Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Alumni Relations and Fundraising

One excellent idea that has come out of the tuition threads at BeyondBT (see here and here) is the idea of reaching out to grade school and high school alumni for contributions.

I do find it incredible that both tzedakah agencies that I have donated to, as well as ones that I have never donated to or possibly ever even heard of, managed to find me and fill up my mailbox, quite literally, before I had even moved into our new residence. To make a long story short, not even the IRS or the Social Security Administration were this efficient!

And, while handfuls and handfuls of causes had located us, we have not once (since my husband graduated high school) received a solicitation from either his grade school or high school.

While Yeshivot scramble for funds through all sorts of venues including the all too common raffles and Chinese Auctions, it would seem logical that day schools and yeshivot would scramble for some minor (or possibly even major) funds from their very own graduates.

I don't think that a month goes by (sometimes even a week) without at least one solicitation from one of our institutions of higher learning. And, it is not just the Universities that solicit, but the various programs and clubs that we were involved with while enrolled in the University.

I'm making an assumption that the soliciting which Colleges and Universities engage in is profitable, and I can't imagine that a concerted effort on the part of days schools and Yeshivot wouldn't manage to pay off too, especially for schools located in areas that alumni don't generally return too.

Alumni relationships begin while the alumni are still students: Unfortunately, many schools manage to destroy any chance of ever receiving a donation from future alumni by the way they treat certain students during high school. My husband's high school is one of those schools and will, to their own detriment, never even make the top 100 list of priorities. And, I can't blame him. The school humiliated students whose parents were not paying full tuition (even if their scholarship was extremely minor, and something that dignified parents would normally be more than happy to donate back to the school at a later date, if the school only bothered to treat them with dignity). And, the school was extremely critical of any student that did not follow the prescribed post-high school path, also a quick way to destroy relationships with students and their parents.

While it may be understandable that a high school wants its students to pursue a certain path in Torah (and academics or professional development), it is also important to remember that when all is said and done, an upstanding Shomer Shabbat Jew should be someone to celebrate, not denigrate. It is amazing that some of our school's visions are so shortsighted that they engaged in richuk kerovim (pushing away the close), pushing away future donors.

Untapped resources: And, alumni are also not just potential donors. Alumni are potential future parents, as well as a school's best marketers and spokesman. When bitter feelings remain years and years after graduation, it should be obvious that something is wrong.

Alumni and parents of alumni are also untapped resources. At my (public) high school, I can think of a number of alumni and parents of alumni that stayed involved for years after their graduation or their children's graduations with extracurricular programs. They worked as unpaid (yes, free) coaches for sports teams and support staff for the marching band. There were parents who continue to make time to lecture at the annual career day, speak on various sensitive health topics, and who serve as sideline doctors for the sports teams, all without pay.

An extremely bright and talented classmate of mine in college, taught an academic elective class in economics at his Yeshiva High School two or three times a week without pay. He told me how much he enjoyed his high school and this was his way of showing his hakarat hatov and his way of giving to the community when he could not help financially (being that staff is the largest cost of a school, he certainly was giving financially, albeit indirectly).

Students take all sorts of paths in life. It would be neat if we tapped into non-financial alumni and community resources and enhanced our students education through the process. I imagine that if alumni and community relationships were cultivated, there would be alumni willing to give high school students a primer on basic home repair like painting and laying tile, basic car repairs like changing the oil, or a seminar in basic budgeting, tax, and finance. One can imagine, can't they?!? (I know that if the local school offered seminar in basic home repair, I'd beg to go and donate generously. I am clueless!).

In Conclusion: There are many resources in or communities, some directly financial, some indirectly financial. Many of those resources are untapped. Alumni loyalty and relations should be developed while students are still in school. Alumni are your best spokesman, your best marketers, and some of your strongest resources. Don't let this area go undeveloped.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Most yeshivas don't think long term. They can't see beyond their short term cashflow problems.

The more I read these posts, the more I want to stop donating to yeshivas. Their unprofessionalism and waste is so bad that my dollar doesn't stretch far at all.

Selena said...

Last night my son's school had a town hall meeting for parents, and one of the things they mentioned as a fundraiser was alumni outreach. I thought of you, SephardiLady, when they said that. My son's school just celebrated it's 54th anniversary, and for about 40 of those years, was the ONLY Orthodox school in town and for about 20+ years was the only Jewish school in town. They have literally thousands of alumni in all walks of life, from totally frum to totally secular, many of whom have great parnassa.

I am glad to see that they are starting to get on the ball and tap into this well of possibillity.

Ezzie said...

What's ironic about this post is that the schools I know that seem to manage their meager amounts of money well do exactly that: I've received (very good) solicitations from my elementary school and high school in the last week alone.

The HS even had an alumni gathering earlier this year which was a big hit.

Orthonomics said...

JH-I know the feeling, and I'm a "believer."

OutofTown-Sometimes you have to wonder WHY these things were overlooked?

What is sad is that it will be a lot harder to pick up the ball years later after the students already have their pet causes or have long since forgotten about the school.

Hopefully, the efforts will come to fruition.

I know our realtor sends a yearly birthday card to each of us, which serves to foster warm feelings and makes us remember she exists. Simple, inexpensive, and low manpower things like this can go a long way to building relations.

Ezzie-Your schools sound a lot more organized. My husband and I have discussed that while he won't give money to his school, he would attend an alumni function if they had one and the cost was reasonable.

But, while my high school class is planning yet another reunion, my husband's school hasn't yet had one reunion that he knows about (and his parents have lived at the same address for almost 30 years) and there should have at least two plus one more coming up.

Another thing we have discussed could come out of reunions is shidduchim! (Of course the separate schools-like my husbands-would have to combine with the girl's branch for that to happen). But, I could envision a format where singles had their own cocktail hour.

It would be like two birds in one stone!

AlanLaz said...

"not even the IRS or the Social Security Administration were this efficient!"

Try talking to anyone that works for the IRS and SSA - I'm sure they'll explain that they aren't so efficient; quite the opposite, actually. :)

Orthonomics said...

LOL Alan. I am well aware of governmental inefficiency. In fact, I could tell stories.

Selena said...


The B-day card thing is brilliant...I am going to suggest that to the school. I am sure they have records for at least some of the alumni. That would be a great think to start from this point forward as well...

Orthonomics said...

OutofTown-I can't think of anything that would be more satisfying than if a school adopted an idea of mine. Keep me posted.

Joe Schick said...

In theory, this is a very good idea. The problem, as you recognize, is that many alumni have negative sentiments toward the schools they attended.

My father has been president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School for 33 years, and he still hears from alumni from the 1950's and 60's that they won't give a penny due to the way they were treated then.

Orthonomics said...

Exactly why I stressed the need to develop good relations during high school. I find it sad that my husband has bitter feelings (for good reason) towards his Yeshiva High. Meanwhile, I have very positive feelings towards my (public) high school.