There’s a formula in the business world that somehow proves it is less expensive to sell to established or previous customers than it is to find and develop new customers.

I’m not much of a businessman, but that seems to make sense, right? After all, you already have your previous customers’ (or clients’) names, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, and even information about what they bought from you, which indicates preferences and tastes.

You just don’t have that kind of information on people you haven’t dealt with yet. So, you have to work hard and spend lots of money to get new people to become part of your non-profit community.

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t always be looking to grow your community, but what I am driving at is there are many reasons to put a significant effort into getting more out of the people already part of the group, alumni, if you will.
Here are three ways alumni can help your organization in very important ways. The final four examples will come in the second part of this article to be published soon.

1. Fundraising. It is much easier to make a compelling fundraising case to people who already have been touched in a positive way by your non-profit. In fact, it is possible that alumni would be extra-open to receive fundraising solicitation letters by mail, since you really don’t have to convince them to give. Letter drives are much cheaper to run for the non-profit, so the overhead costs normally associated with product sales or lage events are eliminated. You just have paper, printer ink, envelopes, address labels, and postage. Not bad.

2. Public Relations. If you keep in good touch with your alumni donors and/or clients, it’s not too much of a stretch to ask them to help you spread the good word about your organization in your city or town. This doesn’t have to be very formal, but they could use a coffee mug with your organization’s logo on it at work, they could just post on their Facebook page an event of yours that they are planning on attending, they could upload photos of their volunteer experience with your group to Flickr, they could tell their friend who works at the local newspaper what great work you’re doing on behalf of…. The ist goes on. Just ask your alumni to keep thinking of you and how more people could be turned on to the group. The rest will come on its own.

3. Board Members. Non-profits are always on the look-out for new board members. The alumni ranks is a great place to start the search. And this doesn’t have to be a rushed process. Usually, alumni that are invested in the organization aren’t going anywhere. This gives the director of the group, as well as the existing board members, time to get to know the person in question and vet their background to make sure he or she is a good fit. Love of the organization is so important when picking new board members. An actively involved alumnus or alumna comes with that built in.

4. In-Kind Donations. The fourth way that alumni can be used more effectively by non-profits is to solicit goods and services at greatly reduced prices, possibly even donated completely. If you have a gentleman who was once part of your organization, and he went on to become an architect and you need blueprints for a new building, he might be able to work with you on a great price. If there was a lady who used to be a client or customer of your organization, and she is now an attorney, you might get some pro bono work out of her. The same is true for craftsmen, like electricians, plumbers, and landscapers.

I strongly suggest that you start finding out what your alumni members do for a living, and then start becoming friends with them, if you aren’t already. In a time when new income is hard to generate, reduced expenses are a great method for helping your bottom line.

5. Recruitment. The fifth way alumni members can be helpful to an organization is to help recruit new customers for you. Why spend lots of money on marketing, when we all know that word of mouth advertising works best. A strong recommendation from a friend is much more effective than a print ad or radio spot. Therefore, you should look at your alumni as walking billboards. Perhaps you can create some talking points for your alumni, so they are current on what your group offers, but really count on their passion and enthusiasm for your cause to convince others to try you out.

6. Volunteer. A sixth way that alumni can lend a hand to your organization is to volunteer. This may seem like a no-brainer, but with everybody having a busy schedule, volunteerism is often forgotten. If you can create a volunteer experience that is well-planned, rewarding, and appreciated, you’ll have your alumni clamoring to sign up.
I have often found it is also a little easier asking alumni to volunteer for things because at one point in their lives, they benefited from volunteer help. So, I’m simply asking them to pay it back a little.

7. Historical Development. The seventh suggestion I have for non-profits to use their alumni more effectively is to find a few interested people to undertake historical projects. This might include sorting through and labeling old photos, slides, and movies. Or, it could be writing histories of specific events or periods in your group’s past. It could also mean trying to collect pictures of mementos from previous eras. I think you could also get some volunteers to create attractive historical displays that could be hung in your group’s facility.

People love remembering and honoring the past, especially if they were part of it. You should capitalize on this human inclination and get as many alumni involved in preserving your organization’s history as you can. A non-profit that knows and can share its past has a much better chance to have a long and prosperous future.

Photo by: J.harwood

Posted on 26 October 2011

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