Picture this: Graduates walking across the stage, diploma in hand, beaming with pride and excitement for what the future holds. They’ve spent countless hours studying, writing papers, and collaborating with classmates, all in pursuit of this moment. As they leave your school, they feel a sense of nostalgia and longing for the community and support they’ve felt as a student.
But their journey with your school is far from over.
As graduates move on to the next “stage” of their lives, it can be challenging to maintain that connection and keep them engaged with your school. Different priorities, different schools, different lives…many move on.
As they cross that stage, their transition from student to alumni is the perfect opportunity for your school to develop your relationship. That's why it's crucial to have a well-planned and strategic approach to alumni engagement, and that begins before they've even left your school.
So how can your school take action and prepare to keep graduates engaged, before graduation day and as alumni?
It means effective communication, meaningful engagement opportunities, and a focus on alumni needs and interests — and if you haven’t put your plan in motion yet, that begins today.
Why graduation is a crucial time for alumni engagement
Graduation marks a significant milestone in the academic and personal lives of your students, and it presents a unique opportunity for your school to establish meaningful relationships with alumni.
At this critical juncture, despite the end-of-the-year celebrations, and Pomp and Circumstance, your graduates are more receptive to hearing from you. They’re eager to stay connected to the community they've been a part of for years, yet afterward, only 19% of graduates report alumni representatives made them feel recognized.
Start this new phase of your relationship off on the right foot, and help ensure your students leave your school feeling connected, supported, and excited to remain engaged.
Building relationships with students before graduation
It's never too early to start thinking about alumni engagement. In fact, the key to creating engaged alumni is to begin building relationships with students well before they graduate. By nurturing their connection to your school, you can lay the foundation for strong alumni relationships that will last long after they've left campus.
Why is that important?
If students feel valued and supported, they’re more likely to recommend your school to others. Moreover, strong alumni relationships can also lead to increased philanthropic giving, which can support important initiatives, such as scholarships, research, and major campus campaigns.
Providing resources and support during the transition
Another effective way to build strong alumni relationships is by providing online resources and support during the transition from student to alum. Before they leave campus, make sure soon-to-be-graduates know about these resources so that they can access them. One report found 78% of alumni would rather be able to access resources, information, and benefits from their school online, versus 22% who prefer to receive it by mail.
Take a look at Savannah Country Day School’s alumni portal. Dedicating a section of your school's website just for alumni, such as an alumni-specific portal, is important because it provides:
- Connections: An alumni portal provides a platform for alumni to connect with each other, as well as with your school. Alumni can share their experiences, network, and stay up-to-date with the latest news and events, but only if they have a place to be directed to — like a portal.
- Engagement: Alumni portals provide opportunities for alumni to engage with your school beyond their time as students. They can participate in events, purchase swag, mentor current students, and even give back through donations.
- Recognition: An alumni portal can also serve as a way to recognize the achievements and successes of alumni. This recognition can be inspiring for current students, who can see the benefits of a quality education from your school.
- Support: The alumni portal can also provide resources for alumni in their personal and professional lives, such as job listings or career development resources.
An alumni portal helps to maintain a sense of community and connection among graduates and can be a valuable asset for both the alumni and the school.
The content on Savannah Country Day School’s alumni page, like information about homecoming and alumni events, the recent graduating class, alumni awards, and details of the alumni association, are great tools for fostering strong relationships with students before they graduate and are essential for creating engaged alumni later down the road.
And since it’s built with Finalsite’s Post module, it looks great on mobile, which is critical for engagement. In fact, in one recent survey, 75% of alumni reported they’d be more likely to engage with their school if the benefits and information were mobile-friendly.
Connecting students with alumni mentors
To foster strong relationships with students before graduation, provide opportunities for students to engage with alumni, such as mentorship programs or alumni panels. Even for recent grads, these programs allow students to connect with young alumni and learn about their experiences after graduation, building a sense of community and creating excitement for their own future.
Alumni panels, like the one recently hosted by Wardlaw and Hartdridge School, are special opportunities for current students to hear directly from young alumni about what to expect from life after graduation.
The transitional period after graduation
Graduation can be a challenging time for many students. As they move on from your academic experience and into another, they may feel disconnected from former classmates, faculty, and your school as a whole.
It's important to capture their attention and set expectations for what their relationship with your school will look like going forward. By doing so, you can help graduates feel like they’re still a part of the community and valued members of the school — because they are!
Set expectations for communications and engagement
By clearly outlining what graduates can expect in terms of communications, events, and opportunities, schools can ensure that they remain engaged with the school long after they graduate. When it comes to alumni engagement, 80% of alumni organizations report that “blogs, social media, and e-newsletters” have the most impact.
