Engaging current students before they fly the nest is an effective alumni development strategy. “If we get things right before students leave, that will create a new wave of potential donors who are forever engaged with the school,” explains Brian Davies, Development Director at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School.
So how can schools capture the attention of their pupils — and potential future donors? Here are five successful tactics deployed by schools across the UK.
1. Get recent school-leavers back on campus
One common strategy is to invite recent school-leavers back to campus to share their advice with current students before they finish their exams. You could organise a special Assembly or lunch-time speaker event, which can double-up as an opportunity to get Year 13s signed-up to your alumni database. “Events like this will enable current students to reach out to alumni for advice about job opportunities, CVs, and perhaps even get some work experience,” Davies says. “If we can help our students get jobs now, they are going to want to give a bit back when they are in a position to do so.” However, he warns that students tend to engage better with those who are closer to them in age. “We have found that there is a cut-off point — the kids relate better to people under the age of 35-40,” Davies says.
2. Use career fairs to make yourself invaluable
Helping current students secure jobs or support them make decisions about university can make alumni and development directors invaluable. Bishop Vesey’s works with the local Chamber of Commerce in Birmingham and is running a jobs fair on April 1, 2017. This strategy engages both current students and alumni. “We want to create a system that self evolves,” says Davies. “If I can help students get work placements now, then in five years’ time, when they are working for a company, they can give back to the school by providing work experience opportunities for the next generation.”
3. Expose them to fundraising early on
By showing current students how donations contribute to improving their school from a young age, they will be more likely to donate later in their lives. “You should make them aware of what the development office does and why it exists,” says Joanna Hodnett, Alumni and Development Manager at Sidcot School. Current sixth form students at Sidcot can apply for the Travel Award, a £1,000 grant given to graduates to enable them to volunteer for charitable projects overseas. “It allows children to understand the meaning of giving,” says Hodnett. “And they will know that, by contributing a little every month when they leave school, they can make this award possible for the next generation.”
4. Give them memorabilia
One nice trick, says Tom Robertson, Head of Alumni Development at Alpha Plus Group, which runs several of the UK’s top fee-paying schools, is to ensure all the leaving year group get a copy of an alumni publication before they go. “It embeds that sense of membership of a wider community beyond the school gates,” he says. Another tactic that works well is presenting school-leavers with school attire, such as ties and blazers. “Before they go, we encourage them to wear their colours with pride,” says Robertson. “Presenting opportunities to wear the school colours will help them to revisit the school.” Other popular school merchandise to instil a sense of nostalgia with your leavers includes year-group t-shirts and hoodies, photo books, teddy mascots and even rubber bath ducks!
5. Don’t forget the parents
At prep schools and pre-prep schools, it is vital to also captivate the parents of the pupils, according to Robertson. “If you engage both the parents and the children, then the likelihood of the message getting through to the child at an alumni stage is much greater,” he says. “You must make sure parents know there is something after the school gates close.” Getting parents signed up to your alumni community can be just as important as engaging the students – so don’t forget about this group when you’re planning your end-of-year communications.
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