Catholic schools have done, and continue to do, a remarkable job of preparing students for their life-long faith journey. However, an area still in need of continual attention is taking the time and energy to teach students how to be involved alumni.
Active, engaged alumni programs do not flourish by accident. There must be first and foremost, a clear recognition that any alumni organization serves both alumni and the school. Effective alumni organizations are also the result of careful planning, teaching, regular communication, and implementation of programs designed to involve alumni in all stages of life in the ongoing life of school.
Young alumni, defined as those who have graduated within the past 15 years, have the time and the inclination, to stay involved with their alma mater. Most are in college or just starting a career and do not yet have a family. They are looking for opportunities to reconnect and stay connected with friends or to improve their employment outlook.
The young alumni years are the optimal time to start to engage and involve alumni in a lifetime relationship, beginning as early as while they are still walking your halls as students. Why wait until they leave to teach them about their role as alumni?
Current Student Training
A yearly classroom visit program for high school students by development office personnel can introduce them to the important role of alumni and encourage them to stay active in the life of the school after they graduate. At each grade level, make it a point to introduce different elements of alumni relations from its definition of alumni to participating in the annual fund.
For elementary students, gather home and email information to maintain contact with graduates. Organize and manage the school’s constituent database to ensure that key newsletters, annual reports, and other items continue to be sent to young alumni as well as their parents.
Cultivation of young alumni as donors can begin while they are students. Graduates who participate in alumni phonathons for the school annual fund as students are more likely to donate back to the school in the future. Encourage annual giving early by asking graduates to make a small gift to the annual fund. Many schools tie the size of the gift in some way to the year of graduation or the size of the graduating class. Graduates can be involved in deciding how the gift will be used, or another approach used is to establish an endowed Class Scholarship which can be added to annually.
At any level of schooling, it is imperative to train the faculty and staff about the alumni program, why it exists, and how it can help the school in the long run. Let them know that alumni relations is everyone’s job in the school, and they should make an effort to pass along information regarding young alumni to the appropriate person or office.
Data and Communication
With the high mobility of recent graduates, maintaining current demographic data is key to maintaining contact with young alumni. The first few years out of school are a critical time to capture, maintain, and update information including mobile phone numbers, addresses, Twitter account names, Facebook names, and email addresses. The ability for alumni to update their information should be readily available online, via publications, at special events and through class agents.
Since the majority of young adults depend on social media to maintain relationships with friends including classmates, the challenge is to develop a well-managed school presence on the most popular social media platforms. Sites such as those listed above offer ways for the school to engage, share, connect, network, and interact with their alumni at a minimal cost.
Keep in mind that young alumni are in college or just starting out in careers. Young alumni may prefer less structured events, and they may attend to meet people of their same age. Generally these events concentrate on social activities where informality is high and cost (to alumni) is low. Getting input from young alumni will help to keep alumni programs fresh. Their involvement with planning special events will develop their leadership skills and look great on their resumes.
This article was adapted from the original appearing in the Catholic School Management Letter. For additional tips and to read the full article, click here.