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.
Technology is allowing us to communicate and connect with others in ways we wouldn't have dreamed possible just a few years ago. In the business world, consumers have grown accustomed to connecting with businesses online in an instant, and it can be challenging to stay competitive if you are not utilizing all of these online challenges.
The same is true in the education world. It's important for K-12 schools and districts to constantly explore the wide range of communications tools available to them as they look to reach their key stakeholders.
Decades ago, school communication was defined mainly by in-person meetings, written correspondence, phone calls and the occasional news story. Now, there's a seemingly endless list of platforms that people use to communicate everything from event details to last-minute school closure announcements. You don’t have to communicate from every platform that’s available, but you should use a few channels to ensure the broadest and most effective reach possible.
These include the following:
- Mobile apps: This provides a great source of information for parents and other community members. After they download the app, they can easily access important information, including emergency announcements, event calendars, school news and contact forms and information. There are numerous platforms that allow schools to create apps at a relatively low cost.
- Email: Emails are a great way for districts to communicate in a format that feels personal, while still having the potential for wide distribution. Using email communication allows you to bridge the gap between technologically connected users and those who are not involved with any social media platforms. You can draft emails to communicate just about anything and include helpful links that direct readers to your website or other relevant content.
- Social media: You can write posts that feature short announcements or describe your district's efforts to ensure a quality education for all students. You don’t have to start posting from every platform at once. Start small with a Facebook or Twitter account, and then develop your presence on social media as you get more comfortable using it.
- Website: It’s essential that you have a website that’s up to date and easy to navigate. Think about what your stakeholders search for when visiting your website, and make those items easily accessible. You might also want to add a blog to your website to draw more visitors to your page and promote engagement from the community.
As a district leader, your primary responsibility is to ensure that the students you serve receive a quality education in a safe environment. But there’s so much more to running a school district than simply implementing strong academic programming. To support the mission of your school, generate fundraising dollars and maintain a positive reputation in your community, you must constantly communicate with your stakeholders. The tools listed above can help.
In an era of intensifying competition, especially in states that have programs like open enrollment that allow families to enroll children in a district of their choice, schools and districts must market themselves and communicate with their stakeholders effectively.
These stakeholders may include a wide range of people, including families, teachers, staff, students and community members. Your school or district's alumni should also be added to this list.
A good public relations strategy allows you to really focus some energy and resources on developing and maintaining your reputation and relationships among your key stakeholders.
The importance of a strategy
An effective school public relations plan includes a clear set of overarching goals, a strategy to meet each of those goals and the tools and tactics your district will use to meet its goals. In addition to various other strategies, the plan should include outreach to alumni, who can be some of your district's most ardent supporters.
Below are some of the most important benefits to establishing a strong PR and communications plan for your school or district:
- Clearer brand identity: You can define your organization with a unified, coherent brand identity. Take some time to meet with your team and establish where you are and where you’re going as a district. All of the communication that you have with the public—whether through one-on-one emails or widely distributed newsletters and mailings—should reinforce this brand identity. Establishing your identity early on helps you maintain consistency and quality in your messaging.
- More effective reach: Without a strategy, your online communications might be falling on deaf ears. If people are not engaged with you as a brand, you may not be making the most of the limited resources at your disposal. A PR strategy allows you to develop your reach as a brand and ensures that you can be more intentional and effective with your communication.
- Better funding: In many states, schools must turn to local property taxpayers to support them due to dwindling funding at the state level. Cultivating relationships with your community and improving public opinion of your district can give you the backing you need to secure critical funding.
- Transparency: When an emergency or unexpected situation arises, the way your district reacts and communicates with the public is critical. Having a PR strategy in place allows you to respond to these situations quickly and give the public clear, transparent communication.
As your district works to achieve its goals, the right PR strategy will help you maintain positive relationships with your community members and alumni. Maintaining these relationships and your district’s reputation will be crucial to your success in an ever-changing educational world.
As a school district leader, you are in charge providing an essential service that promotes the betterment of your entire community.
Obviously, education is not a commercial operation, but you still must employ some of the same principles and strategies that businesses do to draw attention to your work, increase engagement and solicit the support of your community. To do so, you must tell a story through your marketing and communication efforts.
