The Development and Alumni Office within a school is often a mysterious department. Many are unaware what it does, even within the school community, aside from interrupting the school routine with the occasional (often boozy) reunion event for a ‘white-haired brigade’ of school leavers. This was partially reflected during COVID, when many schools placed their Development Offices on furlough as they were deemed ‘non-essential to the day-to-day running of the school’. Whilst I do understand the reasoning behind this decision at such an uncertain time, having worked in a Development Office for four and a half years, I would argue that this particular team’s impact is multi-faceted and a Development Office can genuinely help future proof a school.
If we start by addressing the function of a Development Office. This department looks to keep in touch with alumni with the hope that they will continue to be champions of the school long after they leave, and perhaps even feel inclined to give back to the school in the future. It is true that the process of building a network or ‘friend-raising’ often starts with creating opportunities for alumni to come together and reconnect with their old school, and alumni events are a wonderful thing – seeing school leavers of all ages come together to share memories and traditions from their era at the school. However, for the Development Office events are just one of many ways to stay connected with its alumni. Behind the scenes, this team will also be managing dedicated alumni websites, sending regular e-newsletters about the community’s activities, writing alumni magazines and publications, offering school visits and tours, and inviting alumni to current shows and community events, all to try and foster engagement and build a hub for its leavers.
But why is an alumni network of importance to the school in the present day?
By establishing and nurturing alumni connections, the Development Office has a highly valuable network of engaged individuals to make an ‘ask’ of in the future. Any type of ask that you make to a community with fond memories and still-present connections to the school will always land much more favourably than to those without a personal attachment to your institution, whether this is a request for time, money or support.
A school’s alumni body will often be a diverse group of individuals, each of whom pursued their own career path via their own unique route, but they all have one thing in common – their old school. By keeping in touch with alumni who work across different industries, you instantly have a careers network that can support the next generation of school leavers. Nowadays, the age old saying of ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ is ever more apt. So, whilst your students might struggle to bang on the door of the likes of Santander, Deloitte, Saatchi & Saatchi, or GSK unannounced, with a warm introduction from an alumni connection, the likelihood of work experience placements, internships, and even job opportunities, become more accessible to the existing cohort of students. I’ve seen this be the case across all sectors, with alumni keen to help the next generation of leavers, and it allows a school to provide yet another enriching life opportunity, without a price tag.
Many capital project works take place during the holidays with unyielding deadlines of the start of the next academic year. The background work for most, if not all, of these would likely have started several academic years prior to this summer, with the Estates and Facilities team putting together masterplans and capital investment reviews by the Bursar and wider Finance team. Should a school be questioning how to fund an upcoming project, an engaged alumni network can transform the possibilities. Thanks to the Development Office, the school now has a warm group of potential donors at its fingertips to make these pricey projects possible – whether it’s buying a brick for a new building, donating for a cause that resonates with them like a new sports pitch or performing arts hall, or making a regular gift for the school to put towards a future building upgrade.
Beyond its buildings, many schools are now turning their attention to their own community impact. Acknowledging that a private school education is not financially accessible for all, more and more schools are looking to offer transformational bursaries for able students to attend. Here, an engaged alumni society really comes into its own. Those with fond memories, life-long friends, and lasting connections to their alma mater are more likely to support this important type of social mobilisation project, wanting to gift future generations the same educational experiences they have come to treasure.
Another way engaged alumni prove to be invaluable is by supporting the Marketing and Admissions teams, in being ambassadors for the school. Brand reputation is crucial for a school to thrive and there is no better recommendation than from an ‘old boy’ or ‘old girl’ of a school. Equally, when your alumni are considering which school to send their own child to, having a lasting, meaningful connection to their former school makes it a desirable choice. Multi-generational families going through the same educational institution is not uncommon because parents want to give their children to have the same start in life they had. Here, the work that the Development Office has put in to retain and nurture its relationships with alumni proves invaluable, and ultimately contributes to a thriving school roll.
I’ve only mentioned a few impactful ways that a Development Office can support a school’s future, but even across these examples, I hope it illustrates how a small department can make such a big difference. With that in mind, the hiring of the right individuals for such a team is crucial, and it’s just one of the reasons why we love working with schools to help bring about that positive injection of talent and skill.
Should you need support in finding the right individuals for your school, please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.