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.
Now that we’ve welcomed in the New Year, many of us are pursuing our resolutions for 2019. It's also a great time for school leaders and communications professionals to take a new look at their alumni engagement strategies. Implementing a few concepts into your efforts can make a big difference when it comes to the connections to maintain with your former students.
Here are some quick ideas you should consider incorporating into your alumni engagement strategy in 2019:
Collect more data: Like any business, you need to understand your audience if you are to effectively reach it. Focus on expanding your information collection efforts so that you understand who your alumni are and what kinds of information, events and opportunities most interest them.
Provide a platform for networking: Many of your former students may be interested in connecting with their fellow alumni, but they might not have a good platform to make these connections. You can offer opportunities for communication and networking, including alumni networking events and online communication platforms.
Offer volunteer opportunities: Each one of your alumni has different gifts, talents and skills that your school or district can leverage to reach your goals. You can create volunteer opportunities—such as mentorship programs or fundraising event coordination—in which your former students can participate.
Leverage social media: Social media is an essential platform for alumni engagement. If you don't already, maintain an active presence online so that your alumni can follow what you’re doing. Social media enables you to update your followers with powerful, visual messages on a daily basis, which can help you establish more meaningful connections.
- Monitor your results and make adjustments: The key component to a successful outreach campaign is continuous evaluation and calibration. You never know which strategies and methods will be most effective. Use reliable measurement tools to help determine what is working and what’s not.
There’s no single, cookie-cutter strategy that works for every school or district, but you can take informed steps to improve your outreach campaign and make progress toward your goals. Why not make drastically improved alumni engagement one of your resolutions this New Year?
Colleges and universities have always emphasized and invested in alumni engagement, but many K-12 schools are just now scratching the surface in this area.
Schools and districts that effectively engage their alumni realize greater levels of support from their former students long after they graduate. This can come in the form of monetary contributions, successful capital campaigns, an improved brand image and more volunteers and mentors for your current students.
Why alumni outreach is so important
K-12 students are shaped by the schools they attended while growing up. The instruction, personal development and extracurricular activities offered to them in school pave the way for their future success, and most students feel a connection to their schools even after they graduate. When you engage these alumni, you tap into their loyalty and personal support of your school or district and inspire them to volunteer, attend events, spread the word about what you’re doing and make charitable donations.
An effective alumni engagement strategy turns your alumni into ambassadors for your district. Here's how you can make that happen:
- Know your audience: Before you can launch a successful alumni outreach campaign, you need to understand your target audience. Take into account the year that your alumni graduated, whether they moved to a new area, what kinds of career they have and whether they went onto higher education after graduating. All this data and demographic information can help you segment your campaigns and target groups with specific messaging.
- Form your narrative: The best way to make your outreach stand out is to tell a powerful story. Your content should be completely distinct to your school or district. You can use testimonials from alumni, personal stories from students and messages from staff to tell a story about what your district is doing and where it’s headed. Create a narrative and use it as a framework for your outreach to make a meaningful impact.
- Develop relationships: You should not only send out communications to your alumni once every few months during a giving push. Rather, you should be developing relationships with them on an ongoing basis. You can connect with alumni through regular email newsletters, engaging and active social media strategies and planned alumni events. All these tactics allow you to develop meaningful connections with alumni and cultivate a strong sense of engagement and loyalty.
- Get feedback: No matter where your alumni engagement strategy goes, it is important to consistently re-evaluate your strategy and make adjustments based on the response you get. Send out yearly surveys to ask alumni for their feedback on your communications efforts and use their suggestions to constantly improve your strategy.
Your long-term alumni engagement strategy will not be perfect right out of the gate, but by taking the right steps, you can cultivate a community of more engaged and supportive former students. And that can pay off big time in the years to come.
As we reach the holidays and the end of the calendar year, now is a great time to make your pitch to your alumni, supporters and community members for end-of-year planned giving. Research shows that people are more likely to make a planned donation during the month of December than at any other part of the year, and these gifts are typically much more generous than those made at other times.
By following the few simple tips below, you can maximize the potential of your holiday planned giving campaign to keep your school, district or foundation on track with your fundraising goals.
Assess your prospects
It's important to understand your prospects before you make your planned giving pitch. Think about what kind of planned giving you want to ask for and then find the alumni who are most likely to contribute in that way.
