‘Friend-raising’ in the Class of 2020

Lockdown could mean this year’s cohort of leavers is probably the most ready to engage with development officers

As I write, I am enjoying a week away from work, dipping in and out of emails and news every so often to reassure myself that the world has not ended.

Reading the news about Scotland’s young people receiving their results, moves my mind to A-Level results this week and what is in store for the wonderful young people setting out in life. The Class of 2020 has had a rough six months with Covid-19, and expectations have been turned upside down.

Many will be very relieved not to have to sit exams, they can be stressful, but so is life. Students have missed out on the chance to prove themselves in a make-or-break situation, an important learning experience in itself.

And they have missed out on a very important rite of passage: the Leavers’ Ball. After years of school and seeing pictures of year groups ahead of them enjoying an end of school bash, it seems thoroughly unfair to have had this dashed. They have not had the chance for the teary goodbyes and writing in each other’s year books.

But I also think the Class of 2020 will have enjoyed some wonderful moments that they may not consider until later: time with family and parents, digital learning (potentially part of the future), gaining resilience and perhaps a new found yearning for school life.

“It’s not the end of the journey, but the beginning of a new one.”

We have more pupils than ever wanting to return next week for their A-level results, having missed school – it seems – quite a lot. For them, it is not the end of the journey, but the beginning of a new one. Now is the time for development offices around the country to consider their results days and harness this power of the relationship between a pupil and their school.

I do not mean fundraising; at this stage I mean “friend-raising”, as our pupils go off into the big wide world and university at a time with more unknowns than before. Schools need to be offering support not just with clearing but over the next few months and years as pupils navigate university, first jobs, bills and life outside the comforts of the home and school bubbles.

Development offices should take note of the American model of friend-raising, even though I can hear development staff shouting at me through their computers saying that our system is not like America’s. I grant you it is not, but that does not mean we should not learn from their activities.

I went to see one school south of New York on my last recruitment trip to the US to find out from their development department staff how they engage the younger alumni with their fundraising efforts and it all starts in school and at university. A young alumni officer organises small gatherings with pizza and beer at key universities once a term to offer advice, speak with alumni and help them navigate a world away from the comfort and cosy care of school life.

“The Class of 2020 is the year group most ready to engage.”

An ambassador is also selected at each university from the school to act as a point of reference, a buddy, to help new university students navigate the perils and pitfalls of this new life. She also visits graduates for coffee and lunch in nearby cities to support and help them as well as ask for help with friend-raising or fundraising efforts.

I have been thinking for a long time about how schools need to look at their younger alumni and consider the long haul. I’ve felt this is important especially after I was told by one of our alumni in recent years, “you only ever seem to contact me when you need money…”

I used to be involved in fundraising as a career and have been brought back into it recently. True fundraisers always know that it takes time in schools to build relationships and we have to start from the beginning. It must be true that our Class of 2020 is probably the most ready to engage with our schools than any other year group so why not start now. The time for fundraising is later; the time for friend-raising is now.