Understanding brand narrative
A brand narrative tells the story of your organization. This is not drawn-out account of your history or a 10-point description of your district's mission and vision. Rather, it is a clear, concise and easy-to-digest summary of your principles and goals.
Someone who knows nothing about your school district should come away from reading your brand narrative with an understanding, however basic, of what you do presently, what your values are and what you intend to do in the future.
Creating your brand narrative
Although your finished brand narrative will be clear and concise, you should begin the process with a consideration of your detailed history and mission. It is helpful to write this out with help from staff members, parents and/or local business leaders. Document your history, including the changes that have occurred since the foundation of your district and any major milestones along the way. Write down the past, present and future so that you have plenty of information to reference when you establish a narrative that will be presented to your target audience.
Based on the information you wrote down, you can create a brand statement that sums up your purpose and mission. You can include this statement in your district communications, along with on your website, your social media platforms and your Alumni Nation.
To give you some direction, write your brand statement as the answer to a simple question. What is your district doing to make the community better? How is the district promoting a quality education for all students? Make sure your statement is easy for your stakeholders to understand and remember.
Using the information you wrote down initially, along with the brand statement you created, you can create your brand narrative. Typically, a brand narrative should be one written page, including information about your history and your path forward.
One page doesn’t give you room for irrelevant details or of-topic information, so make sure to keep it on message. While your writing should be polished and professional, it’s important to keep the language personal and conversational.
Remember, you are communicating why your stakeholders should care about the mission of your district, so look to appeal to their humanity. Don’t be afraid to use powerful language to effectively convey an emotional message. Before you put anything out online or in print, make sure to give your colleagues the opportunity to review the content and make suggestions.
Although it can be time consuming, taking the time to create an effective brand narrative can do wonders for community and alumni engagement for your school district.
When you are a foundation, school, or district leader, there seems to be a limitless number of issues you must manage on a daily basis. This can make it difficult to focus on communication and developing the right narrative and messages to tell your organization's story. At the same time, you must find the right tools and tactics to grab the attention of your audience.
The good news is that you can master the art of school communication by understanding some basic messaging principles—including the "Rule of 3."
Basics of the 'Rule of 3'
The Rule of 3 is a well-known principle of communications telling us that people most easily grasp and process content and ideas when they come in threes. As an example, let's consider a presentation that most of us have received at one point or another—fire safety training.
When students are taught about fire safety, they are not given a long, bulleted list of various safety protocol to follow. Instead, they are taught that, in the event their clothes catch fire, they should "stop, drop and roll." These three simple words comprise a powerful message that most children remember for the rest of their lives.
You can apply the effectiveness of this basic principle to your school or district's messaging efforts.
Practical applications for school districts
Let’s take the fire safety example from above and break it down into basic parts. To start, you have the key message: how to respond to an emergency. Next, you have the three primary messages: stop, drop and roll. Finally, you have supporting evidence to reinforce the core ideas. In other words, if you take these three steps, you will put out the fire and (hopefully) avoid serious injury.
Imagine you want to raise awareness for a school fundraising campaign. Your key message is that your district is raising money. Your three core messages could be the main reasons why the district is raising the funds, the ways that people can contribute and/or what the funds will be used for.
For example, you might say that the fundraising will help renovate the school library, purchase textbooks or pay for new uniforms for the hockey team As your supporting evidence or proof, you can use either an emotional argument or a rational one. Perhaps you will include a breakdown of your fundraising goals and the projected allocation of funds. Or, you may appeal to emotion by including testimonials from students who would benefit from a successful fundraising effort.
You might feel like you have a lot more to say than can be included in three simple concepts, but a long-winded message is difficult absorb and likely will not garner the sort of attention and engagement you're seeking.
When it comes to communication, simplicity is key. Consider the power of the Rule of 3—and use it to your advantage to achieve your foundation, school, or district's communication and community engagement goals.
For decades, colleges and universities across the United States have done a great job reaching out to their alumni. Most people who have graduated from a postsecondary institution likely receive regular communications from their former schools, usually in the form of email newsletters, appeals letters, direct mail and social media.
The experiences and lessons that individuals gain in college carries over to the rest of their lives. Most colleges and universities value the connection alumni have to their higher education experience and have found ways to capitalize on it.
