Development and fundraising work relies heavily on strong communication, but you need to match appropriate methods of communication with each audience. A former student now in his 80s will probably not receive a message you broadcast on Facebook, and a busy graduate in the early years of her career is unlikely to read a 60-page annual report.
You need to develop a mixture of communication channels that supports your development strategy and leaves no one group feeling neglected.
What Channels Are There?
Technology is moving quickly, and new channels of communication are being developed all the time. This section lists some of the main channels and their characteristics.
Printed material through the post
Can reach the addressee directly.
Great for communicating complicated information or images.
Often preferred by older readers who are less comfortable reading on screen.
Harder to ignore or delete than electronic documents.
Can be shared easily with friends and family.
Hard to know if it’s being read, so measuring impact is difficult.
Expensive, especially for international distribution.
Impersonal unless tailored to the individual, which requires a great deal of time.
High levels of wastage unless the address data are good.
Personalised letters through the post
Often perceived as very personal and an indication that the writer has taken some trouble to get in touch.
Handwritten letters of thanks are particularly valued.
Often preferred by older readers who are less comfortable reading on screen.
No way of knowing they are being read and therefore measuring impact is difficult.
Mass email can reach large audiences very quickly.
Great for keeping in touch with prospects once a relationship has been established.
Can get basic data to measure impact.
Can be perceived negatively as ‘spam’.
Can trigger a huge response and overwhelm the office.
Easily deleted and ignored, especially if not personalised.
Some people find it intrusive, especially if a work email address is used.
Informal language may creep in and detract from the message of the email.
Cheap and easy to do.
Gets news to alumni and prospects in a timely fashion.
Can get basic data to measure impact.
Can be viewed as ‘spam'.
Easily deleted and ignored.
Great for creating a personal connection.
Very immediate and direct.
Easy to measure impact.
Good way to ‘clean’ your data.
Can be time consuming with calls and follow-up.
Some people find phone calls intrusive.
Can easily be dismissed, especially if this channel is only used for fundraising campaigns.
Can be expensive, especially if calling overseas.
Mobile phone (texts, apps, online browsing)
Mass text messages can reach large audiences quickly.
Contact is normally brief and therefore has a higher chance of being read.
Very immediate and direct.
Increasingly, mobile phones are used to browse the internet, so you can direct audience to get more information online.
Apps can be an especially fun way to communicate and provide something of value to your prospects.
Can be expensive.
Message has to be brief.
Face to face
Extremely personal and effective in building long-term relationships with prospects.
Typical part of major gift cultivation.
Can be one on one or a small group.
Can engage other representatives of the institution.
Often the best way to relay information because audience can respond, ask questions, etc.
Can be expensive and time-consuming.
Can be difficult to organise.
Can be viewed with suspicion by some people.
Effective way of building relationships and introducing new prospects to your institution or specific project.
Can be expensive if not self-funding.
Can be time-consuming to organise.
Good way to build up a general profile and encourage cultural change toward supporting philanthropy.
Needs strong content to ensure coverage.
No way of measuring its effectiveness (who reads it).
Great for communicating large volumes of unchanging information (policies, etc.) as well as current events.
Great for news flashes.
Allows people to interact rather than receive information passively.
If well organised, can be a useful resource for both external and internal audiences.
Can measure some data.
Time-consuming to maintain.
Difficult to know who is reading it.
Needs to be able to meet the technical challenge of being read in many browsers, including mobile phones.
Highly visual with capability of displaying photograph and video control, as well as text.
Great for short bursts of information.
Good for directing attention to other forms of communication, such as website.
Real time tweets can make people off campus feel involved in campus-based events.
Good for generating a campaign following.
Quick, easy and cheap to do.
Tends to be used by younger audiences.
Message has to be brief.
Facebook and other social networks
Easy and cheap to do.
Good way of directing readers’ attentions to other forms of communication, such as the website.
Good for gathering information about individuals.
Good way to build a general profile.
Allows people to interact rather than receive information passively.
Can be time-consuming to moderate.
