Alumni Engagement: It's not just for Universities Anymore, Part I

Posted on May 10, 2018 by Jon Dize - Funding the Mission

I recently updated my presentation on alumni engagement for our schools and thought I would share the information in a series of posts. With schools that have histories going back nearly 180 years, our Lutheran schools in NE Indiana should have strong, engaged alumni efforts.
However, alumni efforts are many times dismissed as a “college” thing. On the contrary, our research shows that, proportionally speaking, our K-8 and high schools have great potential for alumni engagement. Most people have a “Warm Fuzzy” with their favorite elementary or high school teacher (mine was Mrs. Schwartz). Unfortunately, K-12 programs generally haven’t stewarded those warm-fuzzy memories since graduation like universities have perfected over the years.“Why bother?” you may ask. We all know that alumni can be a great source of funding. Most school building campaigns can regale stories of the “mystery donor” or unknown estate gift that was discovered to come from some alumni that no one knew. Beyond raising money, please note, alumni can be some of the best candidates for leadership positions at the school, goodwill ambassadors to the public, student mentors, corporate internships, shadowing and other networking opportunities, and even parents and grandparents of prospective students. From a bigger-picture view, alumni also represent our past and should be the foundation of our schools’ future. Alumni are not only the graduates; they are the carriers of the vision. The power of the alumni pipeline has been said to continue to nurture individuals as they mature and navigate life stages. You want to ensure each student will reach their full potential. When that happens and alumni believe the school played a role in the their life, they will stay connected or eventually reconnect with the school.And of interest for the pastors associated with our schools, alumni can provide ministry information: are alumni of our school still active in our church? In other Lutheran churches? Are their own children in a Lutheran school? Do they still consider a quality, Lutheran education important?For these reasons and others, our schools cannot afford to lose touch with their graduates. However, many K-12 schools have a hard time engaging and keeping track of alumni. And because the “return on a school’s investment” in alumni takes time and effort, schools are less apt to make effective alumni relations a top priority. For those with alumni programs, many times the key volunteer that led the effort has left and now there is no real plan or strategy for what they want to achieve or how alumni efforts fit into strategic plans. I strongly believe that our K-12 schools could be just as successful engaging their alumni as colleges and universities have, and I suggest taking what high education does and scale it down for our K-12 needs. So strongly, in fact, this article is the first of four on alumni engagement. Next week we will define the term “alumni” and discuss common barriers that school leadership run up against that block their efforts. Then, Part III will address creating a plan of action, and Part IV will bring it all home in summaries and conclusions.It’s definitely not easy; it takes time, it takes a plan, it takes someone to own the process, and it takes a database to keep the data safe and manageable. But more on this later; the future YOU will be so thankful for your efforts now.P.S. “Schools with successful and long-term alumni programs raise larger gifts in proportion to the size of the enterprise than the leading colleges and universities.”—Handbook for Educational Fundraising Picture Source: Time-Life Archives on Google, “Quiz Kids Alumni Party”