Elevate Philanthropy ™
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Engagement goes beyond alumni relations

Naturally, most development offices establish programmes that actively engage their alumni. This is understandable given alumni represent your school’s largest stakeholder constituency and have a strong (and hopefully positive) connection as former students. This in turn creates a high likelihood for alumni wanting to stay in touch and even give back.

However, there are several other stakeholder groups within your wider community that are worth considering for strategic engagement in order to involve them with your development programme. Often the most effective and successful route to building relationships and involving these stakeholders relies on partnering with other colleagues across the school or your community.

Board of Governors

An active and involved board can play a critical role for any development programme, particularly when there are ambitious plans or expectations of growth.  It might seem obvious that this group of volunteer leaders – often representing parents, alumni, or leaders in the community – should play an important role in shaping the strategy of a development programme, or even be actively involved in fundraising, but it is not always so. This can be an outcome of having a relatively young development programme, or perhaps the school has simply never asked or expected this of them.

The key here will be working with your head and leadership team to begin building relationships with board members to help them understand the role they can play. We have many clients who experience that board members, once engaged, are supportive of development but lack the knowledge and comfort levels to get further involved. Graham-Pelton has increasingly partnered with clients to develop tailored fundraising workshops and leadership briefings aimed at giving boards the tools and confidence to play a leading role in a school’s development activities.

Parents and Parents of Alumni

We have seen many schools start their development programme with fundraising from parents; however, we experience just as many schools that hesitate engaging parents in development. This often comes from a good place, with leadership being mindful of the investment already made through school fees and wondering if it might be inappropriate and irritate parents if they are engaged further. Sadly, this is misplaced worry, based on assumptions and inference rather than fact. What is important is how you approach parents.

Successfully engaging parents can start by showing the value added by the development programme to their children’s educational experience. This could be examples of what has been made possible through philanthropic support or even showcasing any mentoring or alumni-student initiatives. Partner with teachers and your parents association to build relationships with parents to understand how they would like to get involved, what is most important to them, and progressively raise the profile of the development office. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Even more, we strongly encourage you to not automatically think parents of alumni don’t want to be involved. Parents may have trusted you with their children’s entire education, which is nearly a two-decade relationship and, give or take, a £100k investment. We have worked with many clients who are amazed when parents of alumni would like to continue to be involved. It’s always best to establish a strong relationship while they are still at the school and keep the door open for them to continue to be informed and involved long past their children leaving.


There are several great activities to begin engaging local corporates as well as the companies of alumni and parents with the school. This will often require a strong partnership with your school’s careers team to involve corporates in any existing mentoring programmes, career days, industry experience, and even work placements programmes. Making industry connections through alumni, parents, and governors is an effective way of getting them further involved with the school as well.

Once a relationship has been built between the school and the corporate, you will be in a strong position to discuss how they might want to further support other priority projects that align with their interest. This could be supporting STEM programmes, sports, or even bursaries, but can be fully explored on a strong foundation of existing activity.

Trusts & Foundations

It is worthwhile to research if there are any trusts and foundations focused on your local area that have specific interest in education, access, sport, or arts and culture. Like corporates, we also encourage you to work with your community to see if board members, parents, or alumni are connected to any of the local or national trusts and foundations that may be aligned with your strategic goals. If you have a particularly ambitious campaign or fundraising objectives, there may be national trusts and foundations that would consider a funding application to support your vision.

Students (or soon-to-be alumni)

Last but not least, don’t neglect your students. Establishing programmes where students can enrich their educational experience is a great way to demonstrate the value of the development team before students graduate. Importantly, in the last years at the school, you should think about how to inform and prepare students to be alumni by sharing some of the benefits they will receive by staying connected. Before they leave, don’t forget to invite them back to the school so you start them on their alumni journey.

Engaging stakeholders outside of your alumni doesn’t require a whole new set of activity and can often be done to support and enhance your existing programme. Nevertheless, it needs to be done, and Graham-Pelton knows that unlocking the potential of these different relationships is where schools can begin to reap their full development potential.

This article is part of a series providing our analysis and key takeaways from the 2016-2018 Graham-Pelton/IDPE Benchmarking Report. Read other articles or sign-up for our email list to have the latest news on the benchmarking report and other fundraising tips sent straight to your inbox.