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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 1.2


The Role and Importance of Alumni Relations

The term advancement encompasses alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas as described in this detailed definition by CASE.

Whilst the focus of this resource is development and fundraising activities, the link with alumni relations is integral (and often a part of the same department). It demands significant attention when thinking about your start-up activities, vision and strategy and about how you make your case.

Without strong alumni relations, your prospect pool will be significantly reduced and your chances of significant fundraising success compromised. Alumni have the potential to be your most loyal and generous supporters.

What Is an Alumnus?

It is important for your institution to decide how it defines an alumnus and to document this to avoid any confusion.

The classic definition of alumnus is a graduate or former student of a specific school, college or university. Different institutions develop their own definitions of what alumnus means

  • Some restrict the term to graduates.
  • Others widen the definition to include all former students (even those who failed to finish), retired staff and other associates.
Why Is Alumni Relations Important?

In the past, alumni relations, or engagement, tended to be treated as a stand-alone activity divorced from fundraising and other advancement activities. Indeed, some alumni associations were entirely independent of their parent institutions, and whilst their members interacted with each other, they had very little interaction with the institution.

Today, alumni relations is an important part of an institution's advancement activities for many reasons:

  • Alumni are an institution's most loyal supporters.
  • Alumni are fundraising prospects.
  • Alumni generate invaluable word-of-mouth marketing among their social and professional networks.
  • By engaging alumni, an institution can continue to benefit from their skills and experience.
  • Alumni are great role models for current students and are often well placed to offer practical support to students as they start their careers.
  • Alumni are often in the position to engage the expertise of the institution in their professional lives.
  • Your alumni are your international ambassadors. They take their knowledge of your institution to their hometowns and countries and into their professional and social networks.

Maintaining a positive relationship with your alumni means that the messages they share about your institution will also be positive – and current.

If the relationship between your alumni and your institution stalls when they leave campus, their knowledge of your activities and achievements will no longer evolve. The messages they will share with people will be out-of-date and could reflect poorly on the progress your institution has since achieved.

Maintaining communication channels with alumni means you can keep them informed of your achievements and make them part of your institution's future, not just its past.

Good alumni relations benefits alumni as well as the institution. If you support your alumni in their professional and personal lives through activities such as the facilitation of social and professional networks, preferential access to on-campus expertise and facilities and negotiated benefits with third-party suppliers, they are likely to be your loyal life-long supporters. Your support may also help your alumni achieve positions of success and influence, which will in turn benefit your institution as they begin to give back.

By helping the institution become bigger, stronger and more successful, alumni are also enhancing the value of their own degree qualification.

Alumni as Prospects

All alumni are fundraising prospects. They are the most likely group to give (if the institution has done its job right), as alumni should have a sense of gratitude and want their institution to succeed.

A strong link between alumni relations and fundraising will enable you to spot alumni who have the capacity and inclination to make significant gifts. It will also enable you to effectively segment the majority of alumni who might only give smaller amounts so that you can match them to the ask that has the highest likelihood of success.

Don't Be Overprotective

It is tempting to keep close control over your alumni and funnel all contact with them through the development or advancement office, but this can have negative consequences. The capacity of the office to deal with alumni contact might be overwhelmed, frustrating the alumni who want to get in touch. A bond between an alumnus and the institution that is focused on a single point will be weaker than a bond focused on multiple points.

Good alumni relations should be flexible enough to allow an alumnus to maintain a positive link, not only with the office, but also with his old tutor, former football coach, careers adviser and any number of his peer group. This broader network experience is far more enriching both for the individual alumnus and the institution.

The trick is to be aware of these links, capture the information and make sure these interactions are recognized as a part of the overall donor cultivation process (as multiple links are a strong indication of an individual's favour toward the institution and probability to give).

Action Items
  • Define alumnus for your institution – and document that definition.
  • Outline a few key ways in which you are maintaining positive relationships with your alumni (in partnership with other departments).
  • Outline in your fundraising strategy how you would like to focus the support of your alumni (in partnership with other departments).

You Might Also Want to Read:

Key working relationships and links with other offices/departments
Office structures
Partnering with other advancement-related departments
Alumni magazines and e-newsletters
How to engage the international community

More Than One Way to Engage

Providing financial support is just one way for alumni to engage with their institutions. Engagement can be on multiple levels and rewarding for both parties. Examples include:

  • Donating regularly through the annual fund or with high-value single gifts,
  • Sponsoring research, student projects or courses,
  • Commissioning consultancy from academics,
  • Leaving legacies – financial as well as through personal bequests, e.g., art, property,
  • Participating in peer-to-peer fundraising,
  • Brokering introductions to create new partnerships for the university with their employers, governments and other affiliated organisations,
  • Providing expert advice and guidance to the university's leadership,
  • Providing case study material, guest lectures, equipment or similar to enhance teaching,
  • Supporting student recruitment both at home and overseas,
  • Providing careers advice, mentoring, placements, internships to current students,
  • Acting as positive role models to current students,
  • Sharing talents to enhance the cultural life of campus through performances, exhibitions, etc.,
  • Contributing to the positive international public profile of the university and
  • Contributing to the positive online profile of the university.

Did You Know...

alumnus = masculine noun, singular
alumni = masculine noun, plural

alumna = feminine noun, singular
alumnae = feminine noun, plural

Traditionally, the masculine plural noun has been used when referring to both genders, though groups consisting of both males and females can also be referred to as alumni/alumnae or the alumni and alumnae of our institution.

Alum is an informal term that is occasionally used to describe an alumnus or alumna, often when the gender of the person is unknown.



CASE provides in-depth information on alumni relations, including outreach and engagement, services, assessment, marketing, communications and partnership with alumni offices or associations.

Roger Makanjuola talks about alumni associations.
 Colin McCallum, president of the GGU Foundation and assistant vice principal, talks about the potential of alumni and how to engage them meaningfully.
Wood talks about engaging alumni, fundraising events and selecting the right communication channels.
McWilliams talks about engaging alumni for fundraising.
Chris Cox, director of development and alumni relations at the University of Manchester, gives advice on how to effectively combine development and alumni relations departments.