Today’s young alumni are tomorrow’s major gifts and legacy donors. Having an effective plan for engaging your young alumni is the key to growing the alumni base that will support your institution in the years to come. Many believe that an effective alumni program needs to involve your students before graduation to sustain engagement during the student-to-alumni transition and increase participation as young alumni. This process begins with education while tomorrow’s alumni are still students. Here are three practices you can employ to educate today’s students so you can increase young alumni engagement tomorrow.
Instilling a Sense of Culture: From History & Traditions to Today’ Contributions
If you haven’t seen the recent viral video of Nick Shelby’s speech for Georgia Tech’s Freshman Convocation, watch it here. One of the great things about this speech, and part of the reason it resonates with so many people, is his statement on not just “standing on the shoulders of giants” who came before (Georgia Tech’s historic alumni), but “crushing those shoulders” by which he means rising to and exceeding the standards set by previous alumni. This is an attitude that all institutions can instill in their students – the desire to set one’s own path and reach significant accomplishments. However, before your students can know where they are going, they have to know where they came from. Whether your institution is a centuries old Ivy League or a recent star-tup, campus culture is a big part of your institution’s identity. Educating students on their role in that history and the traditions of your institution is a major step towards creating the sense of community necessary for long-term commitment. For older institutions, that education would be largely celebrating past alumni and their contributions to the world. For newer institutions, that may not have an historic alumni base, the process would be encouraging students to define what role they want to play in the future as alumni – what contributions they feel they should make. For any institution, this process would start with instilling a sense of time and place, where students feel they are a part of a culture greater than themselves and then encouraging and enabling students to take ownership of that culture by creating their own experiences contributing to the ongoing history of the institution. This process creates a lifelong connection between the student and school.
Generate Awareness About the Importance of Alumni Support
Wouldn’t it be great if you could take alumni 10-15 years removed from graduation that have not been involved with your campus since getting their diploma and show them the significance of contributions from their one-time peers? This is precisely the opportunity you have when tomorrow’s alumni are still students on your campus. The contributions of your donating alumni are all around your campus. Immerse your current students in those contributions. Show them how support from alumni has directly impacted the education they are currently receiving. A good method for doing this would be to connect current students with alumni, allowing them to work together on community events. You can recruit student volunteers to work directly with alumni during homecoming and reunion events. You can get students involved with alumni fundraisers. When planning your senior gift program, connect it to senior gifts from alumni who are still contributing to the campus. Instilling awareness of the importance of alumni giving will go a long way in getting and keeping your young alumni engaged with your institution.
Obligation to Pay It Forward
If you succeed in steps 1 and 2, you can take things one step further and instill in your matriculating students an obligation to pay it forward. Just as they were beneficiaries of the unique educational and cultural experiences your institution provided, they can become the benefactors for tomorrow’s students. If you encourage students to become immersed in the campus culture, connect them to alumni and alumni contributions, then as alumni themselves, they will see how much different their college experience would have been without those contributions. This sense of obligation may not yield financial results right away. Recent graduates need to develop their careers, some will be starting families, and in general their lives will be in flux. However, as long as that connection to the institution and sense of obligation is present, you can keep students engaged as participants. Don’t ask for a gift or donation right away, but keep them engaged and when they are in a position to make a donation, you might never have to ask for it in the first place.
Having a strong alumni base is a vital part of any college or university’s past, present and future. This goes far beyond the financial contributions of alumni (though of course financial contributions are very important), to the growth of an institution’s cultural identity. Your alumni carry with them the history, integrity and reputation of your college. Engaging them early and keeping them engaged is the key to maintaining and growing your institution’s ability to educate, influence and create.
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