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Blog > Building Your Community > An insight into: Deepening alumni connections without physical events

An insight into: Deepening alumni connections without physical events

Read our round-up of how Sasha McCarthy, Alumni Manager at St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane, quickly pivoted to alternative initiatives when her alumni events plan was cancelled.

St Peters Lutheran College
St Peters Lutheran College

Many alumni connections are built on events, and in light of COVID-19 plans are having to change. Many schools and development offices are finding that engagement is tougher than usual, but stories of success are emerging which paints a much more optimistic picture of the opportunities that are available during these strange times. 

While some sense of normality can now be found in pockets around the globe, we hope that some of these ideas can be useful as you transition to the next stage of your development strategy and inspire an augmented strategy to reach engagement in places you hadn’t yet found. 

St Peters Lutheran College

St Peters Lutheran College has almost 2,200 students and a wide alumni network, so when COVID-19 hit and their events calendar got wiped out, they initially struggled to find ways to engage. Sasha McCarthy, Alumni Manager at St Peters Lutheran College, joined us for our latest webinar to explain how she quickly pivoted to new tactics when her events calendar was cancelled. She found that events had been used as the backbone to tell stories and give updates from the college, and without them there were limited non-event engagement opportunities. Therefore, their development office undertook discovering new methods to give updates and share stories. 

Creating new networks to connect people during a potentially isolating time

One of the first initiatives that St Peters Old Scholars Association (SPOSA) took was to create a new set of networks which would connect members of their community to support one another. One of these networks was a tutoring network, which offered opportunities for tutors to work with students by setting up an online profile with contact details. They began with seven tutors and grew to over 65 tutors by June, proved successful at connecting alumni tutors and current students, and is now a permanent opportunity. 

Another network that SPOSA has introduced include a mentoring programme, which produced an intra-college partnership between the development office, Old Scholars and the Parents & Friends Association, and St Peters careers office, resulting in community ties outside of the office and increased opportunities for external and internal partners to work with them. They produce videos and resources for additional information based on the careers current students are interested in. They plan to develop this into a formal six month mentoring programme, with significant growth expected in this network. 

SPOSA introduced an Adopt a Senior programme to partner Year 9s with Old Scholars who were self-isolating or elderly to complete their Service Learning Programme. The students wrote a letter or had a phone call with their Scholar to begin the relationship, and now maintain the relationship themselves. Sasha explained that this has led to a new channel of communication to learn updates from Old Scholars and gain updated contact details, as well as leading to an increase of financial and archival donations. 

SPOSA asked for more volunteers to join their Volunteer Network during this time and had a great response. Volunteers helped by calling Old Scholars to check in, writing community funding grants and historical book writing. They have also managed to produce some exciting content by conducting Old Scholar interviews which current students have gotten involved with, helping with videography or taking on the role of interviewer. These efforts are recorded in their college magazine, used as a tool to increase their credibility and exposure to their Old Scholars.

Overhauling existing initiatives to reach a wider audience

With the cancellation of their other events, SPOSA also found increased time to overhaul some of their existing initiatives. They went digital with their newsletter, which had previously only been posted to approximately 300 of their alumni, and now reaches thousands of Old Scholars via email, while still posting to older alumni who may not have an email address. This had the added benefit of being connected directly to their database, meaning any details that had been changed were automatically updated when they sent their email. 

One of their popular initiatives is the Young Old Scholars Advisory Group, which works alongside the college to assist it in providing younger alumni with what they want out of the Old Scholars Association. They conduct monthly meetings via Zoom to feedback on projects and it has been an effective way to keep recent graduating classes in contact. 

They also strengthened their digital archiving, working with their college library management system to create a sophisticated archive of old school photos, building developments and school uniforms that can be accessed anywhere for alumni to look back on.

What outcomes did SPOSA achieve?

They have found an astounding increase in quality for their archival donations, with many Old Scholars providing insightful background and context to their donations to help improve the college’s records. With the extra volunteer help that they have provided, the productivity of their committee and office has increased as it has allowed them to focus time on other projects that would otherwise have been missed. Above all, they have developed a better connection with the SPOSA department within the college and externally, with a big uptake in organic alumni communications.

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