LinkedIn and other professional networks
Easy and cheap to do.
Good way of directing readers attention to other forms of communication, such as the website.
Good for gathering information about individuals.
Good for providing additional benefits to prospects through peer-to-peer networking and posting career opportunities.
Can be time-consuming to moderate.
Word of mouth
Free and quick.
Difficult to stimulate.
Impossible to control, and people can be talking about your institution both positively and negatively.
Difficult to measure.
How Do I Choose?
You should choose which channel of communication to use based on these considerations:
Who is the intended audience?
How complex is the information? Can it be expressed in a few words (text or Twitter) or does it need a whole webpage?
Are images required?
Do you want a response?
Do you want to be able to find out who has seen or read the message to measure your impact?
Can you afford it (financially or the time commitment)?
If it is a fundraising communication, then which channel will have the best return on investment?
Choose a few communication channels as part of your regular outreach and incorporate them into your strategy and procedures (e.g., a personalised phone call or letter after every donation, a quarterly newsletter and two postings on social networks per month that link to the website). To determine these channels, you may want to survey a select group of your target audiences (even informally asking prospects and donors as you meet with them).
Review other channels as you launch new campaigns (e.g., when fundraising for a new project you may want to host an event, putting out a press release and call the top 50 donors who are likely to invest – to make sure they are coming to the event and know about the project).
Make sure you work closely with the marketing and communications team to leverage their activities. Start small and build.
Leave behinds and printed materials are useful tools for fundraisers who want to reinforce their messages with donors.
A ‘leave behind’ is literally something you leave behind after visiting a donor or prospect as a reminder of what you discussed or to provide extra information about your institution or fundraising program or priorities. It need not be expensive. If crafted with a little thought and imagination, these materials can be very effective.
There are several ways you can maximise the effectiveness of these materials. A good leave behind will be memorable, relevant to the recipient and convey a strong message.
Always Look at Things from Your Readers’ Point of View
Always think about leave behinds and printed materials from the perspective of the recipients:
What information do they need to know?
How can you make it easier for them to read that information?
Is there a powerful vision and case for support?
Be creative, but do not be so carried away with your artistic ambitions that you detract from your core messages to the donor. Provide enough detail that readers know how to get involved, but not so much detail that they loose the core messages.
Balance Stories and Data
There are countless surveys on whether a story or statistical data is more powerful when presenting material. If you are presenting to a specific audience (e.g., engineers), you may know which approach will be best received. However, if you are creating a leave behind for a broad or general audience, it is best to include both a few poignant statistics and a captivating personal story of impact.
Where Possible, Personalise
It is difficult to personalise if you need a large number of leave behinds to support your contact with prospects and donors, but it is worth personalising if you can. You could perhaps have a standard publication with individually printed frontispieces that have been adapted to the recipient, or a few different versions of a similar piece that approach a topic from a specific industry or generational lens.
Entice Your Reader
You want your leave behinds to be read, so you need to put some thought into enticing your reader with a strong image on the front cover, an attention-grabbing headline and/or a strong back cover (as they are often put down upside down after an initial glance).
Your leave behind needs to stand out on the cluttered desk of a busy person. Think about its physical presence. Does it catch the eye? Feel good to hold when reading? If your leave behind is in the form of a 3D souvenir or ‘freebie’, pay attention to the presentation (e.g., gift wrapping makes the recipient want to open the gift and can heighten the impact of the leave behind).
Use Your Imagination
Leave behinds need to provide some benefit to the recipient by being either useful or informative. They should not simply be a reiteration of your discussion. However, this does not mean that you can’t be creative.
Use a little imagination and tailor your leave behind to its subject matter (e.g., a leave behind supporting a capital build project could be in the shape of a brick) or leave something that will be useful (e.g., an appeal brochure for a new maths scholarship programme could be combined with a maths aid or calculator).
Most leave behinds take the form of a printed brochure, but this does not have to mean a standard-sized text-plus-photos booklet.
