Shoaling is a term used in biology to describe when a group of fish stick close together. In general, fish shoal with others of similar size and appearance, choosing members of their own species whenever possible. There are many reasons why fish shoal. Collectively, it makes them more effective at searching for food and more efficient at moving through the water. It’s a defense strategy (large groups are less vulnerable to predators than individual fish), and it is also thought to increase the likelihood of finding a mate.
Since the beginning, alumni relations programs have expended a considerable amount of time and effort helping alumni to shoal. Among their more traditional approaches are campus events like homecoming or class-specific celebrations such as reunions. For many programs, regional chapters and clubs have provided a way for alumni to gather at happy hours or sporting events. One of the biggest mistakes institutions make, however, is waiting too long to connect alumni in this way.
Recognizing how important it is to keep recent graduates engaged, especially during their first few years as alumni, Elon University created Reunion Zero. Rather than wait five or ten years to hold a class’ first reunion, they invite their newest alumni class to return to campus only a few months after graduation for a special event around homecoming in the fall.
Reunion Zero not only provides a way to welcome the newest members of the alumni community, but it also creates an opportunity to engage volunteers and leaders. Former senior class gift committee members and past phonathon callers are recruited to be part of the Reunion Zero Committee, which helps with event planning, communications, and fundraising activities.
Alumni Relations (and Annual Giving!) programs have an especially important role in the first few years after students leave the confines of campus. This includes bringing them together so that they can realize the benefits of belonging to an alumni community. In doing so, they’ll be far more likely to provide their support in a number of important ways when the time comes for them to be asked. When students are taught about the important role and impact of philanthropy and then nurtured in consistent and meaningful ways after they graduate, they’ll be much more inclined to pay attention when their alma mater calls on them.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Transitioning Students to Young Alumni Donors.