do not show up to class reunions is because they are anxious about feeling alone or out of place among those they haven’t interacted with for years.
In some cases, people don’t attend class reunions because they simply do not have enough information about the event or they don’t hear about it far enough in advance to plan accordingly. Others hesitate to attend because of the costs associated with attendance, including registration, meals and lodging.
How to increase attendance
The following are some key tips for increasing turnout to your next class reunion or alumni event:
- Contact alumni early and often: As soon as you have a date for your event on the calendar, reach out to alumni with invitations. Start contacting your alumni well in advance of your event and continue reaching out on a regular basis in the weeks and months preceding it. Encourage alumni to register or RSVP so that you can get a better idea of how many people will attend and whether you need to adjust your strategy to encourage more attendance.
- Cultivate connections before the event: To help your alumni feel more comfortable attending your event, make an effort to connect with them before the class reunion takes place. An online platform where alumni can connect and chat, as well as an active social media presence, can help spread the word and lead to better attendance.
- Mitigate costs: You might not be able to offer free food and accommodations for those who attend your class reunion. However, you can contact local hotels for group rates and discounts, while offering registration discounts to alumni who sign up additional classmates.
Coordinating a successful class reunion can be challenging, but these events can significantly support your school or district's alumni engagement efforts. Keep these tips in mind as your school or committee plans your next big event.
When you need to raise money for a new facility, equipment or supplies, your school district or education foundation may opt to embark on a capital campaign. It's critically important to define success from the start, creating clear benchmarks and outlining a strategy that will allow you to reach your fundraising goals.
By keeping a few key concepts top of mind, you can plan your capital campaign effectively and make strategic changes to your approach as you move along. Consider the following as you get started:
- Set tangible goals: There’s no way for you to measure the success of your campaign if you don’t have clearly defined objectives. Carefully consider your fundraising track record to help you determine reasonable goals. Goals do not just represent a great metric to help you define the success of your school campaign—they are also a great way to motivate your team to stay on track.
- Identify prospects: You must identify lead prospects for your campaign to establish whether you have sufficient support to reach your goals. Identify and secure several prospects who will make sizeable donations at the front end. This will indicate to other, smaller donors that your campaign is worth the investment.
- Create compelling messages: It’s not enough to just ask for donations—you have to make a case for support that engages potential donors on an emotional level. Use your education foundation or district's narrative to create a compelling campaign that incorporates testimonials from students, teachers, parents and alumni who have something to say about the positive impact the project in question would have.
- Conduct a feasibility study: Prior to launching a fundraising campaign, conduct a feasibility study to assess whether you will have the support of the community. This can be done by someone at your district, foundation, or an external consultant, but it should include at least 30 or 40 community members to help you determine whether you'll get the support you need from donors.
- Allocate resources wisely: You may need a significant amount of resources to orchestrate a successful capital campaign. Make sure you have the technological infrastructure and staff time necessary to facilitate your fundraising campaign. Work with the various departments in your district—including IT and public relations—to ensure that everyone is prepared to spend time on the campaign.
- Create a unified effort: You cannot expect a capital campaign to run itself after launch. You'll need a designated team of volunteers to oversee every aspect and keep things on track for the duration of your fundraising effort. This team should convene regularly to evaluate the campaign and determine whether any adjustments are necessary.
A successful capital campaign requires a great deal of coordination and consideration, but the results are well worth the time and effort. By investing resources upfront into your campaign, you can improve the quality of the results and reach your goals—to the ultimate benefit of your students.