How To Write Alumni Emails That People Want To Read
Any educational institution’s most valuable asset is its alumni body. By cultivating relationships, you’ll transform alumni into recruiters and advocates for their entire lives. Ultimately, positive alumni relationships are crucial to what your institution can accomplish now and down the line. That’s why ongoing communication is vital, and email is among the best channels.
Sending alumni emails allows you to keep in touch with former students and inspire them to continue supporting their alma mater years after graduating. If you’re responsible for sending outreach to your alumni, that’s not a task you should take lightly!
After all, email accounts for 28% of online charitable giving and has the highest ROI of any outreach channel, according to Double the Donation’s fundraising statistics page.
To help you tap into this channel, we’ll cover some best practices for writing effective alumni emails. In turn, you’ll be able to maximize your open and response rates, ultimately cultivating stronger relationships. When crafting outreach, stick to these tips:
- Give your alumni a reason to connect.
- Concisely tell alumni why they should care.
- Bridge the gap between your content and value proposition.
- Capture alumni’s attention with compelling visuals.
- Feature a clear call-to-action in your alumni emails.
- Create eye-catching subject lines.
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Your alumni emails can generate real value for your institution and former students if you put some thought into your messages. Let’s dive in.
1. CONTENT: Give your alumni a reason to connect.
Give your alumni a reason they should connect with you — a reason to care. For a moment, forget about your school and its advancement goals. Dive deep into what your alumni want. Know you may not be able to take a one-size-fits-all approach. Your Gen Z segment may want something completely different from your Boomer segment.
If you’re unsure specifically what your alumni want, start with some general survey data from the industry. Kwala’s guide to nonprofit newsletters provides some excellent content recommendations. Here are some of the most common things alumni look forward to from their schools:
- Milestone updates for recent initiatives, like fundraisers and new programs
- Stories on current students, donors, and fellow alumni
- Upcoming alumni events
- Recent awards, recognition, or achievements
- An informative blog post or other relevant news stories
- Community highlights
Not every alumni email needs to feature hard-hitting news. Remember, you’re trying to reinforce your mission, showcase success, and communicate progress. If executed properly, this inevitably creates a fear of missing out on what’s happening within your school’s community, pushing more people to engage.
2. VALUE: Concisely tell alumni why they should care.
Don’t ramble in your alumni emails! You need to explain why they should care without all the extra fluff. Your alumni are busy people, and with attention spans shorter than ever, you need to tell them why they should care as quickly as possible.
Maybe you’re encouraging them to:
- Stay connected with your alma mater because it builds a sense of community
- Volunteer or mentor to support current students’ learning
- Donate to improve a program they were once involved in
- Give to provide a scholarship recipient with the opportunity to learn
It won’t be easy and will take a lot of iteration, tweaking, testing, and wordsmithing before you get it right. However, concise communication is tremendously powerful when you nail it.
3. CONNECTION: Bridge the gap between your content and value proposition.
This is the heart of your alumni email. Explain why you picked the content you did in step 1 and why it’s valuable to your alumni. This could be as short as a sentence but no longer than four sentences.
Remember, our attention spans are decreasing. People spend less than 10 seconds reading an email, so brevity is our best friend here. Take these for example:
- “Your donation would help fund a scholarship for a deserving student, providing them with a valuable educational experience.”
- “Attending our upcoming virtual mixer will provide valuable networking opportunities.”
- “See how your generous contribution helped rebuild our marketing program.”
- “Serving your community on behalf of our university is a great way to make a difference and support your alma mater.”
At this point, you should have three things in your alumni email: a reason to connect, a transition word or statement, and more information on why you’re reaching out.
4. GRAPHICS: Capture alumni’s attention with compelling visuals.
Visual content is just as important as written content! Put simply, images and other visuals are more memorable than text alone. Your alumni will likely engage and retain your content if you pair it with stunning visuals. Plus, this will help get your point across, contributing to your ability to communicate information quickly.
As you jump into the design phase of your alumni email, keep these tips in mind:
- Brand your email using your school’s logo, colors, and fonts.
- Be mindful of your colors, ensuring you’re providing sufficient contrast.
- Establish a visual hierarchy and organize your content effectively.
- Humanize your content with images of current students.
- Optimize the size of your graphics to reduce load speed.
Not every email from your institution needs a highly-detailed infographic. However, touching up your alumni emails with images, colors, and graphics will help capture readers’ attention.
5. CALL-TO-ACTION: Feature a clear call-to-action in your alumni emails.
Don’t forget why you’re there in the first place. Did you just want your alumni to read your email and get back to whatever they were doing?
Prompt your reader to take action with a call-to-action (CTA) at the end of the email. Keep your CTA reasonable, such as:
- Donating to a university fundraiser
- Signing up for your new alumni app
- Registering for an event
- Signing up to volunteer at a university event
Be concise with your wording. Your CTA should be another one-liner like “Click here to confirm you’ll attend the annual gala.”
Ideally, make the ask as low as possible and only include one CTA. The bottom line doesn't make it hard for them to say yes — make it dead simple and easy.
6. CLOSE: Create eye-catching subject lines.
It may seem counterintuitive to do this last, but the subject line reflects the content of your email. Therefore, you should write it last. If you write the subject line first, you’re biasing the rest of the email and will risk overlooking relevant information by trying to conform your content to the subject line.
Keep it short and sweet, ideally nine words and 60 characters max. Think back to the reason you’re reaching out to connect. Then, compose an intelligent subject line that reflects the content and communicates urgency.
It could go something like:
- “Last chance to join us at the Regency Scholars Luncheon!”
- “Our student center got a makeover! Take a look at exclusive photos.”
First impressions mean everything. Your subject line can mean the difference between someone clicking your email and scrolling past it. Put thought behind your subject line, and you’ll ultimately see more clicks.
Reviewing Your Alumni Emails
At this point, step away from your email and come back later with a fresh set of eyes. When re-evaluating your alumni email, walk through this checklist:
☐ Is it personal? Emails that are obviously automated are immediately ignored. Remember, customization is not personalization.
☐ Does it sound like a sales email? People love to give but hate to be sold to. Lean into the value for alumni.
☐ Does the email flow? Stitching otherwise meaningful sentences may make up a confusing paragraph. One sentence should lead right into the next, and reading the email should be effortless. Also, be sure to write in a conversational tone.
☐ Is it concise? After your first draft, cut it in half. Then cut another 20%. Remove extraneous words that don’t add to the message.
☐ Does it offer value? This may seem obvious, but how many emails have you received that don’t offer any value?
☐ Does the design make it clear that your school wrote it? Making sure your organization’s brand shines through will help establish trust.
☐ Would you open it, read it, and respond to it? Step into their shoes. Would you feel compelled to respond or scroll past it?
☐ Was it written with alumni in mind? Use the word “you” more than “I.” Make it obvious that you took the time to research the recipients.
Most templates follow this relative structure. You can get creative with the email's content, but if you use this general outline, you can quickly and easily create effective alumni emails.
Final Thoughts on Alumni Emails
All of this is surely not a magical formula. They’re just pointers to guide you in the right direction. Embrace the process of crafting engaging alumni emails. The best way to keep yourself in the game is by monitoring data and what’s working for your emails. This will help you strengthen your outreach and figure out what inspires alumni to engage.