Utilising Alumni to Develop a Strong and Enduring Institution

If you’re lucky enough to grow up in a developed country, formal education is a defining experience in the passage from childhood into adulthood. The highs and lows, challenges and accomplishments of school build character, define a path forward and grow invaluable skills to make one’s way in the world.

As a result, most graduates feel a distinct connection to their alma mater. The experience – composed of peers, teachers, a campus, memories, hard work, personal growth and play – has substantial impact. A sustainable, forward thinking school utilises this impact to retain strong alumni relationships.

Such structure connects alumni with current students for mentoring, internships and collaboration, former parents with current parents, alumni with the institution, etc. These types of connections are even more powerful in international schools where access to opportunity and networks are critical factors for success. When such relationships are nurtured to bring the real-world experience to schools, students and alumni, an organic and self-sustaining feedback mechanism guarantees vigor to both alumni and institution.

“To remain relevant in an ever changing and competitive world, schools must create an engaging, simple feedback loop from alumni to the institution.”

From these relationships, a natural platform for philanthropy is born. When alumni (and their parents) appreciate what the institution has provided and consequently feel an attachment and loyalty to the institution’s brand, they become receptive to the institution’s needs.

Philanthropic culture is developed over time and through intentional relationship building; this culture is specific to the individual characteristics of the institution as informed by engagement with, and feedback from, its alumni and parents. Importantly, it is the responsibility of the institution to lay the foundation for a meaningful relationship between graduate and school.

“Once your diploma (or your child’s) bears the name of an institution, there is an instant obligation to care about its brand value.”

During my tenure at Wake Forest University, working as a Development Analyst in the University’s development department, I learnt three key behaviours that ensure a successful alumni relations strategy:

What can your school do now to impact improved alumni relations, paving the way for an engaged and thereby philanthropic alumni population?

  • Provide Constantly Superior Customer Service

At every contact point – phone, electronic, in-person – relationships are harmed or helped. Make every contact point with students, alumni, parents and vendors a positive experience. Expect staff and faculty to offer sunny attitudes, professionalism and an inclination to help at each interaction. Excellent customer service also means considering the needs and preferences of a diverse and potentially international population.

  • Be the Connection Alumni Parents Seek

Look for opportunities to connect alumni, students and parents in ways that are meaningful to them. This may be intentional career day pairings, providing ways for parents to socialize and educating prospective families about the benefits offered to the institution’s alumni. Internal, technological infrastructure for such information sharing facilitates these connections with minimal staff management.

  • Make Information Gathering Easy

In today’s fast paced, technologically driven world, user experience expectations are high. Is your phone system easy to use? Does it easily allow for direct connection to a friendly, knowledgeable operator? Are all resources, forms and particulars clear and easy to find on the institution’s website? This is particularly relevant for international schools which may be providing information to families in different countries and in different time zones.

Philanthropic behaviour cannot be switched on; rather, it is the consequence of meaningful and intentional relationship building. Energy invested to build such relationships today lays the foundation for philanthropic rewards for years to come. Such relationships begin with enrolment, are nurtured during matriculation and ultimately, benefit the school’s overall wellbeing.

Crissey Hewitt, Development Analyst in Educational Philanthropy