PMA Consulting, LLC

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Fundraising From Unengaged Alumni is Fruitless (PART 1)

Alumni relations professionals must create strategic programming if they hope to have a successful fundraising future. Engagement is the critical and necessary first step to building your foundation. Unengaged alumni will not give, and if they do give, they are unlikely to become regular donors. In this post, we will give you an oversight into best practices for developing a successful alumni program.

Independent schools are lucky in that they have a built-in prospect base – their alumni! Why then, according to a report by NAIS, does the Empty-Bowlaverage giving rate for independent school alumni hover around 10%? PMA believes it is a direct result of failing to build lasting relations with alumni.

In a two part series, PMA will recommend five programmatic steps to ensure your work will result in increased annual giving. This post will highlight the first three steps.

1. Know your audience

Where are the school’s alumni? Are the majority of them based locally, or have they dispersed to large cities?  Is valid contact information available?  What extracurricular activities were alumni involved in while students? Current employment? Family? While basic at first glance, these important questions are often unknown, but are necessary. Connecting with alumni is the main focus, but fresh and accurate data is crucial.

2. Create a diverse communication plan

Quite often alumni relations professionals hear ‘All I ever get from my school is a solicitation.’  Avoid negative comments by ensuring alumni receive informative non-solicitation communication.  Communication should be consistent and frequent. Other non-profits are competing for the same dollars, and if their message is heard clearly, the dollars will follow.

  • Social Media: Having a presence on social media is one of the most important types of communication with alumni.  Dedicate time each day to update, share news articles featuring alumni, create events and post photographs!  Endorsements, follows and likes result in subtly connected alumni who will in turn be more likely to give.
  • E-newsletter: Be cautious with content. Alumni will not thoroughly read a dense, wordy story. Save those for the alumni magazine and instead choose short blurbs on current topics. Intersperse photographs and personal quotes to lighten up what could otherwise be ‘just another email’.
  • Classmate-led communication: By creating a class volunteer program, allow another voice to be heard.  Class agents can connect classmates and offer personal insight into class dynamics.
  • Paper invitations: Given the influx of email communication, a paper invitation stands out and should successfully set the stage for signature events. While expensive, we think paper invitations are worth the money.

3. Get on the road

Having done the work of gathering data and communicating with alumni, now it is time to get to know them on a personal level.  Even local alumni appreciate the connection of an in-person visit.  Relationships should take time to build and will evolve with each conversation –  someone who might initially appear to be a basic volunteer could end up a future board chair, so get out there!

The last two steps will be highlighted in the next post coming in October!