For example, if you want to solicit planned giving in wills or bequests, try to target alumni who are older, as they are more likely to be thinking about or planning their legacy giving. Individuals and couples without children are also likely to make these kinds of donations.
Create quality campaign content
When you execute your planned giving campaign well, it can make a big difference for your organization in helping you reach your fundraising goals. Take the time to create a cohesive strategy with quality content that will grab the attention of your audience. Remind your alumni about what your district is doing well and how their contribution can make an real impact.
No matter what form of communication you're using, it should always be aligned with your principles, mission and narrative. By creating a framework for your communication, you can keep all your messaging on brand without producing repetitive content.
Expand your reach
Although it’s wise to target the donors who are likely to be the most generous in their giving, you should not exclude alumni who are interested in making smaller gifts. Your planned giving campaign should include phrases like “no gift is too small” or “every contribution helps” to reassure all your alumni that their giving makes a difference for your schools.
Develop relationships with donors
The reality is that your giving campaign is unlikely to be successful if you have not consistently reached out to your prospects throughout the year. When you communicate with your alumni on a consistent basis, you can develop a relationship that encourages involvement on their part. This ongoing relationship building is key to the success of your end-of-year planned giving, as well as your other fundraising efforts.
Now that you have a few essential tools, you can confidently make your planned giving pitch this holiday season.
Email marketing allows your school district to communicate important information and strengthen your connections with your stakeholders, which may include parents, alumni, students, staff and community members. When it’s done right, email marketing can help you generate support for fundraising efforts and attract new students to your district.
Unfortunately, mastering the art of email marketing is not always easy. There's no magic formula for creating a successful email campaign, but there are some simple tips you can use to help improve your outcomes and maximize the potential of your email communications.
- Segment your audience: Different people in your audience will respond to different messages. You cannot expect a single email to appeal to all your stakeholders at once. Segment your audience into groups like parents, students, alumni and community members, so that you can create targeted emails that appeal to them.
- Consider mobile optimization: Many, if not most, of the people who receive your email will view it on a mobile device. With that in mind, make sure that your emails are optimized for mobile viewing. Send a test email to yourself and try to open it on your phone to see whether the layout is conducive to the smaller mobile screen. Problems with your formatting or layout that show up on smartphones could discourage your audience from paying attention.
- Pay attention to aesthetics: Looks aren’t everything, but when it comes to email marketing, they can make or break your success. You should create quality written content for your email marketing campaign, and also take the time to make it look polished and professional. Choose aesthetically appealing fonts and format your graphics and images to create attractive emails messages.
- Draw attention with your subject line: Your subject line has a considerable bearing on whether your audience actually opens your email. Write a concise subject line that highlights what your email is about and that draws in your audience. If you have a video included in your email, be sure to mention it in your subject line. People are more likely to open emails if they see a reference to video content.
- Add visual elements: Pictures, graphics and videos all contribute to the overall appeal of your email message. Choose high-quality images, but avoid excessive resolution that will prevent your email from loading properly. Try to use new imagery in all your messages and avoid repeating visual content so that you always have something fresh to offer your audience.
A well-executed email marketing campaign empowers you to enhance your stakeholder engagement, improve your brand image and even generate support for future fundraising efforts. Consider these tips as you implement your next campaign.
As a school leader or communications professional, you likely field all kinds of questions from your stakeholders, whether they are parents, staff, alumni, students or community members. While it would be nice to be able to sit down and have a conversation with each and every person, we all know how impossible that would be.
As school districts have looked for new ways to engage and inform their stakeholders, one of the tactics they're using with increasing frequency is blogging. Here are four important reasons why your school or district should blog on a regular basis:
1. Share important news and updates
No matter the size of your school or district, you will have news to share with parents, staff and community members. Whether you are planning an upcoming event, would like to share a recent milestone or are about to start a facilities master planning process, you need to get the word out.
A blog delivers a platform to share news and update your stakeholders about everything that is happening in your school or district. It gives your audience a sense of connection with your schools and allows you to avoid confusion about key information.
2. Engage students and families
These days, parents and families have many options when it comes to their children’s education. This means schools and districts often must find ways to attract students to their schools. When you blog about exciting events at your school, highlight incredible staff members and draw attention to the positive work your students are doing for the community, parents will take notice. An active online presence can set you apart from competitive districts and help you drive up enrollment.
