For international schools, the usual challenges of staying connected with graduates are often multiplied. With far-flung constituents, a sometimes high staff turnover and subsequent loss of institutional memory—not to mention limited budgets for expensive events overseas—schools may suffer when fewer alumni feel engaged, and therefore less likely to donate or serve in leadership roles.
Apart from this, most expatriate families that form a large part of constituents at international schools are only enrolled for a two to three-year average. Cultivating the alumni spirit is an exceptional challenge in this regard.
And, while nearly all international schools have a social media presence for alumni—a practice that makes sense given that 70%+ of Facebook users are outside the U.S.— there are many more ways to reach graduates online and in person.
After reviewing the alumni relations strategies from several stand-out schools from our more than 200 international school clients, we can share some inspiration for overcoming common challenges that international schools face when trying to connect with alumni bases large and small.
Challenge #1: It's too expensive to travel around the world, and we don't have the staff anyway.
You already have more resources at your fingertips than you think!
Solution: Extend your reach with alumni representatives.
One benefit to the transient nature of international school alumni is the fact that your school probably has a graduate in one of the world's major cities-greatly expanding opportunities for you to reach other alums and prospective families at a low cost.
United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam, has a well-organized alumni relations program that keeps its hundreds of alumni in touch online and via international events, an alumni mentor program, and nine upcoming regional reunions in locations from Melbourne to London.
Their new alumni representative program assists the school's alumni office by helping to gather class notes, plan events and update information, allowing the school's small staff to stay connected with their community from afar.
For Singapore American School, the benefits of a sixty-year-long history and large enrollment mean that thousands of graduates are spread around the world.
The school gives alumni a chance to get involved from afar as hosts of mini-reunions, where the graduate is responsible for planning the informal event and the SAS team provides contact lists and helps to promote the event on social media and their website.
10 Strategies for Engaging Donors Whitepaper
Challenge #2: Only Talking to Alumni Twice a Year for Reunions or Annual Fund
We know that in order to keep your community engaged, you need to always be communicating with them. There are plenty of easy ways to do so thanks to the Internet.
Solution: Offer Valuable-and Fun-Opportunities to Connect Year-Round
Outside of reunions or annual appeals, offering alums opportunities to volunteer together, network at a career event or online community, attend an event with a speaker or performance, take a private tour of a museum or go to a sporting event as a group can reap big rewards and boosts the value of being part of the alumni community.
Here are a few ideas to inspire your school's efforts:
Lincoln Community School in Ghana has a unique career networking site through a third-party vendor—Lincoln Alumni Connect. This online network lets alums reconnect with their fellow graduates, expand their professional networks, and serves as a place where alumni can be a mentor to recent graduates.
Singapore American School's New York panel discussion has the dual benefits of being a great networking opportunity while exploring how both SAS and Singapore shaped graduates' lives—offering the information on what alumni value.
Recurring events like TASIS-England's London Pub Nights mean that travelling alumni might have the chance to drop by and reconnect with other classmates or faculty if they are visiting town, and at a low cost to the school.
Hosting an annual alumni trip, like Frankfurt International School's enviable Austria ski package trip, is a fun way to bring alumni families together for a vacation while keeping them engaged with the school.
American School in London connects alumni with volunteer opportunities at community-based partners in and around the city, giving graduates the chance to give back to the community and gain valuable volunteer experience.
Challenge #3 Keeping Alumni on Your Site and Up-to-Date
While we know that Facebook and LinkedIn are great places to share event photos or encourage career networking, they aren't the best spot for graduates to request transcripts, update their information or ask specific questions.
Solution: Use Portals to Keep Graduates Connected (and Your Office Organized)
Private, password-protected Alumni Portals. From posting biographical information to the Alumni Directory to sharing yearbook archives or giving students the opportunity to request a copy of their diploma or class rings, portals have the added benefit of saving your office time by answering FAQs in one place, and provide a central spot for alumni information of all kinds.
And since Portals can be personalized to the user, they can pull in just the information alumni want to see—like photo galleries from reunions, the latest alumni magazine or a calendar of upcoming alumni events, and give your website engagement numbers a huge boost, driving all traffic directly to your site.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series and learn how international schools handle fundraising challenges, with strategies tailored to international tax laws, giving customs, and more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After more than a decade working in schools in roles from the classroom to advancement to marketing, Hadley joined Finalsite in 2013 as Marketing and Communications Manager. She loves meeting Finalsite's amazing family members around the world and learning about trends impacting schools. A big fan of travel to places near and far with her growing family, cooking cuisines of all kinds, and working on her French fluency, you can find her producing the Finalsite podcasts, arguing about serial commas, and perpetually planning FinalsiteU.