Last weekI outlined my reasons for our area Lutheran schools to initiate or resurrect an alumni engagement plan. This week, I will define just what an alumni is and some common barriers to starting a program or continuing past efforts.
First, Let’s define who our alumni are. Please consider the following four major constituency areas: 8th Grade and 12th Grade Graduates (Elementary/Middle and High Schools, respectively.) “Almost Graduates”; those students that either moved or switched schools before they graduated. Again, many times it was a very important teacher that imprinted a life-long love of the school. (St. Paul’s Lutheran in Fort Wayne had a “mystery donor” to a previous building campaign from an alumnus who only attended St. Paul’s for a year or two.) Public School Confirmands; while not in the school 5 days a week, they were most likely friends with alumni and they went through the years of confirmation class with your associated church’s pastor. Finally, the “& Friends” as in “Alumni & Friends”: parents, grandparents, neighbors, etc. that have the hindsight to see the long-term benefit of your school. They may not have had a direct benefit from the school, but they have seen the direct benefits for the students.Now that we have identified who we are focused on, let’s identify the following common barriers to starting or continuing an alumni effort: It takes specific skills, time, and money to engage alumni. Many schools do not even have fundraising plans, so forget having a staff member who can focus on alumni. Alumni engagement is not a quick route to successful fundraising. It will take decades before your alumni will be in a position to give back, so your investment may not bear fruit until many years down the road. However, if your school has been around for 30 years or more, there are alumni out there now who will want to be engaged with you. Where can schools find names and addresses of alumni if no one has been building a fundraising database with contact information? Database? What’s a database, how much does it cost, and who is going to manage it?! And once you have names, the US Post Office says 25% of America moves every year. How can a local school stay in touch with alumni? Finally, there is a natural turnover of teachers as they change schools and retire; why would alumni with the warm-fuzzies want to keep a connection to the school?Enough about the reasons not to do it; look for Part III next week as we provide the building blocks to create a plan of action and ways to break down this list of barriers.P.S. Did we miss a barrier to starting an alumni program that you have heard at your school? Let us know at 260-203-4510 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Picture Source: Time-Life Archives on Google, “Quiz Kids Alumni Party”