Connect with former students while they’re stuck at home

Fundraising expert Kate Jillings has eight great ways to engage your school community during lockdown.

Yes it’s still lockdown, but that doesn’t mean that alumni relations should be put on the back burner. In fact, with so many people stuck at home it’s a great time to reach out and make connections.

Despite most students having very fond memories of their time at school or university, there is a common perception that many former students will not engage much after they have walked across the stage at graduation. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Many alumni are willing to engage and want to hear from their former school, college or university but they aren’t opening the annual correspondence posted through their letterbox, and they don’t want to be asked for money if they haven’t heard from your institution in years.

Engaging and managing former students online not only gives you an instant and regular response, but you can use all the data gathered through these activities to power future fundraising campaigns.
Here are 8 ways to help schools develop relationships with past students online: 
1) Develop content around previous gatherings or reunions

Remind people of your upcoming events by posting a few snapshots and quotes from the previous event. This is especially effective for events like reunions where alumni may only meet each other once a decade!
2) Make it shareable

The more you can personalise your content, the higher the chance of it being shared more widely! Sharing photos with your posts is an ideal way to spark fond memories and increases the likelihood of your post being shared between old classmates.
3) Use surveys to find out what your alumni are up to

Surveys are a great way to engage your former students, and also help to inform your communication strategy, because you can tailor your content to their sector, interests and location.
4) Highlight alumni achievements

An effective way to get people to log into a school’s alumni website is to highlight an individual ex-student and their achievements, whether that is charity work or significant contributions to their field, through a news article or even a recorded interview. It is particularly effective to add in the year they graduated – ‘from the Class of 2020’ – to any promotion of the content, – those in the same year group will be interested to hear what their peers are up to!
5) Set up consent preference options

Set up different consent options for the different types of content you send to your alumni – for example, allow them to opt out of newsletters, but stay in touch to hear about event invitations. This way, you can avoid people opting out of your communications altogether, and you have a more engaged audience for the comms they want to receive.
6) Show them how their donation has had an impact

Particularly with those who have donated in the past but haven’t engaged for a while, show them what their previous donation has been spent on. Try to tailor this as much as possible to what you know your alumni are interested in: a sports scholar would be thrilled to hear about a new stadium, but an alumni working in the arts sector would be grateful to hear that the next generation will get significant funding for their arts curriculum.
7) Connect alumni to help further career prospects

Alumni will be much more engaged if they feel there is a chance they can benefit too, so connecting them with older alumni can open possibilities of jobs or mentoring will make them appreciate remaining in your alumni network and more likely to interact with future initiatives.
8) Encourage your alumni to generate content for you.

From photo competitions to guest writing an article for your website, alumni are normally honoured to be asked to get involved, and it can provide you with tonnes of brilliant content that will be shared twice – once to your network and once to theirs! How’s that for efficiency?
Kate Jillings is founder of community and fundraising software experts ToucanTech, which works with 200+ customers to organise all their development activity in a single system.