Because reunions present a rare opportunity for face-to-face engagement with your school's top donor prospects, these yearly events are a wonderful time to reengage former students and develop new donor relationships while simultaneously cultivating alumni who are current supporters. These five tips will help your school get the biggest fundraising impact from its reunion events.
1. Think long term about alumni relationships.
When it comes to reunions, many schools are tempted into short-term thinking. How much can we immediately raise from the alumni who attend? How much can we raise from those who wish they could attend, but can’t? Let’s make as much as we can now from the reunion classes!
Beware, the short-term approach is shortsighted. You may make some quick money, but you will also miss out on a bigger opportunity. Class reunions are a time to reconnect with donors who already think favorably about your school. Think about reunions in terms of lifetime donor value and use these events to re-establish or strengthen relationships, so your alumni become lifelong donors, upgrade their gifts over time, and leave a bequest in their wills.
2. Keep reunions and all pre-event communications mission centered.
Reunions should be fun and exciting. Your alumni will want to connect with old friends and tell stories about their time at your school—all of which should be encouraged by your event team. That said, also make sure there’s a mission-related focus (it can be a small focus) during the reunion and in pre-event communications.
Use the occasion to remind alumni about what makes your school special, as well as your vision for the future. Talk to them about the school’s legacy and their part in it. Make sure they walk away from the reunion thinking about how lucky they are to have graduated from your institution. By including this mission focus in the event and reunion communications, you will pave the way for future fundraising activities involving reunion attendees.
3. Don’t ask for additional support at the reunion.
Resist the urge to ask for donations of any kind at reunions. Other than the ticket cost, attendees should see reunion as a completely fun event at a place they once considered home. Don’t make asks, don’t have a silent auction, and don’t pass around donation envelopes “just in case someone wants to give.” Reunion is a cultivation and stewardship event.
Once reunion is over, and attendees go home feeling warm, positive, and cared about by your school, they will be ready for fundraising cultivation.
4. Follow-up with attendees immediately after the event.
It is critical to follow-up with reunion attendees immediately after the event to keep the warm feelings generated from fizzling out. Don’t solicit in the initial follow-ups. Instead, send a thank-you note and tell them how much you appreciate them being part of your school family. Encourage them to sign up for your school’s e-mail newsletter, invite them for a personalized tour of campus, and give them free tickets to your next school sporting event. Keep following up and cultivating until they are ready for an ask.
5. Whenever possible, provide personal cultivation.
As a rule of thumb, the more personal the cultivation, the more successful the fundraising. This strategy is true across all development strategies—not just reunions.
Your school probably won’t have the resources to cultivate all reunion attendees personally, and thus many will receive e-mail newsletters as well as mailed letters and invitations to on-campus events for the bulk of their post-reunion cultivation. However, for the attendees with the highest capacity to give, provide personal cultivation through phone calls, meetings with development staff, and visits from other school personalities such as the head of school, team coaches, or long-tenured faculty.
For more school fundraising tips, visit our K–12 Fundraising and Alumni Management resource hub.