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News > Building a community > Kai Vacher, Principal of British School Muscat – how to keep your alumni base engaged

Kai Vacher, Principal of British School Muscat – how to keep your alumni base engaged

It’s a question on the minds of many school administrators: how do you
maintain a connection with pupils as the go onto sixth form, university,
employment and beyond? Alumni can be a superb source of support, financial
and otherwise, but what are the most effective methods for keeping an alumni
base engaged?

A man who knows all about this challenge is Kai Vacher, principal of British
School Muscat, a British international school in Oman. In this interview, he
explains his school’s big plans for fundraising and development, and the
challenges and successes he has had so far on that front.

How big is your alumni base and where are they around the world? 

Our existing school is 40 percent British. The other 60 percent comes from 70
countries around the world. About 65 percent of our students overall go to
university in the UK and another 15-20 percent go to North America. For a lot
of our international students who are not British, that’s the attraction — our
school acts as a gateway to a strong university in the UK. The rest go either to
Western Europe, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland or Germany, and also
to Southeast Asia.

How many of them are you in touch with?

We do keep in touch with them via Facebook, with over 5,000 followers on our
page, not all alumni, but a number of them do engage and keep up with the
school. But we want to make that more formal. We don’t track alumni as much
as we could, but we just expanded our marketing team. One reason is so we
have more capacity to track, support and engage with our alumni.

What have been your most effective methods for keeping in touch
with alumni? 

Everybody feels an emotional attachment to the school because of the
experience they have had, the friends they make, connections with staff, and
the powerful learning experience. You might leave BSM, but BSM never leaves
you. If that experience is positive, then you’re straight away onto a much
firmer basis for keeping the alumni engaged. If you get that right, they will
want to engage with the school.

Do past pupils ever come back to visit via reunions or other events?

At the end of term one, just before the festive break we have a “Stars in their
Eyes” competition for the whole school. Students and staff take on a persona
of a band or performer, often with live music in front of the whole school,
1,250 students. Just as in the TV programme, the kids vote for their favourite
one. One lovely aspect is: it has become quite a tradition now that former
students come back in quite large numbers; those whose families are still in

Muscat, and others make an effort to come back for that morning. It’s a focal
point for them to come back and see each other and still be part of the school.
We get about 40 or 50 BSM alumni who come back to that event.
Building on the “Stars in their Eyes” event, we have now the annual
“Ali Al-Habsi Cup”, a football tournament; alumni versus parents versus staff
versus sixth form students, named after the only Omani to play in the English
Premier League.

Also, once a year at least, we arrange a meet-up in London, in a pub, with
about 60-70 alumni who come for a bit of beer and sandwiches.

Have you ever asked for support from alumni, for careers or
fundraising initiatives? 

We haven’t translated that emotional attachment and loyalty into donations.
But that’s something we could explore as we develop our alumni, as a
substantial number of students feel the emotional attachment. We know a lot
of the students, it’s a very close-knit community. What you really want to
know as a teacher is: how has their experience at school prepared them for a
fulfilling life? How do we know we are doing a good job as a school? That
insight and feedback is something we are starting to tap into.

I remember talking to alumni who spoke about the difficulty of coming to an
international school from a very different educational system. They felt there
was an assumption you got on with life, even though there are substantial gaps
in your learning, maybe. Especially in a subject like maths, they felt that 8-9
years ago, we weren’t paying enough attention to those gaps in the learning
some students arrive with. That made us think carefully about students joining
at GCSE and A-level: do they need individual tuition, or a couple of weeks to
get back up to speed? And to think of each student as an individual, and
personalise their transition into BSM.

We are thinking about how to capitalise even more on that connection with
our alumni. But you have to be careful asking people for money; don’t jump in
cold. You want to have that emotional attachment, you want them to almost
say: ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’.

We had a student this year who left school and went off to university in
Aberdeen, and she sent in to the head of drama a song she wrote, inspired by
Alice in Wonderland — a play the school was putting on. She spent hours
writing it. She is influencing the school production from 4,000 miles away in
Scotland.

Do you have any projects coming up that you could use the alumni
community’s help with?

We’ve got a master plan of three phases to improve and create facilities at the
school. We did phase one — sports facilities and a new sixth form centre
and new science lab, 12 new classrooms. We are planning phase two, which
will start in summer of 2021, which will be a performing arts centre and
facilities for the whole school. Phase three is refurbishment of some primary
school buildings.

What challenges have you faced in developing your alumni
network?

The biggest challenge is that most alumni go into university and employment
outside Oman. So how do we keep that emotional attachment to the school
when they are thousands of miles away from the school? But social media can
help navigate that challenge.

And also, we have 20 percent turnover a year of students, that’s over 200
students leaving every year. That’s typical in an international school. But
tracking that volume of alumni is quite a challenge, but also an opportunity, as
our alumni base is growing by 200 students a year. So it’s potentially a big
pool of people. If you get the relationship right, you have a huge alumni base.
Over the last three years, we’ve employed four former BSM students at the
school, which speaks to the value of the network.

 

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ToucanTech is a community database software specifically created to support alumni, development and fundraising teams in schools and universities. ToucanTech’s flexible solution gives you the power to manage all alumni, fundraising and careers activities in one place.

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