Publications & Products
Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 11.5

HEFCE

Alumni Magazines and E-newsletters

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.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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),
  • Fundraising appeals,
  • 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.


Action Item
  • 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.).

You Might Also Want to Read:

The role and importance of alumni relations
Developing a fundraising strategy
The cultivation process
Stewardship activities
Partnering with other advancement-related departments
Selecting the right communication channels
Leave behinds and printed materials
Online communications
How to engage the international community

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CASE provides in-depth communications samples and information, including online and electronic communications, print publications and periodicals, and specific alumni communications materials.

McWilliams talks about engaging alumni for fundraising.