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Articles > Building Your Community > Engaging Your Alumni Entrepreneurs

Engaging Your Alumni Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs can be a valuable source of funding, and mentoring and career support for school students, say alumni and development officers. Chances are, many of your former students are now running their own businesses. Some 80 companies are founded every hour, according to figures from StartUp Britain. And while our entrepreneurial climate is made murky by Brexit, Britain still ranks as the sixth best place in the world to do business, according to the World Bank.

So how do you engage with your superstar startup founders — and, more importantly, entice them to donate their time and finances to your school’s cause?

Show them how their donation will have an impact

“I would give back if I knew it would contribute to the success of the next generation,” says Matt Britland, ICT Director at The Lady Eleanor Holles School and the founder and director of education consultancy Realise Learning. Britland has worked in the schools sector for 12 years and has secured donations from esteemed alumni.

“What motivates entrepreneurs is the chance to give back,” he continues. “When they feel the school has given them a stepping stone to achieve something special, they often want to help others succeed.”

This was the motivation for Nathan Walsh, the founder of graphic design startup WNA Visual, whom Britland taught whilst at Cleeve School. “When I was in Year Eight we got a brand-new IT department, stocked with iMacs and Photoshop, without which I would not have gotten into graphic design,” he says.

“Since setting up my business, I’ve helped kids at the school understand graphic design and showed them how to use Photoshop.”

If asked, Walsh says he would “definitely give back to the school, financially. I would be happy to contribute to keeping their IT software updated, to help aspiring graphic designers”.

Offer their business something in return

Joanna Hodnett is the alumni relations manager for Sidcot School, an independent day and boarding school in Somerset. She says she is in touch with 25 alumni-entrepreneurs, whom she regularly encourages to give back to the school. She has tried different methods for soliciting donations, but says one of the most effective ways to encourage entrepreneurs is to offer them something in return.

“We have had success getting alumni involved in careers events at the school,” Hodnett says. “For example, we offer them opportunities to hire students as interns. This way, they are helping our pupils, but in return they get help expanding their businesses.” Also, she adds, “that helps us build a closer connection with them, which may help the next time we approach them for financial aid”.

Personalize your pitch

“My school sends me letters in the post explaining the projects they are raising money for. But I would prefer to be approached in an informal sense — through people I know and respect,” says James Grant, the founder of online tutoring company MyTutor, who regularly gives back to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Hertfordshire.

Grant’s business, MyTutor, helps pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed academically. It is this motivation to help others that spurs him to help his school, he says.

He gives up his time to coach kids there in sports such as athletics, rugby and football. “I built up good relationships with the people running the sports department.” He maintains a close connection to the school due to having three younger brothers who study nearby. “I go to some of their sports matches.”

As a busy and, somewhat young, entrepreneur, he adds that he is not able to donate much time, or financially. But he does not rule out doing so in future.

Target older, established entrepreneurs

Hodnett says that for this reason, schools should target an older demographic. “Many of the entrepreneurs I speak to are in their mid-30s — an age where they are starting families and are buying homes, and may find it challenging to keep their businesses afloat,” she says. “Sometimes it can be a big ask for them to give a substantial gift to the school. They don’t have that disposable income.”

She believes it’ better to target established entrepreneurs, who tend to be more financially stable. “The big money will come from legacy donors. The older and the more successful they are, the more generous they can be with their gifts.”

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