3. Generate support for fundraising efforts
There are few districts nationwide that could not use more funding for equipment, supplies, programs and facility improvements. This makes effective fundraising critical. If people feel connected to your organization, they'll be more likely to support your future fundraising efforts. Blogging can motivate parents, alumni and community members to support you in tangible ways.
4. Develop a positive reputation
Your school or district's reputation within the community can affect the quality of programs and services you can offer to students. Many districts lose their opportunity to establish a good brand image simply because they don’t invest time into building and maintaining an online presence.
The key to a successful and engaging blog is consistency. Keep your blog active and post content directly tied your narrative, initiatives and goals. While it may be a challenge to get started, you'll soon find it easy to use blogging to tell your district's story.
In the world of higher education, aggressive marketing is the norm. These institutions may use social media ad campaigns, email marketing, search engine optimization, crisp designed materials and more in the interest of generating engagement and interest from prospective students, alumni, donors and parents.
This approach to marketing is becoming more common for K-12 schools and districts, as well. At a time when many school districts must compete for students and turn to their alumni for key contributions, effective marketing helps them achieve their goals.
Why do public schools need marketing?
Historically, public schools have not had to compete amongst themselves. Decades ago, parents would have the option to enroll their children in a local public school or a local private school. While this provided some competition, the fact remained that most families would enroll their children in the local public schools without much thought otherwise.
Today, the story is much different. With programs like school vouchers and open enrollment, traditional K-12 schools and districts must market themselves to showcase the value they offer students and their families. Each additional student enrolled in a school can bring in thousands of dollars in additional funding, and so it's critical to boost enrollment.
A strategic marketing plan can make an incredible difference. On top of increasing school enrollment, good marketing can also promote stronger bonds between a school district and its community. A community that trusts its local school district is one that's more likely to support fundraising campaigns and referendum efforts as those needs arise.
How schools market themselves
Every school district is different, and there is no single strategy that works well across the board. But there are a few common characteristics of an effective public school marketing strategy. For one, a good strategy is consistent with the mission and values of the organization.
In addition, the best marketing strategies for public schools incorporate stories and messaging that help audiences connect personally with the work the school is doing. To that end, it is essential for teachers, staff, administrators and school board members to be on the same page. A unified approach to marketing ensures messaging remains consistent across all platforms.
As you work to engage in a marketing strategy for your school or district, keep these concepts top of mind. Start with overarching goals, and then determine which stakeholders—such as parents, students, staff and alumni—you need to reach through your efforts. Then, find the messages you want your stakeholders to know and understand about your district. Finally, explore the best tools (such as email, social media, advertising, etc.) to reach those stakeholders.
With this formula, you can establish a marketing strategy that sets up your school or district well for the years ahead.
Investing resources into alumni outreach is a great way way for both public and private schools, districts, and education foundations to develop a network of support. But this can be easier said than done. In an era of declining resources for education, it can be difficult to find the time and funds to embark on a cohesive alumni engagement strategy.
The good news is that it is possible to create an effective alumni outreach strategy, even with limited resources. Below are a few of the key characteristics of a high-performing alumni outreach office:
1. Connection to institution leaders
An effective alumni outreach office must have the support of school, district, and education foundation leaders. Regular communication and interfacing with leaders gives staff members the opportunity to demonstrate the value alumni outreach adds to an institution.
2. Willingness to adapt
Although educational institutions have been leveraging alumni outreach for a long time, the strategies, methods and resources they use have changed dramatically over the years. The highest-performing alumni outreach offices can adapt to change to get the best results possible. Staff members must be open to using new technology and platforms for connecting with alumni in the interest of generating greater engagement in a digital age.
3. Engaged alumni partners
The most effective resources an alumni outreach office has are existing alumni partners. These partners should be willing to volunteer their time and invest their energy into bringing together their fellow alumni for social gatherings and fundraising events. They can relate to other alumni on a personal level and make your message far more impactful.
4. Strategic planning and goal setting
An alumni outreach office must have a clear direction. It should have have defined goals and a strategic plan to achieve them. Bring together staff to outline goals that align with the broader goals of the institution.
