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10 Ways to Use Class Notes to Build Alumni Relationships

Most private schools have a magazine, which usually contains a widely read section known as "Class Notes." Class notes are an opportunity for alumni to share updates about their lives with the school, which the school then publishes in their magazine or online.

Class notes are one of the most popular sections of most alumni magazines, but they are more than just interesting updates. Class Notes are a prime opportunity for development and alumni professionals to build and foster lasting relationships that can lead to long-term alumni support. Not sure how? Here are 10 ways that you can use Class Notes to build stronger alumni relationships.

1. Congratulate your alumni

When your alumni write in to share news of getting accepted into school, earning a new degree, being offered a new job, getting engaged or married, or having a baby, it's a chance for you to reach out and congratulate them - without asking for money. Building these relationships and capitalizing on opportunities for connecting without solicitation can go a long way when the time actually comes for an Annual Fund ask.

2. Get more information

Often Class Notes submitted by alumni lack some crucial detail. Let's say that Caitlin writes, "I earned my master's degree in June." That's a great opportunity for you to reach out and get more information. You can ask Caitlin where she went to school, what she studied, and how your school helped prepare her. This conversation might end up with you getting a new email address, a new mailing address, or even introducing this new graduate to another alumni established in the same field.

You can get more information from other life events, as well.  If they just got married, ask for a photo for the magazine. New baby? Get that photo and the name of the baby, plus their birthday (thinking 5-10 years out for your admission season!). Get the details. What's your new job? What will you be doing? Tell me about the company you're working for. What does your [new] spouse do? What company does he/she work for? When it comes to getting matching gifts, this information can be crucial.

3. Learn about the alum's significant other.

Let's say that Joe writes in with a class note about getting engaged or married to Susan. Take the time to ask about his significant other. What does she do for a living? What company does she work for? Where did she go to high school and college? All this information is great to have when it comes time to asking for gifts because you can show that you paid attention and care about not just Joe, but his fiance, too. Going that extra mile can make a big difference.

4. Offer advice and networking opportunities

If Alyssa writes in to say that she just graduated from college and is looking for a job, you can offer up a chance to chat and give her some advice. Often, your alum won't take you up on the offer, but just knowing that you're willing to go that extra step for her, makes her feel like she matters and makes her feel connected to the school. If she does take you up on the offer, find out what she's interested in doing, and then look for other alumni in that same field that she might be able to network with.

Making connections between alumni gives you double the relationship-building impact. You get to help Alyssa, and you get to engage another, more successful and established alum, in a conversation that doesn't center around making a donation to the school. Both alumni will walk away feeling like you care about them as individuals, not just as donors. Plus, you'll be showing them the value your school continues to provide for them as alumni.

5. Set a reminder to follow up

If Cody started a new job on July 1, set a reminder to follow up within the next three months using your Custer Relationship Management system (like Raiser's Edge NXT or Salesforce) or calendar to see how it's going. It might be a quick phone call or even just an email, but taking the time to reach out goes a long way to show that you care.

6. Use Class Notes to Leverage Event Invitations

Every class note is an opportunity. You can use information in a class note to follow up about an event that may be of interest.

For example, if Cody writes a class note about his interest in football, look to see if there's a game during your Homecoming or Reunion Weekend (or another on campus event) and use that as an opportunity to engage with him. Encouraging alumni to come to campus by using things they are interested in will increase the likelihood that they will actually attend. If Caitlin is an avid golfer, then invite her to your massive golf outing in Puerto Rico, even if she's thousands of miles away. You never know, she might be looking for vacation opportunities, and your golf event could be the perfect getaway. At the very least, both Caitlin and Cody know about the exciting events you're hosting on campus.

7. Make Sure Information is Updated

Let's say that Alyssa sends you a detailed Class Note that doesn't need a series of follow up questions to make it complete. That doesn't mean you can just log the note and move on. Take the time to follow up with Alyssa to congratulate her on whatever she's doing, and then make a point to check that you have all her information correct in your database. Here's an example of some great wording:

"Hey Alyssa! I saw your class note submission about moving to Alaska. Congrats! It's sounds exciting. Since you moved, I wanted to take a minute to just make sure we have all your information correct. Do you still live at 55 Apple Tree drive? Your update will be published in our next magazine, and I want to make sure you get it! PS. Make sure to check out our online magazine, as well!"

8. Ask them for help

When Cody writes in saying that he has a new job working in the medical field, write him and ask if he'd be interested in mentoring a young alum who wants to get into the field of medicine, or if he'd be interested in speaking to students at an event. Keep the lines of communication open and give him a chance to share his knowledge.

9. Log Everything

This seems obvious, but it warrants a mention. Make sure that you log every interaction with your alumni in your database. After you've taken Caitlin out for coffee to chat about her job search, invited Cody to events, and asked Alyssa to get involved with speaking opportunities at the school, make a note in your database. That way, when it's time to reach out and make that Annual Fund ask, you can draw on all the great interactions you've had with your alumni and encourage them to get involved.

10. Post and Share

Another great way to amplify the usefulness of class notes is to spread the good cheer by publicly congratulating your alumni about their achievements on social media. You can leverage this traffic for your school by publishing the class note on your website with a photo, even if it's just a stock photo, and linking to the update in your social media post.

Does your school leverage class notes in a different way? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

Stacy Jagodowski

Written by Stacy Jagodowski

Ms. Jago joined the Cheshire Academy community in August 2013 as the director of strategic marketing and communications. Prior to coming to Cheshire Academy, she spent six years working in communications offices at both colleges and private school, as well as five years in admission at both boarding schools and day schools.

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