By Josh Gold
I’m constantly amazed at how undervalued alumni relations are as a fundraising strategy.
Some organizations completely overlook this fantastic asset, while others approach their alumni with half-hearted overtures and little to no planning. It seems to me that most nonprofits simply don’t realize what kind of opportunity is right there for the taking.
Of all people, alumni are some of the most naturally inclined to become devoted, long-term advocates for your institution.
After all, you represent their history and foundation. Often, you represent some of most formative events of their lives. They are grateful to you, emotionally connected to and nostalgic about you, and know the value you can bring to the next generation.
And yet, if you aren’t proactive about staying in touch, this significant bond is very likely to fade over time. It’s in the past, and the present is compelling. If no one makes an effort to keep the connection alive, folks drift apart. That’s just how it goes sometimes.
Every time another class graduates, your former students move out into the world and are soon immersed in their individual paths. Where they once constantly shared challenges and experiences, they’re now spread across all different environments, and their ideas and priorities continue to develop independently.
It’s your job to keep this relationship fresh and meaningful. If you want to be able to draw on this constantly growing source of support, you need to continuously nurture it.
If you want alumni to actively participate in your organization, you have to give them a reason to care.
Your approach should balance long-term relationship building with more immediate appeals and calls to action. Involve and engage alumni on a regular basis, keeping school pride and sentiment alive. Give past students a reason to make you an ongoing priority in the present. If you maintain their support in other ways, they will be far more likely to give you financial backing as well.
And what better way to do that than video! If you’re ready to take your alumni relationships to the next level, here are a few suggestions:
1. Video Yearbook
This video is either shown at graduation or sent out to each graduating class. It features the graduates at key moments throughout their time with you: school-wide events, lectures, one-on-one moments between students and faculty, and memorable locations from around campus. Anything that will resonate with the graduate can be included.
This is the ultimate goodbye present and will be sure to leave students with strong, positive feelings towards the school. And guess what? You can remind them of this video every couple years – they’ll love you for it!
2. Reflection Video
Reach out to alumni on social media or at in-person gatherings – and be prepared to articulate exactly why they should continue to be invested in your institution. You can do this in a number of styles; we recommend a short-form montage of alumni reflecting on why they’re thankful to your institution and what they miss most. This tells a story that’s easy to follow and relate to. It’s also easy to produce and carries a ton of emotional power.
As an added bonus, including alumni in the creation of this project will make them feel more involved and motivated to act.
3. Holiday Greetings
Keep in touch throughout the year with kind words on Rosh HaShana, Chanukah, Pesach, etc. In these instances, you aren’t asking for anything, just touching base with personality and charm. You’re making yourself an enjoyable part of your alumni’s lives, a friendly face they look forward to seeing.
4. Invitation Film
Schedule gatherings, reunions, and other events to maintain your connection with alumni.
Promote these functions with exciting little videos that make the viewer eager to save the date. The format of this video would be simple – a montage of smiling students and staff, followed by a call to action.
5. Honoree Film
Choose either an individual honoree, or celebrate the accomplishments of all your alumni in general, linking their success to the lessons and experiences you afforded them. Remind the viewer that they’re part of a notable, successful movement, and you may find it easier to encourage their participation. After all, they want to contribute to the legacy.
Include a brief message from the honoree talking about their love of the school and why involvement is important to them. Dinners, galas, and other fundraising events are an effective way to frame and capitalize on this kind of video.
6. Participation Film
Explicitly welcome alumni to be lasting members of the family and to continue to participate in their preferred programs. Make sure to convey how important their presence was to you in the past and how much they will be valued going forward. Encourage viewers to attend specific events.
You can take this further by offering a special alumni rate for limited time engagement, or if they bring a friend. This video is a direct call to action.
7. Fundraising Film
Once you’ve put the work into fostering a real connection with your alumni, you can occasionally call on them for financial backing. Fundraising appeals are most effective when they’re used sparingly, say once a year; select your topic and timing wisely, and you will see high returns without making your alumni feel used.
These films should be as goal-oriented as possible. People want a guarantee that their contributions are well spent; they are more likely to donate when they can follow the money. Choose an inspiring project or feature and describe its past success, the exciting ways you’d like to develop it in the future, and the impact this will have on people’s lives.
These videos have a shorter shelf-life, since they are obsolete once a special event or project is over, but they are also where you will see the most direct and measurable response.
Consider setting up standard ‘price points’ and offerings gifts of recognition at various levels, naming donors on your website and featuring a status bar to show the progress of the mission.
How often do you reach out to your alumni?
Are your interactions forced, or have you succeeded in keeping a strong bond alive? By taking even one or two steps to maintain your connection, you can begin to see real changes in how your former students respond to your efforts.