Reflect Your Brand
All leave behinds and printed material should reflect and reinforce your institution’s brand. Creating a consistent library of printed materials helps reinforce your messages, especially if a recipient is likely to come across several of your publications in the course of their interaction with your institution.
Always coordinate your efforts with the institution’s marketing and communications team.
Be Compatible with Online Information
Make sure your printed materials reflect your online materials and vice versa. Check that they do not contradict each other and that they share the same look. It can be helpful to include e-versions of your leave behinds and printed materials on your website as well.
Be Culturally Sensitive
If using leave behinds and printed materials with international audiences, be aware of cultural sensitivities, especially in imagery (e.g., a clock image can symbolise death in Chinese culture).
You and your colleagues will have to carry the leave behinds around to visits and events. They need to be light and transportable.
Include Contact Information and Ways to Find Out More/Get Involved
Remember to include contact information, especially your institution’s website. This is an opportunity to keep your leave behind succinct – focused on core messages and then providing more detail online.
It is also good practice to include an action item or way to get involved, so that readers know what to do after reviewing the materials (even if it is simply going to the website to find out more).
When starting a development office, work with the marketing and communications team to understand what materials are already available and how to reflect the institution’s brand when creating new materials.
Create a few core leave behinds that will be appropriate for the majority of prospects and donors (typically focused on the top priorities that you will be fundraising for), and then add materials as your needs and resources expand.
The ‘case for support’ is the cornerstone of any fundraising activity. It captures who you are, what you do, what your goals are and why people should join with you to achieve these goals. It is informative and inspirational and is the touchstone for all the communications that support your fundraising.
The very process of developing a case for support can be used to engage your stakeholders as you invite their input. A case for support can:
Inspire support both internally and externally,
Be a communications tool acting as a discussion document with prospects,
Be a marketing tool,
Be used to train and motivate staff,
Assist in the fundraising planning process and
Be a resource document when developing proposals.
Most institutions develop an overarching case for support that sets the context for the creation of individual, project-based cases for support.
Before You Start to Write
Before you can capture the essence of what you are trying to achieve, you need to understand the bigger picture.
To do this, gather together as much information as you can about your institution so you can establish its credentials as a viable cause. This includes information about its heritage, impact on the world, past and current achievements and the current vision and priorities of the institution. You must be able to substantiate any claims you make (e.g., you can’t claim to be ‘excellent at research’ without providing proof with details about the volume of research papers you publish, the number of world-leading professors you employ and the impact your research is having on the world).
Alongside this information gathering, you need to determine exactly what goals and aspirations you want your case for support to relay and how these aspirations relate to the overall external profile of your institution. Clearly and passionately articulated goals and aspirations will inspire your supporters.
Writing the Case for Support
When you begin to write, you are telling the story of your institution – where it has come from, where it is now and where (with additional support) it will be in the future.
A case for support should not be a dry, academic presentation of facts and figures but a balanced argument that clearly and concisely identifies a plan of action and describes, with passion (and a few powerful statistics), why achieving that plan is important. It should not be sentimental and overly emotional but inspiring and engaging.
Above all, it must have a ring of authenticity. Think about what information you want to convey to your stakeholders, and make sure you cover the basics of: who, why, what, where, when and how.
Case studies, quotations from beneficiaries and existing supporters, statistics and images all help to add personality to your case for support and engage the reader, though they should add to and not dilute the central argument.
Use language that is concise, positive, professional and easy to read. Avoid jargon, acronyms, wordiness and talking down to the reader.
Draft, Consult and Redraft
Once you have written your first draft, you can use it as a discussion document with stakeholders – both internal and external – to inform your second draft. This review process is a great opportunity to both engage stakeholders in what you are trying to achieve and to improve your understanding of how your organisation is perceived. Ask your stakeholders:
Does it make sense?
Is it easy to read?
Is anything missing?
Is anything unnecessary?
Did they find it inspirational?
Listen to the feedback you receive and redraft until you think you have an effective working document.
A case for support is never really finished but continually tweaked and revised as fundraising activities evolve and it is presented to different stakeholder groups.
