Alumni, Alumni, Alumni!

By Moshe Hecht

You know that scene when Steve Ballmer is sweating like a Jew on a diet in Tishrei. (That’s me by the way. Every. Single. Year.) And he goes into a frantic rant, “Developers, developers, developers!” Here’s the link if you haven’t seen it. It’s not something you want your future grandchildren to know you’ve missed. In the nerd world (which I’m a proud part-time member), it’s up there with “Show me the money” and “Did I do thaaat?”

You see, this is what happens to a person when they feel so strongly about something. They simply can’t find the words or contain themselves. It’s just too much to bear.

Well, I feel the same way when it comes to alumni. They’re a gold mine! An often overlooked, hard to attract base, that can literally change the entire dynamic of your institution’s sustainable growth.

The other week I was involved in a crowdfunding campaign for a small private college in Montreal. A school that’s existed for over 75 years. While it’s endured various iterations, it has remained, more or less, the same institution for the past 30 years. A once-thriving, revered school with a “busting at the seams” student body is now a shadow of itself on the brink of dismay.

So what do you do? Give up? Scratch the walls? Start over? No. You tap into your alumni to give them the chance to help you revive the heritage and restore the glory. And that’s what we did. After an aggressive data-mining program, culling contact info, pictures, personal letters, and working with the school at each stage of engagement, we launched a 36 hour fundraiser.

People came out of the WOODWORK. 638 people to be exact. Most of whom attended the school in the past few decades. ALL of whom had much closer and dearer nonprofits just around the corner, but who joined together to raise $350,000 in the weeks leading up to, and culminating in, just 36 hours! More than the money, it was a virtual reunion. Individuals who hadn’t spoken since their pimple face days, now came together on whatsapp group sharing memories, laughs and a bit of faculty shaming. It was truly a sight to see.

This is one of hundreds of stories I’ve been witness to.

School, whether it be a private day school, high school, or your college alma mater, is the very first institution we are emotionally connected to. We attended these institutions in our most formative years. It shaped us. When our hearts were still on our sleeves, not like now, when the only thing making us cry is America’s Got Talent.

You know that feeling when you put on an old jacket and find a hundred dollar bill? Or get your tax rebate? This is the power of your alumni. Except that alumni fundraising is much more lucrative and truly sustainable. But guys, I’m not just talking about a nicely tucked direct mail campaign to your alumni, I’m talking about an all out strategy. Any institution over 20 years old that’s struggling financially is doing something TERRIBLY wrong with their alumni engagement.

It’s time to get excited about alumni.

Start by inviting them to an event. Pull out the sorting hat and create whatsapp groups by classes. Un-dust the old yearbooks, wish them happy birthday. Have their old teachers call and wish them a good holiday. And when you do an online fundraising campaign, don’t forget to focus on the past. Yes, the past. Not just the future.

Get them nostalgic, remind them of the good ole’ times and I promise, I PROMISE they will be there for you in your hardest times. They love you! You just have to give them the opportunity to show it.

Oh, and here’s another. You’re welcome.

Moshe Hecht is a philanthropy futurist, public speaker and chief innovation officer of Charidy, a crowdfunding platform and consulting company that has helped 4000 organizations raise over a quarter billion dollars. His articles have been published in publications such as Forbes, Nonprofit Quarterly and eJewishPhilanthropy. @moshehecht @wearecharidy#tzedakaspresent

This piece is the latest addition to Tzedaka’s Present: A column on current and future giving trends and oppurtunities.