School development professionals know that sneaking a peak at your past pupils’ bank balances isn’t enough to ensure they’ll make a donation to their old school. The key is to personalise your approach so that alumni have opportunities to support aspects of school life that are still important  to them, writes MTM’s Director of Communications Nicky Adams.

School days are often said to be the best days of our lives, but for most of us some days were certainly better than others. For me, memories of drizzle-soaked games afternoons spent plodding in mud-caked trainers around a seemingly interminable cross-country course in the face of a glacial headwind are really not up there with the best of them.

I had mixed feelings then when, some three decades later, I received a very politely worded letter from my old school offering me the ‘unmissable’ chance to contribute to the cost of building of a brand new sports pavilion, so current parents could sit in the warm and dry to watch their drizzle-soaked, mud-caked offspring suffering the same fate as I had all those years ago.

Needless to say, once the flashback had subsided, I stuffed the letter in a drawer and didn’t give it another thought. It’s a shame though, because a few years previously I had read in the local paper that the school had recently raised money to provide new tennis courts, all beautifully surfaced, and two inside their own all-weather dome. I love tennis, so why didn’t they ask me to contribute to that project?

The answer is because the school knows nothing at all about me.

Get to know your alumni

Obviously expecting the school development team to get to know every past pupil from the last five decades or so personally is not realistic. That said, understanding a little  about your alumni as individuals can be a real benefit when it comes to requesting donations for certain capital projects. The trick is to match the project to the alumnus.

There are plenty of services offering to compare your list of alumni to a list of the most affluent people in the UK. But, to really engage potential donors and encourage them to contribute their hard-earned cash to a development at their old school that has some personal significance, you do need to get under their skin to a certain extent.

Finding out which past pupils have the wealth – and potentially the capacity to donate – is not that difficult and there are plenty of services offering to compare your list of alumni to a list of the most affluent people in the UK. But, to really engage potential donors and encourage them to contribute their hard-earned cash to a development at their old school that has some personal significance, you do need to get under their skin to a certain extent.

Alumni networking events are invaluable for this, and development professionals are excellent chatters and note-takers. Past pupils look forward to a trip down memory lane so they usually come along full of reminisces to share about their school days, from favourite subjects and teachers to classrooms and facilities. Everyone attending is fascinated to find out what their former schoolmates are doing now, so this can also be great intelligence.

Cherry-pick

Alternatively, MTM offers alumni research into the lifestyles of any number of past pupils, which can help to find out where in the world they live now, their line of work, and lots of other useful information, which makes it easier to cherry-pick the alumni most likely to be receptive to an approach for a donation towards a specific fundraising project.

Remember though, the most supportive donors are not always Premiership footballers or tech giants. Alumni who have worked hard and succeeded in their chosen field are often delighted to be asked to help the next generation to achieve their career ambitions.

A past pupil who is now a chef may be thrilled to help provide a brand new food tech facility, for example.

MTM’s telephone researchers do a great job of chatting to past pupils on your behalf to discover their favourite school memories and sound them out in advance about aspects of the school they would like to continue to be a part of in future – whether investing in a new facility, providing a particular cup or trophy, or even funding a bursary. Every little helps.

Keep in touch

Of course it’s important to stay in touch with the school’s actual past pupils, not just their parents. Most sixth-formers are still living in the parental home when they fill in the form to join the school alumni organisation, but of course a few years later they are quite likely to have flown the nest and can be resident anywhere in the world.

Keeping track of them is a big headache for development professionals, so MTM now offers a third-party contact service which tracks down the past pupil and asks if the address on file is still current. We find this method is more likely to  elicit a response and bring more former pupils back to the fold.

Golden opportunities

Opportunities for alumni to play a role in developing the aspects of school life that remain close to their hearts really are golden. Not only can past pupils show their appreciation to their old schools for the chances they themselves were able to capitalise  on in their formative years, but they are also helping the school to continue to offer those chances to the next generation of pupils  – potentially shaping their futures.

If you’d like to personalise your school’s approaches to past pupils, just get in touch with the friendly MTM team, who will talk you through our market research and targeting for school alumni  and development.