Engaged alumni play an essential role in the future success of fundraising functions at universities—and proud alumni act as walking, talking billboards, spreading the word about the quality of the schools they attended. While leveraging alumni resources is nothing new in the higher education world, alumni engagement for K-12 schools and districts is now coming into its own.
In fact, school districts nationwide are implementing many of the same tactics and strategies that have long been used by universities to connect with their alumni.
Alumni engagement strategies
If your school or district is looking to ramp up its alumni engagement strategies, consider these tactics common among postsecondary institutions:
- Collect contact information: Before universities can create an effective strategy for alumni engagement, they must gather relevant data. In the same way that a company markets its products based on consumer profiles, a college can tailor its engagement with alumni based on several metrics. Monitoring popular content related to an educational institution is a good place to start. A K-12 school can gather data about employment and demographics of its alumni and examine online activity related to the institution to inform its engagement strategy.
- Preference segmentation: Once a school or district has gathered relevant information about its alumni, it can target specific population segments. For K-12 districts, this segmentation can be based on the year of graduation, secondary education level and career path. A group of alumni with careers in sales and marketing, for example, may be more responsive to engaging on networking sites like LinkedIn.
- Social media engagement: Social media gives educational institutions an incredible opportunity to reach alumni more effectively than ever before. It’s worth investing in social media campaigns on several different platforms. A popular strategy among universities is to put the spotlight on alumni with brief posts that highlight their accomplishments. These personal shout-outs are more likely to be shared by alumni and demonstrate to prospective students that a school values relationship with former students.
- Analysis and adjustment: Achieving an effective strategy to engage with alumni takes time and requires constant adjustment. It’s essential for schools to track the response to their campaigns and adjust their approach as needed.
Just like a college or university, K-12 schools and districts can benefit greatly from an engaged alumni base. By actively pursuing connections with alumni, schools across the country can develop a reputation and online presence that aids in fundraising efforts and garners positive attention from prospective families.
We see it all the time in the world of K-12 alumni outreach. School leaders and communication professionals will discover a new tool, such as a mobile app or social media network, and immediately decide to try it out and incorporate it into their marketing and outreach efforts.
We should always be on the lookout for new tools and methods that can help us communicate more effectively with our stakeholders. However, it's also important to avoid chasing the latest shiny object, especially if it doesn't quite fit with our current alumni outreach strategy.
Goals come first
That's why we recommend starting your alumni communication plan by establishing clear goals. Think to yourself: a year from now, how will we know that our alumni outreach efforts were successful? What you come up with will form a series of three to five goals you aim to accomplish through your efforts.
With goals, it's important to be crisp and specific. A goal that's too vague might be "To form more engaging relationships with our alumni." A better, more targeted goal would be "To increase the amount of alumni donations to our schools by 20 percent." The second goal has clear metrics that you can use when it comes time to evaluate your strategy later on.
Once you've established some goals, think about the stakeholders you would like to reach. When it comes to alumni outreach, this is obvious: your former students. However, you may also want to include potential donors, local business leaders and community members.
Then, determine which messages you want your stakeholders to know and understand about your school district. If you could communicate directly with each one of your identified stakeholders, what exactly would want to tell each one of them? These are messages.
Only then is it appropriate to think about the tools you will use to reach your stakeholders with your messages. This may come in the form of social media, e-newsletters, blog posts, direct mail, alumni events and various other tactics. When you know your target audience and the messages you wish to convey, it becomes much easier to find the right tools to use to make it all happen.
The School Year is Almost Over. Make Sure Your Seniors Sign Up for Your Nation Before You Lose Them for Good.
Depending on where you live, the school year may be coming to a close in the next one or two weeks, or you may have a good month left before classes let out for the summer. Regardless, now is a critical time for your school or district's alumni outreach efforts, as it may be your last chance to get the names, email addresses and other information of your soon-to-be graduates.
This can be easy to forget as you're wrapping up the school year. This tends to be one of the busiest times of the year for district leaders, principals, teachers and support staff. However, by taking a few simple actions, you can add to your alumni list and ensure you maintain a strong connection with your new graduates starting right now.
At a minimum, we recommend getting seniors to provide their names, cell phone numbers and personal (not school) email addresses. Mailing addresses are nice, but not critical. If you already have an Alumni Nation established, you could include your school's nation branding on the sign-up sheet.