The case does not have to be a glossy brochure. It needs to be able to adapt to different modes of communication – web, print, face-to-face – and be easily updatable.
When you are launching a development office – learning from the institution’s leadership about their priorities and vision and developing a fundraising strategy – you must be able to articulate a powerful case for supporting your institution.
Draft this case for support, with at least some initial research to back your arguments and internal feedback, before doing any significant donor cultivation.
Revise, revise, revise, and use this as a way to engage key stakeholders.
If you were a busy, savvy millionaire who is constantly presented with investment opportunities, what case for support would stand out and motivate you?
Fundraisers must regularly write convincing proposals to trusts, foundations, corporations and high-net-worth individuals.
Many of these audiences will have a standard format that you must follow. If they do not, this section provides detail on what you might include.
Regardless of the audience or format, the principles of proposal writing are the same:
Know your donor. Be thorough in your research and clear in your presentation to demonstrate that you know what the donor’s priorities are and how these align with your institution.
Make a strong case for support. Your opening statement should be a short summary of your project, its importance and what support you need to make it happen— i.e., problem, solution and donor’s opportunity to make an investment in your institution because your institution is best suited to solve the problem because of x, y, z. Elaborate in the proposal.
Grab their attention. Most proposals are sent to very busy people and risk not being read. To attract attention, consider the physical characteristics of the proposal, the title and your leading statements. They need to stand out. Even small details, such as placing your logo and the audience’s logo or name on the cover, will psychologically link the two for the reader. Also think about how you will present the final proposal – how the pages will be bound and fall open, the quality of paper, if you will use a folder, what electronic format you will use to ensure the reader can open it, etc.
Use images and graphics effectively. Images must add something to the narrative or to the overall atmosphere of the piece. A picture, image, diagram or quotation can have several purposes: to illustrate a complex point, to catch the eye, to stave off boredom of reading blocks of text, to serve as a symbol or to serve as punctuation if you have a long document and want to provide stopping-off points for the reader. Write all your text first, and then see where images might be useful to explain the text or increase aesthetic appeal. Remember to be culturally sensitive about images. Focus on people rather than on static buildings.
Use appendices. Appendices are a great way to keep proposals concise (e.g., so you are not listing all staff members in a proposal). However, only add appendices if they contain material that you think people will actually read and that is of direct relevance to the main proposal.
Include a covering letter. Do not treat your covering letter as an afterthought, but put as much effort into it as you have into the proposal. This letter is the first thing the prospect will read. This is also a place to recognize and appreciate any previous support or interaction with the audience (e.g., thank you, Foundation X, for your past support of y and the programme officer’s invaluable guidance).
Proofread, proofread, proofread. Be ruthless in your editing and get your main points across quickly and clearly. Perfect spelling and excellent grammar are important. Do not rely on your computer's spelling and grammar checker. It will not pick up on other country spellings, homonyms, mis-spelt proper names, or misused/mis-keyed words like at when you meant to write it. Make sure you check, not only the body text, but also the titles, captions, graph contents, etc.
Engage another perspective to see if you are making sense. When you are writing a proposal it can be difficult to distance yourself from the contents and take an objective view of the document's clarity or persuasiveness. You need to ‘sense check’ your proposal. Are there any inexplicable jargon words, confusing acronyms, unreferenced quotations or claims or sweeping assumptions about the reader’s pre-existing knowledge? Is the proposal interesting? Is it laid out well with appropriate illustrations, diagrams and quotations? It can help here to ask someone with no technical knowledge in the field to read it. If that person can’t understand it, chances are the reviewer won’t either. It is also useful to do an ethics check. Have you represented your evidence and claims accurately or are you guilty of any over-exaggeration or using information without appropriate recognition of a third party?
When you are getting started, pull together and organise what you already know about your fundraising project and the proposal recipient and work out where you have gaps in your information. Things to consider are:
Project description. What is it? Why is it important? What does it look like? How will it happen? What are its unique characteristics?
