Publications & Products
Volume 5, Issue 10

Starting with Zero: A Lesson in Developing Alumni Groups

Instead of starting with postcards and emails, Brookhaven Community College, located right outside of Dallas, Texas, tried something different when looking to begin the school's first alumni program. The college hosted a kick-off event where they invited every single alumni in recent history back to the campus for a small event.

This approach, says Sylvia Wise, donor relations coordinator for the college, was to simply engage any alumni in the area.

"We really just wanted to start with this phenomenal event. We wanted to make it memorable so people would want to come back to more events in the future," Wise says. "Sometimes you just have to start somewhere."

Because this was the first-ever alumni event, there was no large database from which to create an invite list. Wise says she asked faculty, staff and alumni from community events to send her emails of former students so she could build her own list.

"We started with this huge database where I put together a list of degree and certificate graduates for the last 11 years," Wise says. "We had email addresses, and we thought those most likely were active. We collected 6,700 records."

Two months before the event, Wise sent out a "Save-the-Date" to the alumni on the list and followed-up with weekly reminders and emails to those who did not RSVP. Even though a separate email address was set up for this purpose, Wise had to respond to emails personally.

"It is so important to know as much as you can about your alumni, so I recommend keeping as much information as you can because that will help when reaching out to them," Wise says.

The event, by all accounts, was a success, Wise says. More than 100 alumni, staff and students attended the small reception held before a private performance by the school's theater group, and the school didn't blow their small budget; they borrowed equipment and expertise from members of the community.

Better yet, the alumni who came were enthusiastic about joining a future alumni program.

"[Community colleges] have these alumni who come to every event and want to help and volunteer, and I feel like this event helped us build that core group so we can keep going," Wise says. "We'll be able to really get to know them and get feedback as we formally establish our alumni group."

Now that Wise has a core group of alumni and an active database, the next step is for Brookhaven to formally establish the alumni program, which it will kick off this summer.

"Graduation is coming up in May, so we'll be giving graduates a token that says, 'We are alumni,' and we'll give them information about joining the program. We want them to know that even though they are leaving, they will always be connected," Wise says.

This article is from the May 2016 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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