This is actually more effective than it was just a few years ago. Most high school students today have cell phones with numbers they're likely to maintain for the long term — if not the rest of their lives. The same goes for email addresses.
Below are some ways we are seeing schools collect this information in the days and weeks leading up to graduation:
- Set up a booth in the cafeteria with a sign-up sheet available during lunch hours
- Ask homeroom supervisors to encourage seniors to add their names to sign-up sheets
- Send an email (using their school accounts) to all seniors asking them to sign up for updates online
- Send a letter home to parents encouraging them to have their students sign up
- Ask them to sign up when receiving their cap and gowns
- Set up a booth at the graduation ceremony itself, encouraging new grads to sign up before they leave the building
While you should do everything you can to encourage seniors to provide you with their contact information, it's important to also respect their right to privacy. Signing up should not be mandatory.
One of the best ways to connect with alumni is by setting up an Alumni Nation of your own. Through this community, you can provide your alumni with news, updates, special events, directory, a job board and other resources that keep them engaged in the future of your schools.
As a way to foster stronger relationships with their former students, many schools and districts are ramping up their alumni engagement strategies. If your school district or foundation is involved in these efforts, it's important to regularly assess your tactics to ensure your ongoing success.
Below are 11 key questions to ask yourself when evaluating your alumni communication and engagement strategy:
1. Is your alumni and community engagement linked to your strategic plan?
Alumni outreach should be a key aspect of your district's communications or strategic planning process. While most schools and districts do a good job of identifying other stakeholders, including parents, staff and local community members, many forget about the value of reaching out to alumni.
2. Is there someone in the district assigned to connecting with your alumni and community?
This may be an administrator, communications manager or other staff member. While this person is often also in charge of more general district communications, he or she should be responsible for ensuring the district continues to engage its former students in meaningful ways.
3. Do you truly know your alumni?
What do your alumni think about your school district, and what do they want and need when it comes to district-related communications? Consider creating a survey that alumni can take to tell you more about how you can best reach them and provide value.
4. Do you have a narrative and targeted messages developed for alumni?
In many cases, the messages you use for parents, students and staff may be different from what you should use when speaking to alumni. When you know your alumni (see item #3), you can develop a narrative and messages geared toward them.
5. How frequently do you contact your alumni?
It's common for a school district to only connect with its alumni in the midst of homecoming season. However, you should be communicating with your former students throughout the year, providing them with updates, asking for their input and inviting them to school events.
6. How are you contacting your alumni?
Which mechanisms do you use to reach out to your former students? Is it mostly through direct mail or email? Are there other ways you might be able to reach this stakeholder group? Again, a survey can give you valuable information about how alumni prefer to get their news.
7. What value do you provide to your audience?
When you do communicate with your alumni, do you provide them with valuable news, information or resources? In general, we find alumni enjoy hearing about updates on their classmates and getting invitations to events, along with things like job boards and networking opportunities.
8. How do you measure the effectiveness of your alumni outreach efforts?
When setting out on your alumni engagement strategy, you should have clear goals in mind. Preferably, you'll have metrics to tell you if you're meeting those goals, as well. Take a look at your strategy once or twice a year to make sure you're on the right track.
9. Do you keep track of your alumni?
To communicate with your alumni, you need to have a way to reach them. It's important to have a central database with names and email addresses. It can also be helpful to have information like phone numbers and mailing addresses.
10. Why do you reach out to your alumni?
Do you only connect with your alumni during homecoming or when you need something? Your communications should be about more than asking for donations or trying to get people to attend homecoming events. Those things are important, but you should be providing value at many points throughout the year.
11. Are your efforts sustainable?
Do you have a dedicated staff member and process for alumni outreach? Do you have money allocated to these efforts on a yearly basis? It's important to ensure your alumni engagement strategy is sustainable.
Just like with any communications effort, your alumni engagement strategy may require constant adjustments, especially as the needs of your district and communications channels evolve. Be sure to ask yourself these questions as part of your assessment process.
Traditionally, colleges and universities have done a good job of engaging their alumni, with the end result often being former students who provide financial contributions to their alma maters. We have not typically seen this level of outreach in the K-12 world, although there are many indications that it's happening more and more often.