Why your institution? What makes you unique? Why are you qualified to do this?
Beneficiaries. Who are the project stakeholders? How will they benefit?
Project costs. Have any funds already been secured? If so, from whom?
Giving history of recipient. You should acknowledge the funder's previous generosity when asking for more.
Timeframe. Is this a quick results project or one that will take years to prove its worth?
Sustainability. Is this a long-term initiative? If so, how will it be funded in the future?
External endorsements/independent evidence. It is worth looking for an independent endorsement of what you are trying to achieve. These endorsements lend weight to your arguments.
Planning and Writing the Proposal
Planning your proposal helps you to organise information in a logical sequence, include everything in the right place, avoid duplication and keep a tight grip on your argument. If your audience has not provided you with a standard format, use the headings or sections, which are common in most proposals:
Title page. Title, logo, image, recipient’s name/logo, date.
Executive summary. Needs to be short, sharp and to the point to hook the reader’s attention. Avoid jargon, long sentences, acronyms and unsubstantiated claims such as ‘We are the best in the world’.
The goal. Outline the project’s background. Define the goals and objectives, the beneficiaries, the problems the project will solve and the wider societal context of the project.
The project. What are the main issues it will tackle? How will it do this? What are the key activities?
Expected results. What are the expected short- and long-term results? Make sure you include realistic results, since you will be reporting on these if you receive funding.
Location and time scales. Where will it take place? Where are the beneficiaries located? How long will it take and how soon can you start? What is your schedule? What are the key milestones? (Graphical project plans can be useful here.)
Resources and sustainability.
What has already been invested? What is still needed (e.g., finances, human resources, equipment, marketing materials, infrastructure)? Have you had any in-kind support or do you need any? What are your volunteer resources? How will you sustain this project in the future?
Financials. What is the overall budget? Does it include taxes? How have you worked out the costs? What funds do you already have? What will happen if you don’t get the funds? Collaborate with the finance office to get the proper information. This section should be more than a spreadsheet: include some explanatory text.
The institution. Describe your organisation and why it is capable of delivering this project. Talk about track record, skills, capacity, existing partners, access to beneficiaries.
Project team and leadership. Who will be implementing this project? Who is the institution's leadership?
Risk management. What are the risks and how will you minimise them?
Monitoring and evaluation. How will you know if you have been successful? How will you keep track of expenditure and progress against milestones? How will your evaluations be reported? What happens if something goes wrong?
The ask. Throughout your proposal you will have talked about the need for support for your project. Now you need to make the direct ask (e.g., a financial contribution of x will achieve the a, b, c of this project). If you have done your research, you should have a good idea of the prospect’s capacity to give and will be able to pitch your request at the right level. If unsure, you might want to consider providing funding options at different levels. These should be genuine options. Don't just sandwich your desired option between two options that have been made up, or you run the risk of being underfunded or funded for an option you didn’t really want to pursue.
Contact details. These should be personal, not just the generic office contact details. It is often useful to list more than one contact. Include a web address. Make sure the website is up-to-date, or a donor will be put off.
Appendices. If you have information that supports the proposal but does not neatly fit into the body of the text, you can place that material in appendices. However, few people actually read them unless they are cross-referenced in the main proposal.
Inside covers/Back cover. This often neglected space could be used for another image, fact file, letter from the vice-chancellor, or other data.
Other useful things to include:
Footnotes. For referencing publications, quotes, sources for additional information, page numbers.
Sidebars. For adding facts, case studies, external endorsements. Also useful for breaking up large areas of text.
Headers and footers. Consider a running header or footer that reinforces a key message.
Tidying up Loose Ends
Your proposal is now with your prospect. Make sure that you put an electronic copy on the prospect's database record, that any relevant colleagues have seen a copy and that you have created a reminder to follow up the proposal with further contact.
Before writing the proposal, thoroughly research and organize information so that you are best tailoring the proposal to the format and priorities of that audience.
After writing the proposal, don’t underestimate the value of the presentation, proofreading, engaging another person to review and following up after the proposal is submitted.
