The secret to building meaningful alumni engagement at scale

Universities run sophisticated alumni relations programmes at scale. Now schools can do the same, says Daniel Watts, founder of Aluminati

A robust programme developing sustainable communities of alumni, parents, staff and other stakeholders is crucial to the sustainability of schools and institutions in the 21st century.

With massive uncertainty around public funding, education policy and the wider economy, a large pool of passionate and supportive alumni help put schools on a secure footing.

Increasingly, independent schools are investing in alumni relations to ensure ongoing success and to protect a legacy that must not be forgotten.

The best kind of engagement? Personal contact

The independent school experience holds a very special place in the hearts of your leavers. As an Old Haileyburian myself, I know that my school memories are indelible.

Decades after leaving, I still welcome the newsletter with school updates and enjoy reading about what my former classmates are up to. I also review upcoming events I might wish to attend.

That said, my favourite alumni experiences have been the work placements with current students who I have welcomed to my company. Nothing has reinforced my bond with Haileybury as much as those genuine real-person interactions.

Facilitating connections

A crucial component of any successful alumni association is the evolution from simply a ‘provider of information’ to one which forms a genuine relationship that stays with each alumnus for life.

With tens of thousands of alumni, it is a tall order to assume that even the best-staffed alumni relations office has the capacity to personally relate to a significant portion of their membership.

The only really workable strategy is to take a step back and become a Facilitator of Connection – helping your community to connect with one another, and through those connections appreciate the continued value of their shared school history. This is the concept of disintermediation.

For alumni, a high-performing connections programme provides key business contacts and opportunities for career progression through a network of inspirational alumni successes, many of whom will volunteer as mentors.

For students, connection networks will be hugely generous in offering opportunities for early work experience like I did.

School leavers who are in higher education can play a key role in being approachable contacts to help sixth formers choose their university. For schools, connected alumni act as brilliant ambassadors, carrying the reputation of the school, ensuring student intake year-on-year, encouraging others to give back and generally raising the profile of the school. They are very possibly the parents of your future pupils.

“The platform allows us to engage and work with our wider Haileybury community, including parents, members of staff, and, of course, particularly alumni of the school,” says Russell Matcham, partnerships manager.

James Brooking, Old Haileyburian, says: “I think the opportunities and resources, such as advice and mentorship, that the Haileybury Connect Platform offers, will be a great asset to me.”

Read the full case study here:

Building connections at scale

Increasing engagement with limited resources can seem a great challenge.

Access to new technologies mean that you can now reach more people in a more targeted and personalised way, allowing you to scale-up your community’s peer-to-peer connections.

A highly effective way of doing this is to deploy a bespoke and private online engagement platform to deliver technological disintermediation.

It is not just young people who are becoming accustomed to using social networks to stay in touch – Facebook’s largest growing demographic is the over-55s. However, with a series of recent breaches, large corporate networks are suffering badly from an accelerating drop-off in trust and decreasing userbase.

Building your own private, high-trust online space is entirely feasible and is a clever way of creating the right environment for your worldwide alumni community to connect directly.

Over the last decade, the choice of platforms has increased dramatically although they vary in terms of quality, functionality and flexibility. With the increasing resources and sophistication of school alumni functions, better technology – previously only accessible by large institutions in the higher-education space – is now affordable for schools.

Once built, a high-quality online platform can be run very efficiently, providing a global community that year-on-year helps meet strategic goals including reputational enhancement, pupil recruitment, improving career destinations, university placement successes and support of fundraising efforts.


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