Keeping in touch with your graduates is not easy these days. In the old days you sent a chatty snail mail letter to your graduates two or three times a year. It was full of news about marriages, grad school, jobs, and so on. Of course, it always had updates and information about goings on at school, sports results and a word from your favorite teachers. Those kind of newsletter mailings to alumni still go out. If you can afford them, your older graduates will most definitely appreciate them.
Printed mailings have been largely supplanted by interactive school web sites where graduates can log on and keep in touch with their classmates whenevr and wherever they choose.
Most alumni relations staff realize that their most recent classes don't stay in touch in the same ways their older graduates do. Snail mail and printed materials are fine for the class of '70 and earlier. Even Web portals may only be effective for the classes prior to '00. Our recent grads are a completely different beast.
The classes from 2001 onwards are the text, cellphone, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook crowd. They are all about social networking. Put a class reunion on YouTube and the response will be tremendous. When one of your alums creates a group on a social networking site, it will invariably draw other alums. They all love keeping in touch, but will invariably insist on doing so on their terms, electronically.
So, what is a harried alumni director supposed to do? You need to embrace all three forms of communication. In truth you actually have three quite different constituencies. Send out your quarterly snail mailings. Encourage interactivity and donations via your web site. Fan the flames of social networking. That's how you have to communicate these days.
A beautifully done newsletter is still effective if you can afford to have it professionally produced. The advantage any printed material has over electronic communications is that the printed newsletter can be left out on a table or counter. Some schools send out quarterly and annual publications. If you can afford them, print publications can provide a lasting record of your school, its activities and accomplishments.
Direct mail is something more established schools generally are set up to do successfully. Why? Because they understand the community to which they are sending mail. As well they have mailing lists which they have built up over the years. The trick with direct mail is to know what works and what doesn't. Perhaps your community enjoys receiving your direct mail once a semester, for example. Or you could time your direct mail campaign around a reunion weekend or some other time-honored tradition of your school.
There are plenty of resources online which can help you understand how direct mail campaigns work so that when you hire a marketing and/or fund-raising professional for your staff, at least you have an overview of what is involved. A professionally managed direct mail campaign should be part of every school's marketing strategy.
Most private schools have dynamic web sites. By dynamic I mean that they are constantly being updated and kept fresh and interesting. Your graduates will enjoy looking at the extensive photo galleries you have created on your site. "A picture is worth a thousand words." Make that a thousand dollars perhaps? After all, a flood of happy memories will encourage the graduate looking at photos of his old teachers and dorm to make a gift to the annual fund, or possibly even some other fund. Just be sure to put a call to action somewhere in those photo galleries. Something like "Donate to the Able House renovation project today. We need $55,000 more."
Remember that your school's web site is the electronic front door to your school. With that in mind make sure that it is easy to navigate and as attractive as it can be. A professional web designer will capture the essence of your school when she designs the graphics. Your marketing team must provide the copy for hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages on your web site. A really good web site is just as time-consuming to produce as a good novel. There are several excellent web design firms who have figured out how to design and implement superb web sites. Their services will not come cheap but will be worth every dollar.
Social networking is a very powerful tool in your communications kitbag. Learn all you can about how it works from others who have used it successfully. As with any other kind of communications consistency of message and frequency of publication (fresh postings) are the keys to success here.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr are effective ways of reaching your graduates. Each form of social media can be used for specific purposes.
Twitter is excellent for short bursts of information. For example, when you are at the big game with the school's long-standing rival, tweeting scores and great plays will draw in graduates who cannot atend. They will feel as though they are right there thanks to your tweets.
I follow hundreds of private schools on Facebook. Some of them post daily. Some write short blogs. Several always include a photo or two. But the most effective private school Facebook posts in my opinion are the posts which include a short video clip. That draws me in every time.
Those video clips I mentioned above will look great on your school's YouTube channel too. (Your school does have a YouTube channel, doesn't it?)
Pinterest and Tumblr are dynamic ways of creating photo galleries of people and events at your school.
I believe that every school's social media programs and postings should be handled by the marketing professionals. They know how to stay on message. They know how to present your school in the best possible light.
Whether it is a reunion back at school or a gathering of alumnae and alumni in a city where a lot of your graduates happen to live, graduate events are always worthwhile occasions. In many cases you will find that attendance is good when your staff takes the time to involve class representatives. Your graduates are more likely to respond positively to members of their own class. On the other hand the development office or alumni relations staff should handle all the events details. The venue? For a few people? A graduates home is appropriate. More than a few people? Probably best to book rooms at a club or hotel. You know what your graduates will enjoy. Respect those feelings.
Your graduates will expect to socialize. But they will also be thrilled to have a senior staff member such as the Dean of Students or Head of School attend. A short video presentation about the school and the current fund drive will also be expected.
There are many ways to keep in touch with your graduates. How you accomplish that depends a lot on where your graduates live and how you can interact with them most effectively. Make keeping in touch a regular thing which they will look forward to.
Questions? Please contact me via Twitter. @privateschl.