Effective Practices : Development

Development Section 5

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1. Who is an alumnus?
2. Who cares for alumni in the school?
3. Why have an alumni effort?
4. What is the alumni council?
5. What are class reps?
6. What are the key elements of an alumni program?
7. What are the key points in your alumni philosophy?

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Who is an alumnus?
Most Waldorf schools consider any student that has attended the school to be an alumnus, regardless of the length of time he or she attended or whether he or she actually graduated from the school. It is a frequent occurrence for schools to have students for brief periods of time that find themselves profoundly affected by their experience with Waldorf education, and that are interested in maintaining a lifetime relationship with their school.

To aid in tracking and analysis schools often include the years of attendance and a code indicating whether the student was a graduate on their databases, but all alumni receive all the same correspondence as long time alumni.

All alumni automatically belong to the Alumni Association. Graduating students are invited to their first meeting of the association at year-end. This is the time when they elect their class rep, the person charged with acting as the point person for the class on alumni matters.

Many schools include alumni parents in their definition of alumni. Parents often stay active even after their children graduate. And until the alumni reach a certain age, it is the alumni parents who remain as donors, not the alumni themselves. Many major donors in the schools are alumni parents.

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Who cares for alumni in the school?
Schools with mature alumni programs have one person whose job it is to focus on the care and support of the school’s alumni. The alumni director responsibilities are usually about 1/4 to 1/2 time, although often times the individual is given additional responsibilities to create a full time position. Most often the individual serves as the Alumni Director and Development Assistant, a position that is 3/4 to full time on a combined basis. Development tasks rarely come in a steady stream, and the combination of alumni tasks with other support for the development office allows additional flexing to meet short-term spikes in activity for special events and projects.

Notes and Questions
How can your school’s commitment to this position be demonstrated? How can it fit with other priorities? Is it just another item on an already too- large job description?

The following list of responsibilities from one school is fairly typical:

  • Write and send most correspondence to alumni students and parents. However, the Alumni Director never generates donor appeals.
  • Coordinate events involving alumni. These are both events for alumni exclusively and ones that involve or support other areas of the school. Examples of the latter include working with the Athletic Department to man an Alumni team at the annual basketball night celebration, or to provide alumni panelists for the enrollment director for a high school information evening.
  • Create and mail a quarterly newsletter.
  • Gather information and maintain the alumni database.
  • Meet and greet returning alumni whenever they visit the school.
  • Serve as a resource for connecting alumni to old classmates and other members of the community.
  • Cooperate with AWSNA on larger alumni issues such as the publication of Learning to Learn.
  • Support the processing of school bulk mailings that include items of import for alumni.
  • Coordinate special projects such as photography sessions of alumni.
  • Contribute to the content and development of alumni pages on the school web site.

One school has as a clear element of its alumni program a sincere desire for alumni to come back and stay at the school for short periods of time. The school has a dedicated alumni house for this purpose that both archives memorabilia and is a place where people can stay while in town. This school adds the responsibilities of upkeep, cleaning and coordinating the use of the Alumni house to the job description.

Ok, so your school doesn’t have a spare house, what about an Alumni Bulletin Board?

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Why have an alumni effort?
The alumni are recognized as the greatest ambassadors for Waldorf education, and as such schools seek to maintain a bond between the student and the school as long as possible. Alumni are the future parents and donors for Waldorf schools across North America, and should be treated as the precious resource that they are. Good development work isn’t just about the school’s needs now; it also lays the foundation for the future. Alumni work is a clear indicator of this forward-looking focus.

Alumni feel a lifetime connection with the school, and both the alumni and the school benefit from this continued association. When our alumni shine the schools shine too. Alumni are a resource to current and prospective parents, and when they speak or appear on the school’s behalf they are a powerful affirmation of Waldorf education to everyone present.

Alumni have the same goal as the faculty and the Trustees - to keep the school alive, to keep it growing, and to incarnate the spirit of the school. They are a vital part of the school’s history and its future. The alumni carry the spirit of the school so it’s especially important to bring that spirit back to the school by bringing alumni back to visit.

One long-term goal of an alumni program is to build and nourish connections so that gift capital can flow to the school. These relationships are vital elements for successful capital campaigns, and alumni giving is often a criteria used by foundations when reviewing grant applications. Schools today recognize that they must reach out through active friend raising and build goodwill before asking for participation and support in fundraising activities.

Many schools spoke of the difficulty of finding alumni students if years have gone by since their graduation or departure from the school. They urged young schools to begin their alumni programs immediately, even if the only activity is maintaining a simple database of names, home and email addresses, and years of attendance. A simple postcard inviting alumni to regularly scheduled upcoming festivals, concerts and events at the school is a simple, low-cost, no effort way to stay in touch on an ongoing basis, and will be a huge advantage as the school matures and is ready to reach out to its alumni in a more proactive way.

The need to start today with an alumni program was underscored in a different way as well. Re-establishing relationships with alumni sometimes means bringing old issues and old wounds out of the closet. It is often difficult or impossible to sort out and bring closure to these issues when years have gone by, and it’s far easier when they can be addressed cleanly and directly in a timely way. Once again, mature schools urged young schools to build a simple alumni program as early as possible in the school’s biography.

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What is the Alumni Council?

