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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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The Benefits and Challenges of Alumni Questions to Ask to Find the Light
Karen Eber Davis

April, 2015

If your nonprofit has existed for half a dozen years or more, you have alumni: people whom you served once who have the potential to be donors. Benefits of engaging alumni include:

  • They know your services.
  • You can gin up legitimate reasons to connect.
  • Some have a deep and abiding passion for your work. 

Alumni challenges include:

  • Their numbers. Some entities, such as the Girl Scouts, encompass multitudes. 
  • Over time without new fuel, alumni warmth cools. 
  • Any allegiance to you competes with a plethora of other philanthropic possibilities collected during a lifetime. (See graphic.) 

Yet some of your alumni feel a deep and enduring zeal for your organization. Use this as motivation to override the challenges. Satisfying alumni work involves identifying alumni who love you and, if necessary, reigniting their passion.


To work with your alumni, sort them into "may give" and "unlikely to give." This will allow focus. Dumping all alumni into one pile is akin to mixing darks and lights when doing laundry. It gives you muddled results. To created a focused list, learn about:

  • Their experience. Do they view you negatively or positively? A negative perception might have nothing to do with you, i.e., it was a bad time and they don't want to think about it. If they remember a wonderful experience, consider working with them more.     
  • Why they were involved. Was it their affinity with you or to support a friend? If they choose "you" for you, you have increased potential for even more of a relationship. If they choose you because a friend or a parent inspired involvement, your potential decreases.   
  • Their values and any philanthropic investment "rules." Their values may include you, but their philanthropic rules might not. For instance, they've moved and their policy calls for investing locally. Or, their values may include only peripheral interest in your cause. Depending on the broadness of your work, you can often "fit" into their interest areas. If not, focus elsewhere.  

From the nonprofit's perspective, it's natural to desire alumni status to be a strong motivator. You do good work. People benefit from it. Nostalgia does motivate, as demonstrated by plentiful class reunions. However, while yesterday inspires your alumni to consider you, your alumni seek to solve current needs. While you'll look back to find alumni, look to now to fulfill their philanthropic goals. Alumni are like candles, help them to reach their goals and their flames will grow to provide warmth and light.   

Alumni Choices




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