Independent schools face a unique set of challenges when it comes to young alumni engagement.
For one, their alumni graduate four years younger than their post-secondary counterparts'. It takes another four years for independent school graduates to begin giving in an adult capacity.
It is the task of these schools' alumni relations offices to keep alumni engaged in the interim.
We asked Phillips Exeter Academy's Assistant Director of Student and Young Alumni Programs Michelle Curtin to discuss Exeter's strategy for keeping young alumni engaged.
Could you describe Exeter's young alumni engagement strategy?
When it comes to engaging young alumni, our strategy is to start the engagement process before they leave campus.
Over the past several years, we have started to focus on building a student engagement program that dovetails with our young alumni program.
Our hope is to connect with students and educate them on what it means to be an alum, the benefits of staying connected and the impact of philanthropy. Our goal is to engage, excite and educate students about becoming alumni before they actually become alumni.
Some of our programs include, an annual alumni/senior dinner, an annual “Thank A Donor Day,” mailing the alumni magazine to seniors starting in the fall of their senior year, alumni induction ceremony, and an alumni online directory registration event each spring.
In addition, members of the institutional advancement office advise a student club dedicated to raising awareness about the impact of donor support and thanking alumni, parents, and friends who support Exeter’s annual fund.
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES FACE CHALLENGES ENOUGH TRYING TO KEEP YOUNG ALUMNI ENGAGED. INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS' GRADUATES ARE EVEN YOUNGER. HOW DOES EXETER OVERCOME THIS CHALLENGE?
I’m not going to say that we are beyond the challenges that many of our peer schools face. We do encounter the same challenges of keeping alumni connected and engaged throughout their college years; however, because we start the engagement process early (before they leave campus), we have seen an increase in our ability to connect with and maintain engagement with young alumni after they graduate.
Every alumni office excels at something. What does your team do best? How do you use this to your advantage?
At Exeter we strive to make it easy for alumni to be engaged.
We help organize and execute a lot of regional events world-wide. These events range from annual receptions with the principal and other faculty members to casual happy hours or baseball games with local alumni and just about anything in between. Our goal is to keep alumni connected to each other and to the academy so we strive to bring Exeter to our alumni when and where we can.
We also have a strong social media presence and our communications team works hard to put out newsletter every month in addition to our alumni magazine that is mailed quarterly. We try to have a lot of opportunities for alumni to stay connected with Exeter regardless of if they can attend or help organize an event in their area.
If you could impart one piece of wisdom to someone devising a new young alumni engagement strategy, what would it be?
Start small and start simple.
Find a way to connect with students before they become alumni. Focus on the 3 E's: engaging, exciting, and educating. At Exeter we have found success in educating students about philanthropy through stewardship and donor relations. Our message to students is always, “let’s thank those who make all this possible” rather than, “let us tell you about why we ask alumni for money.”
If you can steer the conversation towards how it impacts them as students and the experiences they are having now, you have a better shot at getting their attention and at helping them understand the impact of philanthropy and its value to the educational experience they are receiving. The focus should be on building a foundation of engagement for the future.