In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how to structure a class reunion. We also looked at several ideas for activities, fundraising, and planning. Here, we’ll look at other venues and opportunities for keeping in touch with alumni.
Alumni will become involved in a chapter because it meets some of their own needs, such as finding people with whom they share something in common for fostering friendships. They might also be looking for golden networking opportunities. Some will simply enjoy remembering their younger years.
A larger or older school might be able to arrange alumni chapters for all local graduates or for non-geographic segments. These might include students who studied counseling or education, former members of the student government, etc.
As their relationships grow closer to each other, they might also grow closer to your school. They might want to give of their time and talents in return.
Local Meetings: Bring Homecoming to Their Neighborhoods
Smaller and newer colleges are unlikely to be able to organize local chapters outside of the area where the school is located. However, special occasions will arise when it’s possible to gather local alumni in a distant city:
- When the president visits a town with a few alumni, arrange an alumni lunch.
- If a faculty member preaches in a church or a student singing group has a tour that stops in towns where alumni live, arrange an alumni reception.
- Whenever an alumnus becomes a pastor, arrange for the school to present an award to him during the Sunday morning service. Of course, this is good publicity for the school’s student recruitment effort, and be sure to set up a school information table in the lobby. It’s also an excellent opportunity to invite other alumni who live in the area.
At the installation of a pastor or other opportunities listed above, plan a meeting or reception for alumni afterwards as mentioned in Part 1.
The schedule of these events could be advertised in an alumni newsletter. Place a notice with the ad that you are looking for one or two volunteers in each area to bring alumni together once or twice per year. Recruit a local alumnus to call the other local alumni whenever there is a gathering.
Often, the simplest way to stay in touch with alumni is at an event hosted by an outside organization. This could be a denominational meeting or Sunday school curriculum convention. A seminary might rent a booth at such an event while the school might also host an alumni reception there. If a school has a strong vocational program (education, counseling, public administration), the school could rent a booth, offer an alumni reception, or provide speakers at professional, vocational organization meetings, and conferences.
Many of your alumni already have a budget for leisure-time travel. Might a vacation taken with fellow graduates, not to mention fellow Christians, be an attractive option? Popular faculty, emeritus faculty, and administrators who attend such trips can be an additional draw.
The most likely alumni to participate in school-sponsored travel programs are between the ages of forty-five and seventy (especially if the children have already left home). They have the disposable income and schedule flexibility.
School-sponsored travel can be priced to generate revenue, yet still be cheaper than individual travel. Perhaps travel agents and tour companies will give your school a commission of 5% or 7% on the price of the tour. They might also give the school a certain number of free spaces depending on how many reservations are submitted.
A large school with years of experience might generate significant revenue, but lower expectations are more appropriate for small schools. You might choose not to make money on the trip because more important than making money is the opportunity to deepen relationships.
Below are three travel options: mission trips, educational tours, vacations and cruises. For each, consider offering both inexpensive and more expensive packages.
As an educational institution, you are rich with resources for offering educational tours where both alumni and students travel together (for all the reasons mentioned above). For example,
- Biblical studies professors can assist with tours to Israel, Turkey, and Greece.
- Church history professors can assist with tours of churches and locations that played a role in the reformation.
- Missions professors can lead mission trips.
Any of these trips can be offered for credit (perhaps require students to do assigned reading before the trip, keep a journal during the trip, and write a reflection paper after the trip).
Be sure that your students and alumni know that extended family are welcome.
If your school already organizes mission trips for students, a natural next step is to invite alumni. This gives alumni a chance to bond with current students and to use their own gifts and talents for the Lord in a unique setting.
Older alumni and younger students have much to offer each other on a trip. Alumni have the experience and maturity to help guide and informally mentor students. So, encourage alumni to see themselves as mentors. Possibly have alumni gather around students to lay hands on and pray for them.
In the process, the alumni will become more interested in how the students grow beyond their prayers. The students also have something valuable to give the alumni. Sometimes younger and less experienced students have more zeal than wisdom and experience … but their zeal can be wonderfully contagious.
Finally, traveling with students prepares alumni to consider making donations to support the training of idealistic and zealous future leaders. It also gives students an opportunity to see that alumni sometimes stay connected to the school (and stay in ministry even while working in a secular profession).
Vacations & Cruises
Vacations and cruises can be arranged by partnering with professional tour operators and/or local tour guides. The pros manage behind-the-scenes logistics, including sending someone to count baggage and take care of glitches or emergencies. Your own staff or volunteers serve in a more public role as hosts. They will welcome travelers at the first gathering, be available for their questions and needs, and socialize with them. Your own faculty—say, professors of history, Bible, or literature might assist with giving guided tours and giving lectures.
Select a tour operator who understands the values of your school (e.g. understands Evangelicals, does not plan a meal at a smoke-filled bar and grill, etc.). Ask for references so you can be assured that he or she has experience in marketing and running tours and/or mission trips for nonprofit organizations.
The operator will help you market the trip, but do not hand over your list of travelers. If you must print mailing labels for the operator, have him or her promise in writing not to make other use of the names. Even better is to let your own people label the mail. Have checks made out to and sent to the school (instead of the tour operator) in order to build ties with the school.
Make sure your school has a liability policy or verify which supplemental insurance should be obtained.
Will you call a “friend” who only contacts you when he or she wants something?
You won’t. In the same way, avoid contacting alumni only when you want their help. Impersonal contacts, such as mass e-mails and newsletters can start the relationship—but it’s only a start. By enlisting help from faculty, board members, administrators, students, volunteers, and other alumni, each alumnus can receive a personalized contact every year.
Below are some ways to build relationships through personal contacts:
- The school could help alumni (and current students) feel connected by printing
“I prayed for you today” note cards. If the cards are small, it will only take a moment to write what they prayed about, their position (board member, administrator, faculty member), and sign it. These cards could be quickly completed (along with a short time of silent prayer) at the end of each faculty or board meeting.
- When talking to alumni on the phone, pray with them about their current needs. If the alumnus isn’t home, you can help make sure she will hear about the call and have a warm feeling toward the school by sincerely asking the person on the phone, “Since (your wife, daughter, friend) is out, why don’t you and I pray for her right now? What would she want us to pray about?”
- Sending birthday cards are also a nice personal touch.
In Part 3 of this series, I discuss several ways to serve your alumni when you meet and throughout the year. For all of this content and more, consider purchasing the booklet, “How to Cultivate Alumni Associations That Are Useful to Small Christian Colleges.”