Schools and districts should not be hesitant about reaching out to their alumni and asking for their support, which can take many different forms. Below are a few ideas you can implement right way:
Ask them for their input
One of the best ways to keep alumni engaged is to involve them in some of the opportunities and challenges of your school district. For example, if some of your facilities need to be renovated or replaced, ask your alumni—in addition to other stakeholders—about what they consider to be the projects that should be approached with the greatest priority.
Whether it's through a survey, focus groups or a less formal mechanism, you can ask alumni for their feedback on a variety of issues. This may include asking about the district's current communications practices and how they might be improved, the thoughts and feelings they have about the school district and if they would recommend the district to parents considering a move into your community.
Encourage them to become mentors
Graduates are often more than willing to work with current students and help them on their way to graduation and beyond, but they are rarely asked to do so. Consider establishing a mentorship program in which middle and high school students can learn from someone who was once in their shoes.
Mentors can be incredibly valuable for young people, who face a lot of challenges as they reach their teen years. A mentor can be just what they need to set positive goals and keep them on track toward meeting them.
Invite them to school events
Again, many schools and districts can do a better job of making special invitations to their alumni to attend athletic events, concerts, performances and other events—beyond the typical homecoming celebrations.
This is especially true during the summer and around the holidays, when many alumni who have moved away come back to your community to visit with family and friends. While they're in town, why not invite them to a home basketball game or a holiday concert?
Turn to them for contributions
Alumni give to their colleges and universities all the time, but they often do not realize they can do the same for their high school, as well. After you've engaged your former students in other ways, encourage them to make a tax-deductible gift to your school, district or foundation. This is a particularly effective message toward the end of the year, when many people are looking to make charitable donations to reduce their tax burdens.
These are just a few ways to better connect with your alumni as a K-12 school district. As you continue to reach your key stakeholder groups, remember that your former students may be some of the biggest supporters you have. Take some time to engage them in meaningful ways.
When planning for a new project, whether it’s a wide-scale renovation, a new athletic facility or other improvement, most school districts must turn to the local community and hold a capital campaign to raise the necessary funds. Capital campaigns require a lot of innovation, teamwork and, most importantly, planning to execute and reach success.
However, there's a right way and a wrong way to go about a capital campaign, and it's critical to have a sound strategy in place from the start. Following a carefully planned timeline will allow your district's fundraising committee to effectively reach the right donors and get your campaign on the path to success.
Below is seven-step process we've found to work well when it comes to K-12 capital campaigns:
Step one: Identify campaign needs
The first step in your capital campaign requires the school district to examine its needs and identify the primary opportunities that will assist you in reaching your campaign goals over the next six to 12 months. To begin, create an exploratory committee comprised of school board members, staff and community members to develop a list of ideas. Then, you can narrow down those ideas and determine the ones that are worth pursuing.
Next, enlist the help of an outside fundraising consultant to formulate the scope of the campaign based on your committee's ideas.
Step two: Determine next steps
It will not always be the appropriate time to begin a capital campaign in your community. Thus, your school district must determine if, when and how it will move forward with a campaign once the outside fundraising consultant has deemed the campaign feasible in its strategic analysis.
Over one or two months, the district should make adjustments to the campaign to better align with community funding limitations based on community feedback—and outline a case for why the community should support the campaign.
Step three: Finalize campaign strategy
Before the campaign is ready for launch, your district should take an additional one to two months to finalize and ensure everyone involved understands the campaign strategy. This time should also be used to appoint a campaign cabinet of nine to 12 members and identify and rank prospective, high-impact donors.
Step four: Solicit leadership gifts
When the campaign officially begins, the first group of gifts to be solicited are the "leadership" (or largest) gifts. The district should schedule requests for leadership gifts, make appointments and personalize the necessary materials. In short, it's important to make direct contact with wealthy potential donors to get your campaign off to the best-possible start.
Typically, leadership gift solicitation can take two to three months.
Step five: Solicit major gifts
Once leadership gifts have been solicited and received, the district may prepare the materials and scheduling of major gifts. This process is very similar to the leadership gift process, but it's important to note that major gifts should always be collected after the leadership gift phase.