Before launching any new communications – especially one as comprehensive as an alumni magazine or as common as an e-newsletter – determine what your institution already produces, what department is responsible for the production and any opportunities to leverage these established communications.
The Role of the E-newsletter
If the institution sends out a general e-newsletter, determine how development-related content can be included on a regular basis. Then determine if any additional e-newsletters to specific target audiences/prospects would be valuable for the development office to produce.
E-newsletters are a great way of communicating short pieces of information to large audiences in a quick, frequent and cheap manner. They are great for breaking news stories and instant appeals.
It is also easier to write e-newsletters that are adapted to suit the particular interests of sub-sections of your alumni or prospects (e.g., if your geography department has just been voted the country’s best and you are about to launch a campaign to support geography scholarships, you can share that news with just your geography alumni and prospects).
You can embed links to further information into your e-newsletter and encourage further engagement with the institution. You can also track who has opened (and hopefully read) your newsletter and which links they have clicked on for further information, which is great for planning future fundraising and communication strategies.
On the downside, you need a certain level of technical competence to develop an e-newsletter. Th is type of communication may be viewed and treated as spam by recipients. Some readers may even find e-newsletters intrusive. People receive huge volumes of email, and e-newsletters run the risk of being lost or ignored.
A good e-newsletter should:
Be short but include links to further information,
Not be too frequent,
Have a purpose – to inform, engage, invite, thank, etc.,
Have images that download quickly,
Take into account the variations in the technical specifications of the recipients’ personal computers and devices,
Have an informative subject line,
Have the option to opt in or out of receiving ,
Have a clear, well-thought-out layout that can be read on a single screen and that mirrors the institution’s branding and
Be as personalised as possible (e.g., Dear Tom…).
The Role of the Alumni Magazine
If your institution produces an alumni magazine, the development office should partner closely with the office responsible for the magazine. Establish a strategy that includes not only how development-related content will be included but also how the development office can announce giving campaigns and cultivation activities, solicit donations, recognize donors and gather research and information about prospects.
If there is not an alumni magazine or the future of this publication is under debate, the following sections will help you determine if the development office (or the advancement office, if development and alumni relations are housed together) should undertake this publication and if so, tips on how to accomplish this.
The Pros and Cons
Traditionally, the printed alumni magazine has been at the heart of the alumni relations communications programme; but as technology has evolved, the magazine has been joined by a wide range of communication tools (e.g., e-newsletters, social networking and innovative media such as Twitter).
This rapid change in the communications landscape has provoked a debate about the future of printed alumni magazines. Institutions (especially those starting out in this activity) need to have this debate to decide whether a printed alumni magazine will be an effective tool in their alumni communications programme.
Showcase publication providing more in-depth information and exciting imagery than most electronic media.
May appeal to older readers and others less comfortable accessing information using modern technology.
Generally receives more kudos than electronic publications and is more likely to be retained by the reader or shared with other readers.
Fulfils a useful function as a ‘leave behind’.
Less ephemeral than electronic publications.
Can be used as a vehicle for a fundraising ask.
Can be used as a vehicle for updating data.
Time-consuming to write.
Expensive to print and post.
Difficult to know for certain who is reading it.
Can date quickly.
Defraying the Cost
Alumni magazines can be costly to produce and are normally freely distributed to alumni, but you can defray some of the costs by:
Selling advertising space or the opportunity to include an insert to appropriate advertisers,
Adapting copy and imagery that has already been produced for another audience (e.g., copy from the institution's research magazine or annual report),
Using research to identify the groups most likely to read the magazine and just sending a printed copy to those groups,
Developing the magazine so it can be used for multiple purposes, such as a generic marketing tool for your institution,
Reducing the frequency of publication,
Reducing the page numbers and
Printing on less expensive paper.
The Relationship with the Web
Communications like a printed alumni magazine should always be considered in the context of the wider alumni communications programme.
A printed alumni magazine is a great vehicle for encouraging further interaction with your institution, as readers are encouraged to read more online at the website or to subscribe to an alumni blog or Twitter feed.
