A whole-hearted embrace of technology has been key to fundraising this year, writes Jenny Blaiklock from Lady Eleanor Holles School
Successful development depends on having clean and current data to enable you to contact your alumni with ease, but building a real relationship with them over time is just as important.
This has not been so easy during the pandemic, of course, and it has been a real task to provide that human connection.
But at Lady Eleanor Holles we have risen to the challenge, and have even seen some benefits to what is otherwise a bad situation. Overall in 2020, we have seen a 22 percent year-on-year increase in the number of alumnae donations and a 50 percent growth in the number of legacies we’ve received.
Our alumni site Holles Connect site looks really attractive and engaging. It’s easy for us to upload interesting content, and for visitors to navigate, whether it’s contact details of an old friend they’ve lost touch with, or if they’re looking for a career mentor.
“Virtual replacements for alumni events have actually proved more successful.”
And despite the terrible privations of Covid and two lockdowns, they have encouraged creativity. We have had to postpone all our face-to-face get-togethers since March. But to our surprise the virtual replacements have been more successful, allowing alumnae from all around the world to join in.
For example, our annual alumnae lunch is always a lovely event, but only those with easy access to London can attend. Undaunted that we couldn’t meet in person this year, we held a virtual get-together. We created a micro website that included a personal message from the head, performances by our top musicians, and presentations by our incredible EPQ students.
We decided to try to replicate the most important part of the day, which, of course, was allowing our alumnae to chat with long-lost friends. We set up 12 Zoom chat rooms across the age groups and even the class of 1945 were successfully helped through any technical glitches so they could join in.
“Even the class of 1945 were successfully helped through any technical glitches.”
We managed to re-unite 10 people over the age of 85, who happily chatted away for about two-and-a-half hours. We doubled the number of attendees overall and were delighted to welcome alumnae from all around the world. We received lovely emails saying how thrilled they had been to meet up again with long lost friends. With so many people in that age group having to self-isolate and unable to see their loved ones, we may have really helped them to stave off loneliness – for an afternoon, at least.
Similarly, we were unable to hold our much-loved annual carol service at Cripplegate Church in the City of London this year. For our virtual version, we asked notable alumnae to record themselves reading the lessons. We put out a request via our community website for a vicar alumna who could lead the service and were thrilled when we found one. We then interspersed the readings with renditions of much-loved music sang by various angelic choirs and invited alumnae to join us and sing along. As with the virtual alumnae lunch, the number of virtual attendees more than doubled.
We are always on the look-out for ways to engage different groups of our community and one recent success has been to relaunching of our Emerging Talent Awards. These offer grants of up to £1,000 to alumnae to embark on new projects and training in their chosen fields.
“Wonderful stories have flooded in from our alumnae.”
As we’ve increased the quality and quantity of content on our website, wonderful stories have flooded in from our alumnae; reading about remarkable LEH women has encouraged others to get in touch. LEH has always been an academic school, and some alumnae in the past may have assumed that the school would only be interested in hearing from brain surgeons or QCs. But so many former pupils have amazing tales to tell: for example, one has fostered over 40 children, and a former LEH teacher who left the UK for Japan became an expert in training sumo wrestlers.
To create a sustainable alumnae network, you need to engage the current school community before they leave the school. When students depart to university, they often stay in contact with girls at the school and advise them on their university choices. Once they start their first jobs, they know they can tap into a huge network of alumnae who will offer them mentoring and careers advice.
Building a supportive community has meant that our fundraising is becoming more successful every year. As an all-girl school, we have observed that women take a slightly different fundraising journey to men. Giving back to your alma mater is a tradition for many successful men, and major donations to schools are often a public acknowledgement of their success. Our experience is that women are much more thoughtful about giving and have different priorities.They respond more to being actively involved when they donate, and they enjoy feeling valued as part of the school community.
So be patient: build a community, engage with your audience in inventive and creative ways and you will reap the rewards.