These days there's an app for everything. Apps have been around since Apple launched its App Store in 2008. Since then, Android's Play Store and Apple's App Store have grown to offer more than 4 million apps. Because apps reside on smartphones, they are always ready to use. Apps are an efficient way to shop, do your banking, schedule an Uber, scan your boarding pass, listen to your favorite music and so much more. That's why your boarding school needs an app for its alumni. Because your graduates are spread far and wide geographically, your alumni app will keep them in the loop. That's important to them because they love the school which gave them such a great start in life. It's vital for your finances because easily accessible information and communications will lead to successful annual fund drives and major gifts.
This video illustrates what an alumni app can do.
Obviously, your more recent graduates are an app-friendly lot. So, it just makes so much sense to keep in touch with them via the method which they use all the time. Snail-mail and even email will not get their attention the way your wonderful, informative app will. Snail-mail and email have their place. Your older alumni will probably appreciate your communicating with them that way. However, don't assume anything. Many 70 and 80-year-olds love using apps and their smartphones. They were ahead of the curve when they attended your school. After all, you taught them to embrace change, didn't you?
What's involved with setting up an app for your alumni?
First of all, you need to hire a professional firm such as EverTrue or Aware3 to design the app and handle all the backend details involved with launching it and providing ongoing support and maintenance. I realize that many of your current students can design an app. The problem is that designing the app is just one part of this project. Implementing it, maintaining it and supporting it are tasks which are best left to professionals. I mention this only because I have worked in private schools where the administrators loved to have an eager student or parent handle projects like developing an app. They thought that so doing would save them money. The results were always mixed at best.
This video shows what Straxis Technologies' U360Mobile can do for your school.
How should you plan your app's functionality?
Handle planning for your alumni app just as you do with any other major project. Create a small committee where you can discuss this new way of handling your alumni communications, fund-raising and major gifts as well as any other functions which the committee decides your school needs. The collaborative approach to planning your app will pay dividends down the road. All the stakeholders will feel thoroughly involved. And that is important because your app will integrate several alumni functions which historically have been handled by separate staff members. Each of those staff members was accustomed to working in his or her own silo. While they were aware of what other staff members were doing, their job functions were never as tightly integrated as they will be in your new alumni app.
Select a provider.
Always evaluate your options. Ask other boarding schools for their recommendations. Interview at least 3 providers with your committee. Decide which provider will furnish the app you need as well as the training, followup and service which you and your staff need. Allocate funds to the project. Monitor progress. While you can certainly launch your app anytime you wish, timing the launch to coincide with an event such as reunion weekend can be effective.
How do you keep your content updated?
The app design firm will provide a dashboard where your alumni relations team can post the news and information which you want your graduates to see. Your advancement team can use the same dashboard to create queries to help them plan visits to major donors. Your annual fund team can create their campaign on the same dashboard. The functionality of an alumni app is limited only by your requirements, and, of course, your budget.
One of the app features which your alumni will appreciate is that it offers a controlled environment where they can chat and interact with their classmates and other alumni on LinkedIn and other platforms which you have set up. Your alumni started making friends from the moment they entered your school. Those friendships blossom into a very special network after graduation. Your alumni app will allow that networking to flourish.
How do I try out an alumni app?
You will have to contact a vendor to take an alumni app out for a test drive. That's because the apps which you can see and even download in the Apple App Store or in the Android Play Store can only be used by those specific schools' graduates. If your email address is in their database, you will be permitted to register. That is a common feature designed to protect your important alumni information. Experiment with one of these schools' apps to see what I mean: Phillips Exeter Alumni, Andover Alumni Connect, Avon Old Farms, and Lawrenceville Alumni Network.
Where do I find vendors?
For starters, use the search string "alumni mobile apps" You will find vendors selling apps designed for the needs of existing parents and students. After you cull the search results, you will find a couple of vendors worth exploring in depth. The following vendors are ones I saw frequently in the app stores.
The bottom line.
A mobile alumni app makes everything quick and easy. And it will be designed and optimized for mobile use. Over 80% of mobile apps are NOT optimized for use on a smartphone. App users want convenience and ease of use. While a recent graduate may not give you large gifts, being able to click a gift to your school anytime she wants means that she will get into the habit of giving. Your development team can work with gifts like that, knowing that the future is full of promise. It all starts with your new alumni app.
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