Print and electronic publications are not mutually exclusive but rather integrated and complementary communication tools. Most institutions will also post their alumni magazine on their website either as a static PDF or interactive virtual magazine whose pages can be turned at the click of a mouse.
As e-readers, iPads and smart phones grow in popularity, you might also wanted to consider adapting your magazine to these formats.
What Might an Alumni Magazine Contain?
If you decide to publish an alumni magazine, you need to think carefully about your editorial policies and what you want your magazine to contain.
As you consider this, it can be very helpful to organize alumni focus groups and test reactions to different types of content and designs. Often, magazines contain personal information about alumni – marriages, promotions, obituaries, etc., – but in the age of social networking, these sections have begun to shrink or have disappeared altogether.
Alumni magazines have changed over the years and now tend to carry a mixture of content, but each institution needs to develop content that reflects the core messages it wants to promote. Content might include:
Feature-length articles on the research, teaching, enterprise and community work of the institution,
Reports on the outstanding achievements of individual alumni,
Reports on successful interactions between alumni and the institution – fundraising, careers mentoring, alumni hosting student placements, etc.,
Articles with an international angle,
Articles with a historical perspective designed to generate a nostalgic response from the reader,
Occasional obituaries of well-known and respected staff and alumni,
‘Housekeeping’ announcements and reports (e.g., notice of annual general meetings or the election of a new alumni president),
Content about current students,
Updates on previously mentioned projects,
Communication from the institution’s leader,
‘Thank you’ and stewardship articles about alumni-supported projects,
Notices about upcoming events and reviews of past events,
Pointers to further online content,
Reader generated content and
Articles designed to be useful to alumni in their careers or social life (e.g., an article based on the university’s research into the recession-hit economy and how to turn redundancy into an opportunity).
If your magazine is directed at all of your alumni, you are likely to be addressing a very diverse demographic, representing all ages, geographic locations and areas of interest. Articles need to be of interest to this wide demographic. To achieve this, avoid too much technical detail when discussing research, avoid acronyms and jargon, employ strong imagery and write in a friendly yet professional tone.
To assist you with your content development you may find two tools useful:
A writing plan. Decide what you want your alumni magazine to achieve and how long you can afford it to be. When you know how many pages to fill and what you want to say, design a writing plan that captures where the content will come from, what time scales you need to adhere to (this can be worked backward from the design, printing and posting schedule), what images you will need and who will be producing which elements.
An editorial policy. It is important to set some ground rules so that you have something to refer to as issues arise. This might include statements such as who has the final say on which articles are included or rejected, a policy on the promotion of alumni-led businesses, an equal opportunities statement, a stated aim to include a certain percentage of material on international activities and a pledge to ensure fair cross-institution coverage, etc.
The Importance of Good Design
Despite the old proverb advising us not to, most of us do judge books (and magazines) by their covers. Most readers will pick up a magazine and briefly flick through the pages whilst they decide whether or not to spare the time to read it. A well-designed, aesthetically pleasing publication will entice the reader to read on. It also helps you highlight key messages in the magazine and pack in the maximum amount of content whilst retaining readability. Good design is a good investment.
Whatever design you chose, make sure it reflects the brand of your institution or your alumni readership may not link the two as strongly.
Some Pitfalls to Avoid
Developing an alumni magazine can be complicated. Some common pitfalls to avoid:
Too much emphasis on the past. Nostalgia is good, but you want your alumni to feel a strong affinity to the future of your institution.
Unbalanced content. You might be tempted to favour articles about the engineering faculty, as they are great at feeding you information, but you must be balanced in your representation of the breadth of your institution’s activities.
Content is too academic. You are addressing an educated audience, but they are likely to be reading the publication in their leisure time and will want articles that are a pleasure rather than a challenge to read.
Inconsistency. Alumni magazines are often written by a wide range of writers, and whilst this can make for an interesting read it can also lead to the publication coming across as incoherent and ‘cobbled together’. A strong editorial policy and careful editing can avoid this.
