10 Jan What Land Trusts Can Learn from Alumni Communications
10 January 2023
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
If you graduated from 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 looksee at the Fall 2022 edition. Here’s what I found:
- A story about the first Black woman pilot in the U.S. Military.
- A story about a professor studying how comic book heroes can help readers make sense of cultural differences.
- A pick list of best songs by alumni musicians.
- A story about the Public History Project detailing experiences of campus prejudice through the decades.
- A story about the discovery of a 1,200-year-old dug-out canoe recently discovered at the bottom of a local lake.
- 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. Even the negative stuff is told from the perspective of “see how far we’ve come.”
I’m reminded at this point that 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 from those who give to other institutions. And we have GREAT examples of what does work right there on our coffee tables.
So why do our newsletters still read like science journals and newspapers?
In recent years, the land trust community has 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. Or how many acres the new easement included.
Forget about the foundation grant you just received and the fact that you met the match for your Spring Appeal goal.
Your “alumni” don’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.
Instead: Tell the STORY of your recent land acquisition by profiling a landowner and/or donor who made it happen.
Show everyone how great you are instead of telling them how great you are.
Cheers, and Have a great week.
This post is updated from a post originally published in July of 2019.
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Joshua Choate, courtesy pixabay.com