Monday, October 11, 2010

Everybody loves a good event

Reunions, cocktail parties, mixers, gala dinners. Everyone gets a good amount of invitations to fundraising events that take months to plan and melt away in a matter of hours. Organizers want a venue that fits the audience, but it seems everyone knows of at least one organization that got too fancy with their venue and threw away their profits.

As I work on alumni development for Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/ Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Hebrew Academy of Morris County and Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, most alumni expect some kind of get-together. And they should. It is the most concrete way to reconnect alumni with their day school experience.

But how far does it have to go? One of my schools wanted to have a gala event for its alumni, but the younger alumni wanted to have a small get-together at a restaurant. Having this grant from Avi Chai means we have the freedom to give several ideas a shot. This year we are going to try a small gathering in New York City for young adults, and perhaps next year we will have a gala dinner that will attract alumni from Italy to Israel and everywhere in between. (Click here to see our event page!)

Last week, Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union held its second Back to School Benefit to raise money for the Alumni Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for families in need. More than 100 alumni, spouses and friends joined together in New York City for drinks, a raffle and reconnecting. See an account here. The event grossed more than $10,000 and brought the total money raised for the 2010 scholarship campaign close to $45,000.

An event doesn’t make that much money. There is overhead, costs for the venue, decorations, raffle prizes, etc. The money earned at the event probably accounts for 10 percent of the $45,000 raised for the fund.

Even with the prospect of poor economic returns, reunions and gatherings are crucial to any successful alumni program. The prospect of reunions has inspired the cleanup of the alumni database at two of my schools. Reunions recognize alumni for their accomplishments since graduation and allow them to kvell about their jobs, spouses and kids. They cultivate leaders who will hopefully stay with the alumni outreach effort after the event is over. They are both a motivator and a way of saying thank you to the volunteers who work hard to forward alumni development at the school. They say to alumni: “We want to see you. You are still a part of our community.” Alumni hear that.

Recently one of the women on the alumni committee at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/ Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School was telling me that her sister in law flew from Canada for her high school reunion. I’m familiar with that event, having quizzed some of my neighbors. The alumni get together in the cafeteria and have wraps from a local eatery. Attendance is huge and that school’s reunions are renowned.

As much as I appreciate Sager Solomon Schechter Day School, I’m not flying back to Chicago anytime soon for wraps in the lunchroom. So what gets these alumni to shell out plane fare? The experience. The memories. The feeling of belonging to something that is greater than themselves.

I’m shepherding a group of alumni who are working on their 10-year reunion. They aren’t interested in pizza in the lunchroom. They’re looking for sushi and cocktails. Oh, for about $25 per person. Will they settle on something less lavish to include more of their former classmates? We’ll see.

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