New and Blogs
Alumni profiles, like what’s found on The American School of Sao Paulo’s site could easily be repurposed for blog content, alumni newsletters, and even social media posts.
A social channel just for alumni that uses specific hashtags is a great resource for graduates looking to stay connected on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or even TikTok.
BB&N keeps its alumni updated on the latest news and events with its own Instagram account and the #bbnschoolalums hashtag. Nice work!
The alumni section of St. Paul’s School for Boys has nearly everything for graduates to stay connected — news, Zoom video interviews with alumni (a great option for those who can’t make it to campus!) publications, and even recent issues of its Crusader Connection Alumni Newsletter.
The Benefits of Alumni Engagement
The role of alumni in fundraising
There's no denying it — the alumni community plays a crucial role in fundraising and philanthropy. They can make financial contributions, volunteer their time, and advocate for your school to others. In fact, many schools rely heavily on their alumni networks to support various programs and initiatives.
The value of alumni as brand ambassadors
Alumni can also act as brand ambassadors, promoting your school’s brand to others and helping to attract (and retain) new students, faculty, and staff. They can share their positive student experiences both online and offline, and help to create a positive image of your school.
More than 400 notable Hotchkiss alumni are profiled on its site. These include film stars (yes, that's Allison Janney...) Olympic athletes, entrepreneurs, and doctors — many of whom have made a positive impact on our world. Impressive!
The benefits of alumni networking opportunities
Alumni can provide valuable networking opportunities for current students and recent graduates. By connecting with alumni, students can learn about various career paths, gain industry insights, and make useful contacts. This can be helpful for students who are just starting their careers or may not have access to other professional networks.
Strategies for Improving Alumni Engagement
Consistent and relevant communication
Consistent communication is critical to keeping graduates engaged. Your school should regularly communicate with alumni about upcoming events, news, and opportunities. You should also personalize communication whenever possible, such as by addressing alumni by name and referencing their experiences at the school.
Think alumni engagement is just for the independent and private school world? Think again! Minnetonka Public Schools hosts its alumni magazine resources online with Finalsite’s digital publications module, a great option to connect grades with feature articles and top stories from around the district.
Opportunities for volunteering
Providing opportunities for mentorship and volunteering can help to keep alumni engaged and connected to your school. Formal mentorship programs that pair alumni with current students or recent graduates, or volunteer opportunities, such as serving on alumni boards or committees, are great options.
Want to be a class correspondent? Want to be an admissions ambassador or help organize an alumni reunion? Alumnae can do all of these and more with all the volunteer opportunities offered through Santa Catalina School’s site — so many ways to give back to the school!
Offering exclusive benefits and perks for alumni
Offering benefits for alumni can be a powerful way to boost engagement. Think about offering alumni promos and coupons through your school store, for instance, or discounted tickets to the big game.
Young Alumni Engagement Strategies: Tips for Maintaining Long-Term Relationships
Establish a strong alumni association
Creating, or revamping, your alumni association can be a powerful way to keep graduates engaged over the long term. Alumni associations can provide a variety of benefits, such as networking opportunities, career resources, and social events. They can also serve as a centralized hub for communications and alumni engagement programs.
For more than 5,000 American School of Guatemala alumni around the globe, its Alumni Network provides ways to visit the campus, volunteer, and connect with current students. A YouTube video tutorial embedded in a website notification is a great overview of all the resources available to alumni, too!
Keep alumni connected through social media and online communities
Your school should have a strong social media presence and regularly share updates and news with alumni. They should also encourage alumni to share their own experiences and engage with each other online.
Recognize and celebrate alumni achievements
Celebrating your alumni's achievements and successes is a powerful way to keep them engaged and connected. Your school can highlight alumni accomplishments through social media, newsletters, and other communication channels. You can also invite alumni to speak at events or participate in other ways.
Portsmouth Abbey School connects with younger generations through its Young Alumni Spotlight. Different generations have different interests, priorities, and ideas…and with a history going back more than a century, it’s a great way to feature some recent graduates making a difference today.
Seek feedback from alumni
Continually assessing alumni needs and interests can help your school stay relevant and responsive to their changing needs. With a simple form, you can conduct surveys or focus groups to gather feedback from alumni about what they want and need from their relationship with the institution.
Chartwell School provides an embedded and branded form for grads to update their contact information. With form fields to collect life updates and submit photos, it also doubles as a class note submission — great idea!
Keeping graduates engaged as alumni is crucial for the success of any school, but it starts before graduates cross the stage with their diplomas in hand. Set expectations and instill the value of being an alumnus during their time as students. Then, by staying connected with alumni, your school can benefit from their knowledge, skills, and expertise, while also providing valuable resources and opportunities to current students.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.