Once these goals are in place, the team can brainstorm initiatives and strategies that will get them there. It’s important to have big goals to reach, as well as smaller goals along the way. These smaller goals are a good benchmark for progress and can help keep the team motivated and on the right track.
5. Effective use of resources
Regardless of the amount of resources to which an alumni outreach office has access, it’s essential they leverage those resources effectively. Make the most of staff, volunteers, funding, technology and communication channels.
Ultimately, the success of an alumni outreach office is not defined by its access to resources, but rather by how it uses the resources it has available. To promote truly effective outreach strategies and alumni engagement efforts, keep your team focused on leveraging resources to pursue your goals.
In the age of social media and digital technology, schools and districts have a broader reach than ever before. But that doesn’t mean that our target audiences will pay attention.
It’s one thing to be seen—it’s another entirely for those views to result in meaningful connections, engagement and partnerships. If you don’t have anything to offer your audience beyond a polished web presence, you likely will not generate much engagement.
When it comes to making a lasting impact, a brand narrative is key. Telling your story allows you to develop unified messaging that improves your communication and alumni engagement efforts.
Developing your narrative
When you begin considering your school district’s narrative, it’s important to think about what your audience really wants. Students, alumni, teachers, local officials, parents and community members are looking to develop meaningful connections. They tend to be trusting of brands that are genuine and relatable. In short, people want to know your story.
Below are three steps to take to create your school or district's brand narrative:
- Define your brand identity: Before you can use your stories to generate engagement, you need to develop a narrative. Your brand narrative is the culmination of your district’s history, its current work and its future goals. It’s helpful to write out the context to your district’s narrative, including when it was founded, what its goals were from the outset and what its trajectory has been up until this point. Also include where your district is headed.
- Gather stories: Once you have a framework to build on, you can begin creating stories that support your district’s narrative. Reach out to staff members, parents, students and alumni for personal stories about the work your school or district has done—and is doing—for the benefit of the students, families and the community. These stories can be incredibly powerful and should be incorporated into social media content, blog posts, guest articles, videos and printed materials.
- Share your message: It’s important to share content online and in print on a regular basis. Take the time to develop a comprehensive editorial calendar that includes blog posts, social media, brochures, e-newsletters and email updates. All these different platforms should be optimized to serve your overarching brand narrative and identity. Ensure that everyone in your organization who is responsible for publishing content understands the narrative and how to leverage it.
While developing a brand narrative for your school district takes some effort, it can go a long way toward amplifying your community and alumni engagement. Invest the time into honing your district’s identity. When you take a strategic approach to your narrative, you give your audience the opportunity to support an organization with a powerful message.
As most school districts across the country begin a new school year, one of the first big events is homecoming.
While homecoming is always a great time of the year and a memorable event for current students, what it's really about are your alumni. In fact, homecoming and the events surrounding it can give you an excellent opportunity to reach out to your former students and gather information that can be useful in future engagement efforts.
Making contact with alumni
There are many ways you can connect with your alumni during homecoming football games, parades, bonfires and other festivities, depending on how your school or district celebrates. Below are a few ideas:
Set up booths: At various homecoming events, set up a table or booth specifically for alumni. Have a registration form they can fill out to receive e-newsletters and other updates from you.
You may also consider creating mobile-friendly forms and sending event ticket confirmations by text message.
Raffles and contests: This is a great way to offer value to your audience. To win, alumni must provide their name and contact information, such as an email address and phone number. You can then use this information to communicate with your alumni on a regular basis after the contest is over.
Generate excitement: In the days leading up to your event, you should focus your content on encouraging alumni to participate. A great way to drive audience engagement is by creating a hashtag for your event and encouraging guests to post with that hashtag. Make sure that you are faithfully monitoring your social media accounts during events so that you can like, comment and repost alumni content.
The more engaged you are with the content your alumni and other attendees are posting, the more impactful your message will be to them.
Using alumni information
After homecoming has passed, use the information you gathered to move forward on a campaign that targets specific segments of your alumni audience. You can create targeted communications based on graduating class or higher education level to generate as much interest in your district's narrative as possible.
The days following homecoming is also an optimal time to find out what your alumni thought about your events. Send out a short email survey to let them know that you value their feedback. Then, you can use this information to ensure next year’s festivities are even better.
With a strategic, alumni-focused approach to homecoming season, you can make the most of the opportunity in front of you.