Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me pleasure to address the Mariazell Alumni Dinner tonight. Programme Director, from the onset, I wish to convey our heartfelt gratitude to all attendees for making the time for this important and historic engagement.
As we know the majority of our schools are located in underdeveloped rural areas. Despite 22 years of democracy, the great majority of children in South Africa's rural poor communities are educationally disadvantaged. "Worse still is the fact that this [educational disadvantage] will have long-term effects on their opportunities for development, their capabilities and their lives.” “Moreover, the communities in which they live continue to suffer the debilitating effects of poverty and inequality,” said the 2005 study, 'Emerging Voices: A Report on Education in South African Rural Communities'.
A survey in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces found that poverty and unemployment were "starkly present in the everyday realities" of people living in rural areas.
The report produced by the Nelson Mandela Foundation noted that "poverty conditions the ability of families and children to engage with education", particularly among "households facing food insecurity on a daily basis".
Therefore, household decisions to send children to school are strongly influenced by these economic, social and cultural contexts. In the absence of income, employment and food security, families have to rely on the labour of children to help make ends meet. These children we are talking about today live in those areas of the country with the highest levels of poverty and unemployment, and rely on meagre sources of income derived from pensions, social grants or migrant labour. Land and livestock are vital to their survival and their sense of themselves. As a result, children are often pulled out of school to assist in crop cultivation or livestock farming.
Programme Director; it is no brainer that with the crippling drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, these communities are on the brink of extreme poverty which has a domino effect on their children continued schooling.
Although there is a groundswell of support among parents and communities for educating their children, "this support is constantly undermined by the conditions of life imposed by poverty and unemployment".
The costs of school fees and uniforms are a major concern for parents and learners. "They prevent children in poor households from going to school, and create tensions between poor families and schools," one research report concluded. The inability to pay for school fees and uniforms, as a result of coping with hunger, "means that the experience of schooling is associated with shame and humiliation - children are often sent home if they cannot pay fees".
I must admit that there is a disjuncture between pro-poor policies and their full implementation thereof. South Africa began with the ‘no-fee’ school policy (NFSP) implementation on 01 January 2007. The policy abolished mandatory school fees in public ordinary schools to make basic education available to poor learners in the country.
However, critics argued that the NFSP implementation made poor schools poorer – this is a debate for another day. Although legislation provided for exemption from fees when parents were unable to pay, many parents were unaware of the procedures, or even the possibility of being granted an exemption. According to the recent study, 57 percent of schools surveyed said they had an exemption policy, but fewer than 12 percent of caregivers said they knew about it.
Why Is Alumni Important in a developmental Context?
In the past, alumni relations, or engagement, tended to be treated as a stand-alone activity divorced from fundraising and other advancement activities. Indeed, some alumni associations were entirely independent of their parent institutions, and whilst their members interacted with each other, they had very little interaction with the institution.
Today, alumni relations are an important part of the school’s advancement activities for many reasons:
- Alumni are an school’s most loyal supporters.
- Alumni are fundraising prospects.
- Alumni generate invaluable word-of-mouth marketing among their social and professional networks.
- By engaging alumni, a school can continue to benefit from their skills and experience.
- Alumni are great role models for current learners and are often well placed to offer practical support to learners as they start their careers.
- Alumni are often in the position to engage the expertise of the school in their professional lives.
- Your alumni are your international ambassadors. They take their knowledge of your school to their hometowns and countries and into their professional and social networks.
Maintaining a positive relationship with your alumni means that the messages they share about your school will also be positive – and current.
If the relationship between your alumni and your school stalls when they leave school, their knowledge of your activities and achievements will no longer evolve. The messages they will share with people will be out-of-date and could reflect poorly on the progress your school has since achieved.
Maintaining communication channels with alumni means you can keep them informed of your achievements and make them part of your school’s future, not just its past.
A good alumni relation benefits alumni as well as the school. If you support your alumni in their professional and personal lives through activities such as the facilitation of social and professional networks, preferential access to on-campus expertise and facilities and negotiated benefits with third-party suppliers, they are likely to be your loyal life-long supporters. Your support may also help your alumni achieve positions of success and influence, which will in turn benefit your school as they begin to give back.
By helping the school become bigger, stronger and more successful, alumni are also enhancing the value of their own matric certificate.
Alumni as Prospects
All alumni are fundraising prospects. They are the most likely group to give (if the school has done its job right), as alumni should have a sense of gratitude and want their school to succeed.
A strong link between alumni relations and fundraising will enable you to spot alumni who have the capacity and inclination to make significant gifts. It will also enable you to effectively segment the majority of alumni who might only give smaller amounts so that you can match them to the ask that has the highest likelihood of success.
Don't Be Overprotective
It is tempting to keep close control over your alumni and funnel all contact with them through the development or advancement office, but this can have negative consequences. The capacity of the office to deal with alumni contact might be overwhelmed, frustrating the alumni who want to get in touch. A bond between an alumnus and the school that is focused on a single point will be weaker than a bond focused on multiple points.
Good alumni relations should be flexible enough to allow an alumnus to maintain a positive link, not only with the office, but also with his old tutor, former football coach, careers adviser and any number of his peer group. This broader network experience is far more enriching both for the individual alumnus and the institution.
The trick is to be aware of these links, capture the information and make sure these interactions are recognized as a part of the overall donor cultivation process (as multiple links are a strong indication of an individual's favour toward the school and probability to give).
- Outline a few key ways in which you are maintaining positive relationships with your alumni (in partnership with other departments).
- Outline in your fundraising strategy how you would like to focus the support of your alumni (in partnership with other departments).
As I previously pointed out without strong alumni relations, your prospect pool will be significantly reduced and your chances of significant fundraising success compromised. Alumni have the potential to be your most loyal and generous supporters. I am here tonight to say thank you Mariazell. I will always be loyal and indebted to you.
I thank you!