Style Files: Writing for Alumni

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On some level, you would think that writing for alumni would be easy. After all, it’s one of the few instances in which everyone in your audience has one huge thing in common — they went to the same university.

But here’s the problem: They’re not who they used to be when they were in college.

Since they graduated, any number of things could have happened to them. Maybe they started a business, had kids, dealt with a major illness, bought a house, traveled the world, lost a parent, volunteered for a great organization — and so on, forever.

Name any life-changing event that could happen to you after college, and dozens of your alums have probably experienced it. Which means that as much as they may love their alma mater, some things probably rank higher than your latest alumni newsletter.

So how do you make what you have to say feel important or meaningful?

Make Those Memories Burn Bright

Assuming you went to college there, too, what stands out in your memory about the place? For me, it was the insanely creaky wooden desks in Eisenhower Hall. The contrast between the rough-hewn limestone buildings and the crisp, blue fall sky. The churning sea of purple in the stadium on game day.

Bring your readers back in time. Help them remember what it was like to be a college student. If you can tie your cause to a major historic event on campus, like I’ve been able to here, that’s even better.

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Give Them Something Useful

Alumni communications typically have one or more of the following three aims: 1) To share news about the university, 2) To prime alumni for fundraising efforts, and 3) To maintain or increase alumni membership.

Now, if your alumni don’t have kids in school, news about the university isn’t inherently useful. Neither is advanced warning of fundraising efforts — especially if they’re big on screening calls and emails, in which case, it’s going to work the opposite way.


style_philanthropistsLooking for help when it comes to asking for donations? Check out the post on writing for philanthropists.

 

 


But depending on what you’re able to offer in exchange for those membership dues, you could catch their interest. Most schools offer things like reduced event ticket prices, breaks on insurance, and a yearly calendar. But what about information that appeals to their current situation in life? Like financial planning advice for young alums? Pet care knowledge from the university’s veterinary school? Or — and this may seem a bit grim, but it’s on a lot of older alums’ minds — a will planning kit?

Hook them up with information they can use, and they just might stay to read about your latest Rhodes Scholar.

Get Local

Many alums don’t live within driving distance of their alma mater. But the savvy ones recognize the need to network, so there’s a good chance that they participate in local alumni clubs, even if they aren’t registered with you as a member.

Poke around for information on these local clubs in major cities, and see if you can spotlight them or one of their uber-interesting members in an upcoming publication. Then see if that local club will push your story via their e-newsletter or social media platforms come press time. It could be that all you need for a few more memberships is a little local interest.

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Help Them Feel Needed

Most of your alumni left so long ago, they don’t have a sense of how much you depend on their support. Even if they do, their everyday needs are going to eclipse whatever sense of responsibility they may have for the success of your school. So instead of asking them to support the entire institution — that’s a lot to ask! — show them just one student. And then paint a clear picture of how their support will help that one student.

Have more suggestions? Share them below!

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