Step six: Solicit community gifts
The final step for your capital campaign is to solicit gifts from the broader community. This process includes outlining your community outreach strategy with things like mailings or community events. When the solicitation plan is finalized, these smaller-sized gifts can be solicited and can serve to round out your fundraising efforts.
Step seven: Wrap-up and project implementation
After the successful completion of your school district’s capital campaign, your committee will want to wrap up any loose ends and prepare for the next step, which is to implement the project for which you fundraised.
By following a carefully set timeline, school districts are much more likely to achieve success in their capital campaigns, raising the money they need to move ahead with critical facilities projects.
More than 50 million students attend public school in the United States, but many schools and districts continually face funding shortfalls. Without the state or local funding they need, schools are hard-pressed to complete much-needed renovations, add 21st century technology to their classrooms and continue to offer extracurricular activities.
Many private and postsecondary schools have existing alumni donation programs to assist their funding efforts—and one generous donor is encouraging public schools to follow suit.
Steve Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone Group, recently donated $25 million to his alma mater, Abington High School in Pennsylvania. The donation is considered the largest ever given to a single public school. Schwarzman says he hopes his donation will encourage more public schools across the country to ramp up their alumni engagement and fundraising efforts.
Abington High School needed $100 million to renovate its outdated, 1950s-style school building. As part of his donation, Schwarzman mandated that the school build a new science and technology center and implement a computer literacy curriculum. He has made education a priority in his philanthropic efforts, having donated large sums to other educational institutions in the past.
Why public schools should fundraise from alumni networks
For years, private K-12 schools, colleges and universities across the nation have set up expansive alumni fundraising efforts. While most U.S. public schools could do the same, relatively few do so in any meaningful way. Schwarzman’s donation is thus unique in the world of public education.
Rather than create framework to ask for and receive donations from graduates, public schools often ask members of their local communities for assistance, typically through a capital campaign or referendum. However, community members already contribute to their local schools through property taxes. By reaching out to alumni, public schools can solicit larger donations from a larger base of potential contributors.
Today's public schools must be willing to ask their alumni to help them provide greater academic and extracurricular opportunities to their current students. This starts with engaging alumni, making sure they feel connected to the schools from which they graduated—even if it was decades ago. American public schools should follow in the footsteps of private schools and universities and make efforts to engage their alumni in a variety of ways.
One of the ways Alumni Nations helps schools, districts and foundations develop more meaningful connections with their alumni is by providing highly engaging content. As we have created this content for districts, we’ve found that most falls into one of several categories, which we refer to as “content buckets.” We use these buckets when developing topic ideas and creating content for each school or district we serve.
The following is a brief overview of these categories:
- Notable alumni news: Do you have alumni who are making a difference in the world? Perhaps they have achieved something big in their industry, or are working with a nonprofit to make an impact on their community. Whatever the case, you can share these success stories with your audience.
- School, district and foundation events: Keep your alumni up to date on events happening in your district, such as homecoming, concerts, sporting events, theater performances and alumni gatherings. Make sure your alumni know they are welcome and encouraged to attend these events.
- School, district and foundation news: Provide your alumni with updates regarding all the latest happenings in your school district communities. Examples of news stories might be renovation projects, referendum efforts, the hiring of new administrators, school board news, new academic initiatives and anything else your alumni might find noteworthy.
- Points of pride: These are the stories of great things happening inside your school district. If a sports team is heading to state, for example, include it in your content! Share all the details of major student achievements, anniversaries and outstanding educators. Your alumni want to hear what’s going well in your schools.
- Local heroes: In addition to news updates, offer profiles of area alumni and friends of the district who may be considered local “heroes.” This includes police officers, military personnel, firefighters, community leaders and business owners. These individuals may or may not be actual alumni of your district—but they’re still making a difference.
- Class reunions: Provide a single hub for all updates about class reunions and include information on who alumni can contact to learn more.
- Get involved: Give alumni information on all the different ways they can get involved, from donations to volunteer opportunities. Many schools seek alumni for mentoring, guest speaking and participating in events.
We’ve created these “content buckets” to keep your alumni interested in what’s happening in your school district and increase their overall level of engagement. If you would like to explore setting up an Alumni Nation for your school, district or foundation, we invite you to reach out to us.