At small Christian colleges, we are not simply providing a few years of education. We are beginning a lifelong relationship with our students so that when they graduate, we will continue to make our alumni more effective in their careers and ministries.
Alumni will appreciate your continuing interest in their success. Some of them will respond by wanting to make the ministry of your school more effective and successful through giving their time, talents, and treasure.
Alumni who are satisfied customers are often your school’s most enthusiastic supporters and qualified attracters of new students.
That’s why it’s a tragedy that so many small Christian colleges and their alumni have not reaped the harvest of blessings that a well-designed alumni association offers.
This article begins a series of practical ways to structure and operate an alumni association that blesses both your school and your alumni.
We start with building lifelong relationships, specifically at a class reunion.
Building Relationships at a Class Reunion
Large gatherings are becoming more common as we continue moving through 2022. Many of your alumni may be eager to escape the confines of the pandemic and renew old friendships, relive their youth, and perhaps show a favorite professor that they have become successful by implementing what the professor taught them. Class reunions offer that opportunity while also giving the school a chance to nurture support from alumni.
In this post, we’ll look at specific steps and resources for hosting a successful class reunion from the pre-event mixer to the post-event meeting and beyond.
1: Class Reunion Reception or Mixer
A successful class reunion begins with a pre-event reception or mixer. Prepare your professors to be just as eager to speak to their former students about their time on campus as the alumni are to speak to them about it. Prepare them to also be ready to speak to alumni about the school’s past, present and future.
While mingling, the president will also listen attentively to alumni. He or she might run across an alumnus who expresses interest in being a supporter. The president will want to be prepared with a folder in hand describing special projects that an alumnus might want to fund—perhaps $1,000 scholarships for children of pastors, a $2,500 collection of books on evangelizing Muslims, $18,500 to upgrade a computer lab, a $650,000 naming opportunity to endow a chair of biblical studies.
Events like reunions also offer the opportunity for local businesses, especially alumni business owners to build networking relationships that might benefit graduates in their new season of life, such as financial planning, insurance, or real estate. Any advertising or vendor booths will, of course, help to fund the event.
2. The Class Reunion Main Event: Relationship-Building Activities
The main event of the class reunion provides a space to create a myriad of memorable moments that will continue filling the need to renew old friendships and make new ones. Here are a handful of ideas for building relationships at in-person and virtual class reunions:
In-Person Class Reunions
- Tablecloth dinner: Include “where are they now” slides of former class officers, distinguished alumni, and faculty. Have both students and alumni give testimonies of what God has done in their lives through the school. Give out several awards to distinguished alumni. Some awards could be voted on by alumni before they arrive, which gives alumni more motivation to attend.
- Faculty/alumni reception: Be sure to invite popular retired faculty.
- Silent auction: Ask businesses to donate. This, in turn, allows them to publicize that they are “friends of the school.”
- A post-pandemic parade—class by class with marching music, banners, and signs about what was happening when they graduated. For example:
- Class of ’84 votes for Reagan.”
- “Class of ’99 on New Campus.”
- Wave the peace symbol for the class of 1967.
- For the class of 2018, highlight the mission trip to the Philippines.
In-Person and/or Virtual Class Reunions
- Student contests where alumni serve as judges.
- Alumni contests, such as a book donation contest. Ask each alumni group to bring (or mail) a new or used book to donate to the library (list the topics you desire). You might want to set up a gift registry for this. Then give prizes to classes or groups for
- the tallest stack of books
- most valuable ten books
- most valuable total donation
- the thickest book
- Brief faculty lectures or faculty-moderated panels of alumni, who are now experienced professionals worthy of being interviewed.
- A show: Host a drama, art show, photographic exhibit, concert, special speaker, worship leader, etc.
- A VIP meeting/reception for major alumni donors and major alumni donor prospects. At the meeting, the board of directors or the alumni board invites a respected school leader, such as your school’s president, chairman of the board, chairman of the alumni association, a distinguished alumnus. The respected leader would explain something like this:
“What are we accomplishing together? Paul Kim’s donation of an endowed missionary in residence program has enabled us to develop a missions’ fellowship and a 20% increase in mission majors. Sarah Smith’s donation of $___ enabled us to _____. Would you like to discuss changing the world by making a large donation that would change this campus?”
3. The Post-Reunion Meeting
After the reunion or any special gathering of alumni, always hold a meeting that includes news about the school or faculty or alumni, “then and now” pictures, video greetings to specific pre-registered attendees by their old professors, and visioning exercises—for example, “What would you like the school to look like in five years?”
