What Land Trusts Can Learn from Alumni Communications

What Land Trusts Can Learn from Alumni Communications


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


If you graduated from a college, you know that the Alumni Association from your alma mater started calling you and writing you about ten minutes later. And in return for your annual gift, you get a copy of the Alumni Newsletter.

Take a moment now and look at the most recent copy. Or better yet, the most recent three or four copies.

What do you see?

  • Articles about how many students were in this year’s freshman class?
  • Articles about average class size in the Geology Department?
  • Articles about a foundation grant that was just secured?



You don’t see articles about university milestones. You don’t see stories about how important or prestigious the university is. You don’t see organization-centric information.

Instead, you see stories about how important or prestigious the people are. You see people-centric information.


I went to the University of Wisconsin’s Alumni newsletter to have a closer look-see at the Summer 2019 edition. Here’s what I found:

  • A series of stories profiling a few of the many remarkable Badger women — past and present – in the spirit of the 2019 special women’s issue. (150 years ago, in 1869, the first class of women graduated from UW). The stories range from a dancer who graduated in 1946 to a composer of hit songs who graduated in 1969 to a physicist who graduated in 2003.
  • A story about a transgender surgeon in the UW hospital who is transgender herself.
  • An insider’s look at the women’s basketball team in their offseason.
  • Stories about students who have overcome enormous odds in pursuing their education.
  • A story about nine professors who are retiring this year.
  • An interview with the Chancellor.
  • A profile of a donor who made the decision to leave her estate to the UW Foundation.


And on and on – you get the picture.

The stories collectively paint a very flattering picture of the university. They are about specific individuals, and the reader is invited to imagine being there, doing that. To consider the success stories being told as “their” success stories – after all, they are supporting the University where all these things have happened and are happening.


Momentum and inertia are crazy things.

We know that continually profiling our organizations – proclaiming “our” success – is not considered a best practice. We know that communicating through stories and human interest is much more effective than communicating “news.” We know that people who give to conservation organizations are not so fundamentally different in their motivations from those who give to other institutions.

So why do our newsletters still read like science journals and newspapers?

Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

In recent years, we have given a lot of lip service to the idea of becoming more relevant – appealing to a broader cross-section of our constituencies.


I think we can learn a lot from studying Alumni Newsletters.


Let’s say, for example, that we focused on a four-page, four-color newsletter, published four times a year.

  • Page 1 could be mostly a photograph of a specific person profiled inside.
  • The upper half of page 2 could have a letter from the President, the Chair, or the Executive Director.
  • The lower half of page 2 could have the profile of the person on page 1 – a Board member, a long-term volunteer, or a landowner who placed an easement on their property.
  • Page 3 could feature an interview with a partner or a business who collaborates with the organization; snippets about a trail that was cleared, a field that was restored, or a nest that was discovered – told first-person by one of the people involved; and a profile of a donor who made the decision to leave her estate to the land trust.
  • Page 4 could be a roster of upcoming engagement activities accompanied by a photo of people having a great time at one of the past engagement activities.


Forget about how many people came to the Annual Meeting.

Forget about how many species of special concern are now protected by the organization.

Forget about the foundation grant you just received and the fact that you met your Spring Appeal goal.

Your “alumni” won’t really care about those things.

Instead: Tell the story of getting accredited by telling the story of one of the volunteers or Board members who helped.

Instead: Tell the story of your 25th Anniversary, by interviewing one of the founders.

Show everyone how great you are instead of telling them how great you are.


Cheers, and Have a great week.




Photo by Bernard Spragg, courtesy www.stocksnap.io


Related Posts:

Resist Replacing Paper Newsletters with ENews

Making Your Newsletter into a Profit Center


Share this!
  • Patricia Meglio
    Posted at 07:36h, 23 July

    Great article. Thanks. It really changes the way I think about writing a newsletter.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:07h, 23 July

      Good! Thanks for writing, Patricia.