Some schools have created an Alumni Council to actively support the alumni director in her work. These people are volunteers that meet and carry out the work of the alumni association. While some members of the Board of Trustees at a school may be alumni, the Alumni Council names one or two members to the Board. The Council’s work is primarily with the development and alumni office. It looks for ways to promote communication between alumni, getting them to attend events at the school and encouraging participation in the annual campaign and fundraising for the alumni house. They meet four times a year, including once during an annual alumni weekend. The Council also works with the alumni director to survey the alumni, detailing their interests, their ability to volunteer at the school, and to learn what’s happening in their personal life. The Council publishes an annual alumni directory with the names and addresses of all alumni by class.

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What are class reps?
In most schools each graduating class elects a class representative. The class reps are provided by the school with mailing lists, alumni directories, and other materials to support their efforts at keeping in touch with their class. The class reps are invited to a weekend meeting each year that includes workshops and discussions on how to stay in touch with and activate the alumni of a class. The reps also take care of collecting the class notes for the alumni newsletter.

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What are the key elements of an alumni program?
The alumni programs address continued participation of the alumni in the life of the school in many ways. Although some people think first of alumni in relation to fundraising, experienced development directors shared that donations of wealth are almost always preceded by gifts of work and wisdom. For this reason the fundraising relationship with alumni is rarely held by the alumni director. It is recognized that financial gifts can be harvested by others only if the alumni director has done a good job of nourishing the soil, planting the seeds and created a healthy environment in which alumni relations can bloom and grow.

These other elements include events, an alumni newsletter and directory, ambassadorships, employment opportunities and committee memberships.

A frequent event is the annual basketball night in which one of the games features an alumni team playing either the faculty or the high school’s varsity team. Class reunions, a winter social and alumni weekends are other customary events, and some schools also host other regional gatherings of alumni in various parts of the country. Some schools offer weekend workshops for alumni, and virtually all of them have some sort of alumni booth or other gathering in conjunction with the school holiday or spring fair.

Newsletters and Directories
The alumni newsletter is generally published two to four times a year. Some schools dedicate several pages of their quarterly newsletter to alumni affairs. This helps alumni hear of current events and developments at the school, and allows current parents and friends to see the exciting accomplishments of alumni. Several schools also publish directories for the use of alumni, listing the names and contact information for all individuals in the alumni database.

Several schools emphasized the importance of electronic publishing in this area. It is no longer necessary to print large quantities of expensive newsletters to communicate with alumni, or even with most parents these days. A significant majority of alumni now have email, and schools were urged to actively promote the electronic distribution of materials and to mail hard copies only when electronic delivery mechanisms are unavailable. This approach significantly reduces printing and postage costs and schools report a higher read rate with materials sent electronically than with those sent by conventional methods.

Many schools have found that alumni make the best ambassadors for Waldorf education and invite them to participate in many events. One example is to have a panel of alumni at high school information evenings. These evenings vary in approach; in some cases they are intended to give lower school parents information about the school’s high school program and in other cases they provide parents and students with important insights into the transition to a non-Waldorf high school. In either case the alumni are able to share their experiences and insights with a credibility that no one else can match. Schools also arrange to have alumni present to make presentations at grandparents’ day festivities, school anniversary or groundbreaking ceremonies, and at open house events for current and prospective parents.

Volunteers and Committee Memberships
Several schools noted they have been successful at having alumni serve as active members of committees and in other volunteer capacities. This effort is especially productive in schools that are taking full advantage of new approaches to communication. Schools that use teleconferencing to include committee members that are at a distance, and email and electronic publishing to facilitate communication between meetings are able to get many people to participate actively in the life of the school that might otherwise be unable to share their gifts.

Some schools offer special programs or camps on-site during the summer months, and all of these reported that young alumni were frequently involved as counselors and assistants in these programs. These are win-win relationships where young people are able to earn money and gain practical summer experience, and the camps are able to staff their programs with young adults that share and understand the underlying values of the program. In other schools alumni have come back to work at the school as block teachers, or have offered a course as part of the school’s ongoing adult education and enrichment program. Some schools report success with shadowing days in which alumni are partnered with current parents, shadowing them throughout a workday and gaining practical insights into various fields of work.

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What are the key points in your alumni philosophy?

  • If you’ve been a Waldorf student, you’ll be a Waldorf alumnus. The length of time at the school is not a criterion for being called an alumnus.
  • Stay in touch starting today. Don’t wait to reconnect when students are older and have the ability to give, or when your school has time for a more sophisticated alumni program.
  • Development work is about the future as well as the current needs of the school. Alumni work is a clear indicator of this forward-looking focus. Include alumni parents in the definition of alumni.
  • Provide lots of opportunities for alumni to come back to the school. Take the school to the alumni through regional gatherings and the ability to participate from a distance in the committee life of the school.
  • Active friend raising and the building of goodwill are necessary before the school can ask for participation and support in fundraising activities.
  • Alumni are the best example of the results of Waldorf education. Build living connections between alumni and current parents, and something very special can occur.
  • Alumni are an incredibly self-aware and self-possessed group, and need to be met with professionalism and consistency in the alumni program.
  • There is a strong connection between alumni and their teachers. Be aware of these relationships and use them to improve the effectiveness and impact of your alumni program.

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Events that have been successfull at your school?
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