Content dates quickly. You want your alumni magazine to have a long shelf life, and you need to bear this in mind when developing content. Preferably articles should avoid being fixed around a point in time (e.g., don’t write an article about a single research output in renewable energy but rather a feature on the whole body of renewable energy research at your institution and its ongoing importance to the population).
If you do decide to write an alumni magazine, start to gather examples of magazines (alumni and other) that you like. Talk to your alumni about the content they would like to read. You may have alumni working in magazine publishing who would be happy to offer their advice. Talk to other institutions about what has worked and not worked for them. Colleagues in the marketing and public relations office will also be helpful.
When assessing your institution’s communication channels, pay specific attention to e-newsletters and the alumni magazine. Determine the role of these publications in your fundraising strategy, as they are generally helpful in all aspects of the cultivation process (e.g., gathering research and information about prospects, announcing giving campaigns and cultivation activities/events, soliciting donations, highlighting a legacy club, recognizing donors, etc.).
Online communications are an essential part of any modern communications strategy.
The term is not limited to your institution’s website and e-newsletter but embraces all forms of online communications, from social networking sites to podcasts and online video sites. Online communication tools include:
Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook),
Professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn),
Mobile applications (apps) and
Online communications are important as they enable you to interact with your constituencies/audiences and for these audiences to interact with one another. They help strengthen the overall sense of community and are a quick, cheap and effective way of sharing information with a large number of people, wherever they live in the world.
Any online communications strategy needs to take into account the different characteristics of each type of communication tool and the fact that these tools are constantly evolving.
Your strategy for Twitter, for example, might be as a tool for driving people to look at your website. Your strategy for Slidecasts might be to use them as a showcase for the expertise of your institution and a service to support your alumni as they develop their careers.
Where to Start
Do some research (online, talking with your institutional colleagues and industry peers, informally surveying your constituents, etc.) to find out where your alumni currently have a presence online, what they are looking for from online communications and how they use these tools.
Get up to speed with the functionality and technical difficulties of each online communications site.
Review and update your data protection and privacy policies.
Take an institution-wide view of how you use social media (e.g., do you have a single Twitter feed or a feed for corporate news, a feed to support student recruitment and a feed for alumni relations).
Start to develop a strategy by prioritising those sites that you think are best placed to help you in your overall development goals. Partnering with your information technology and communications departments is vital.
Developing a Strategy
After reviewing the current situation and online communication options and beginning to prioritize these tools, you should consider the following questions to develop your strategy.
Which online communication tools will best reach your target audiences, support your cultivation and stewardship activities, and most efficiently help meet your short- and long-term fundraising goals (i.e., reaching current prospects while helping build a pipeline)?
How will you integrate your online communications and use them to direct people from one online communication site to another (e.g., how will Facebook relate to your website and how will you encourage Facebook users to link to your website to update their contact details)?
What technical expertise and capabilities will you need to manage your online communications?
What technical capabilities are your audiences likely to have (e.g., hi-speed broadband capable of streaming HD video or a dial-up modem that can handle only basic content)?
Who are your international audiences and how are you tailoring your communications to include them?
How much control do you want to retain over the content generated on networking sites and how you will moderate content if necessary?
How much capacity does the development office have for maintaining an online presence and updating your online information regularly?
How will you work with the IT and communications departments to support these activities?
Research, analyse and prioritise the online communication tools best placed to help you achieve your development goals.
Leverage other online efforts of the institution.
Start small and build (as you determine what is maintainable).
Review regularly as online communications are constantly evolving.
Please note that the term advancement is often used when talking about fundraising in an educational context. As defined by CASE, the term encompasses alumni relations, communications, fundraising, marketing and allied areas.
Whilst this resource touches on all areas of advancement, its primary focus is on fundraising, or development. The terms development office and development director have been adopted to reflect this approach.
Many institutions have broad-based advancement offices, and the CASE website provides in-depth guidance on the wider aspects of advancement, including alumni relations, communications and marketing.