Publications & Products
Volume 1, Issue 4


Out of Thin Air, an Alumni Database

When the Northwest Technical College Foundation was established in 2005, it had a problem. The small Bemidji, Minn., institution and its predecessor colleges had never kept track of alumni data in their 40-year history. In 2009, the foundation set about the tall task of compiling its very first alumni database. And it found a significant number of alumni by asking local businesses for help in the search process.

The "Stand Up and Be Counted" campaign was the brainchild of Lisa Bruns, director of the foundation. To gather information on the whereabouts of the college's alumni, the foundation staff made an appeal to nearly 300 local businesses in and around Bemidji. Foundation staff sent them materials to distribute among their employees—in lunch rooms, lounges and other places—so those who were alumni could record their personal information. For its purposes, the foundation defined alumni as anyone who graduated or had taken a class at the college.

"We know the majority of our graduates have stayed in the area," Bruns said. "People come to our college because they don't want to leave the area." With 13,000 people in Bemidji and about 40,000 in the college's service area, Bruns figured a public appeal would reach a pretty good group of alumni.

"And the idea was not just to reconnect with alumni, but to find out where they're working," she said. "We thought that might give us some added value as we could think about their employer as a resource to the college as well."

To encourage local businesses to get their alumni employees engaged with the college, the foundation turned the campaign into a competition of sorts. The foundation tallied the number of employees who contacted the college from each Bemidji business and published the results. It hosted a special event and gave awards to businesses that had the most alumni from the college (a local medical clinic), the largest percentage of its workforce made up of alumni (a local auto repair shop) and the four local businesses founded by college alumni.

"Our goal was to get alumni information, but we also wanted to promote Bemidji businesses and thank them for hiring our graduates," Bruns said. "Some of these small businesses never get recognized in the community, so they were excited."

Initially, 200 individuals responded on behalf of 59 percent of the nearly 300 local businesses contacted. Now, two years later, the foundation has nearly 5,000 alumni in its database—most coming from its efforts to track recent graduates but about 10 percent from its continuing efforts to scour local businesses for older alumni.

"We're definitely planning on doing another concentrated campaign like we did in 2009 again at some point soon," Bruns said. "That last campaign really started to give us some visibility in the community."

In addition to a growing alumni database, the campaign garnered the college some financial support from local businesses. A local bank, which had a large number of employees attend the college, gave a $5,000 grant to support the college's scholarship programs—the first such gift the institution had ever received.

"When you have the resources and are in a small enough community like ours, this is something that you can manage and achieve some success," said Bruns, noting that she believes other institutions can replicate her foundation's "Stand Up and Be Counted" campaign.


This article is from the October 2011 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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District I
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8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
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Creating Scalable and Successful Philanthropic Initiatives in Challenging Times
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