To focus alumni on a vision for the school, discuss the mission, history, and present state of the school. Before announcing future goals, ask them to join in prayer for the school’s future. Then ask them to suggest what they think God might want to do at the school in the next five years if they become involved. Assure them that their ideas will be taken back to campus. Then present the current goals already planned for the next few years. Maybe they’ll feel that God wants those goals achieved; maybe they’ll want to help.
Suggest further opportunities to participate in the life of the school. Be sure to give plenty of information on how the alumni office can serve them with career services, business networking, local school clubs, etc.
Who Should You Invite to the Class Reunion?
Families of Alumni: Alumni often have families. Rather than taking the alumni away from their families, design the type of family-friendly events that make alumni want to bring their families. Include special family-member activities (such as a mother-daughter tea, a father-son squirt gun duel) and family-friendly activities (a family time with bouncers, games, face painting, pony rides). Supervised children’s activities are helpful, so have current students provide “babysitting” by planning a vacation-bible-school-type of meeting, (Be sure there is more than one babysitter per group and have completed background checks. Allow no opportunity for a babysitter to be alone with a child.)
Select Groups of Alumni: You may want to plan some activities that involve only alumni serving in a specific region of the country, members of the same denomination, graduates of particular programs, or who are associate pastors or educators.
You may decide to have one big reunion every year, depending on space and resources. Or you might want to give more individual attention to a smaller group of attendees. Perhaps one year you will promote a homecoming for alumni from the 90s. The next year you might promote a class reunion for those who graduated in the 80s. You might have a reunion for everyone, but especially market the reunion to those who graduated five or ten years earlier.
Depending on your goals for the event, you might want to increase attendance rather than limit it to specialized groups. School anniversaries, building dedications, retirements, or inaugurations are ideally suited to inviting a large amount of people.
Will You Have a Class Reunion Yearbook?
If so, here are some ideas for making a reunion yearbook a benefit to all:
- Conduct an alumni survey ahead of time, which also serves as good publicity for the event. The results of the survey can be published in the reunion yearbook.
- Publish current occupations with social media links. Solicit modern pictures to put next to old class pictures.
- Arrange sponsorships, especially from alumni who want to build business relationships with fellow alumni. Offer them portions of pages for a fee where they can write messages, put in additional photographs, etc.
- Let Journalism and English majors develop the yearbook as an assignment or as a group “independent study” project.
You’re probably wondering about now . . .
Who Is Going to Do All the Work?
The Alumni Relations Officer: Your Key to a Successful Reunion
Planning and executing a reunion or homecoming is as much work as you would expect.
Expecting one overworked development officer to assume all responsibilities is a likely way to fail—and some small, developing schools do not even have one development officer.
The thread that will hold everything and everyone together is your alumni relations officer, who partners with the alumni volunteers. The more people who volunteer, the more people will attend. Volunteers will get their old friends to come. The attendance might be between three and five times the number of people who volunteer.
However, your volunteers may not have a clue how to proceed.
Volunteers need training and some experience with reunions. Ask them to attend the reunion that takes place a year before their own. They should even take minor roles on various committees of the previous year’s class. This gives them a chance to observe, evaluate, and start thinking.
After a few years of planning reunions, the alumni relations officer should be able to write and continue updating a class reunion handbook that makes each successive reunion easier to plan and more beneficial for all.
The current student government is a vital resource. Consider recruiting them as volunteers. Ask them to assist the student government from five or ten years ago in the planning and executing of their reunion. Perhaps the job description of student officers should even include assisting in a class reunion while they serve (and planning a class reunion after they graduate).
Perhaps the current student government could conceive a project on how they can serve the returning alumni. The returning alumni might also conceive a project on how they can serve the current students. The interaction between students and alumni builds connections between the alumni and the school, as well as helps encourage students to stay connected after graduating.
Finally, the current student government could be required to outline a preliminary plan for their five-year reunion, which the alumni office files until needed.
Promote Lifelong Connections
Make the most of the time alumni spend on your campus. During your events and activities, suggest to alumni further opportunities to participate in the life of the school (mentoring a student, serve on a faculty prayer team, call prospective students).
Be sure to also give plenty of information on how the alumni office can serve them with career services, business networking, local school clubs, etc.
As you now realize, organizing a reunion is an intensive process, but one that can reap a harvest of blessings for everyone. And anything worth doing is worth doing well.
You are invited to join me in discussing this topic further in our June workshop “How to Develop Useful Alumni Associations at Christian Colleges.”