10 Ideas For Your Next Alumni Event

Alumni events keep alumni connected to their school — and each other. These events are also great opportunities to reinvigorate your constituents and share with them what your institution has been doing with their generous donations.

For busy advancement offices (especially overworked alumni relations teams), however, it’s easy to fall into a rut when it comes to event planning.

Save your team some brainstorming time and stir their creativity with these 10 inspirational alumni event ideas.

1. Friendly Competition

Who said all alumni events need to be posh affairs? A good, old-fashioned beer pong tournament can go far in bringing back fond memories for alumni — especially younger alumni. And before you think that’s too crass, see how the Harvard Club of Princeton did it in 2013.

Other ideas for friendly competitions include frisbee, corn hole, croquet, and bocce ball. San Diego State University’s annual bocce ball tournament includes sudden-death bracket play, pizza and lemonade, and an engraved trophy for the winner.

2. Alumni Night Out

Get the Annual Giving and Alumni Relations teams together to create a night your alumni will remember. Charge attendees a small fee for the event, and let event-goers know that you’ll be accepting additional donations throughout the night.

While it’s always a good idea to have team members mingling and networking around the room, don’t forget that staffed information booths can work well, too. Make donations easy to give by garnishing each booth with a tablet and an easy-to-use online giving form. This way excited donors can give when they’re moved to.

3. Sports Event

Alumni who are passionate about collegiate sports are some of the easiest prospects to connect with, because they’re still very invested in their school’s success … albeit on the field. Giving them the opportunity to benefit your institution’s athletic programs is a sensible approach — but a more exclusive option may be a bit of VIP treatment at the next game.

Invite alumni to a private tent or section with complimentary food and drinks where they can mingle before the game. Hold a fundraising raffle or another friendly, fun challenge to raise additional revenue.

Don’t limit yourself to your own school’s athletic events, however. Many pro sports teams are happy to partner up with advancement organizations to offer group tickets at a discounted rate. Set up an alumni gathering at the game to give constituents an opportunity to socialize with other alumni, students and faculty.

Tufts Alumni organization does this at a Red Sox game each year.


4. Gala With a Silent Auction

If posh is more your prospects’ speed, consider a fundraising gala and silent auction. Guests pay a price to attend the dinner, which allows them to socialize with other generous alumni while also supporting the university. This revenue alone can help your team make headway toward annual giving goals, but adding the silent auction creates a bigger opportunity for everyone

Silent auctions are particularly successful with wealthier groups of alumni. Offer rare and distinctive auction items (art, items signed by pro athletes or astronauts who also attended the school, etc.) and you may incite a bidding war — and the winner will always be your institution.

With certain alumni, auctioning off the right to name something can motivate them to open their wallets to support their school. For example, auction off the right to name of a new building or a wing of the library.

5. Golf Tournament

Golf isn’t just a great excuse for executives to schmooze with their clients and with each other. It’s also a great way to get your alumni together in support of your institution.

Charity golf tournaments are popular for a reason. They’re fun, they’re outdoors, and they’re low-key enough that mingling and networking are easy to do.

If you’re inviting alumni only, pairing participants up in an alternate-shot tournament (each person in a two-person team takes a turn on each alternate hole). But if you’re expanding your invitation to parents, faculty and local businesses, you may want to play “scramble” style in groups of four.

Reach out to local businesses and organizations who may want to sponsor the tournament. Sponsorships can be a lucrative source of additional funds.

Hopkins Golf Tournament for Scholarship and Dublin City University’s Annual President’s Cup are both great examples to turn to for inspiration.

6. Cruise

A boat cruise is a great option for advancement teams that are near enough to water to pull it off. Think about it: Your alumni are trapped together on a boat for the duration of the cruise. Provide entertainment, good food and an open bar, and alumni will feel more connected (and more generous) in no time.

Wesleyan University does a great job with their yearly NESCAC Young Alumni Cruise in New York.

7. Speaking Event With a Famous Alumni

What better way to get alumni excited than to give them the opportunity to say “I went to school with [insert famous person’s name]!”

Organize an event around a motivational speaker, sports star, astronaut, author, or other famous (or popular) alumnus or alumna, and sell tickets to support your fundraising goals.

A bonus benefit of this type of event is the speaker is often able to use his or her platform to spread the word even further, making the marketing a bit easier on your team.

As with any event, advanced planning is critical. If your speaker is highly in-demand, however, even more advanced planning is necessary. Reach out to your chosen speaker at least 6 months out, and have a backup in mind if the dates won’t work for him or her.

8. Music Festival

Like beer pong, live music can be another great way to help alumni reminisce about their school years. Outdoor music festivals and concerts are typically summertime events, but if you have access to a great indoor venue, this event can work year-round to bring your constituents together for a good time.

Amherst Association of Southern California brought in Tony Bennet for a picnic and concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

9. Wine or Scotch Tasting

A wine tasting may be a classic (and classy) event type — but scotch tastings are rising in popularity.

No matter which beverage you choose to center your event around, you can make the experience more robust with a multi-course meal. Or get your alumni in a competitive frame of mind with a taste-testing challenge. No tasting is complete, however, without a sommelier or other well-trained expert to guide participants through the history and method behind each drink.

Here’s a great example from the Queen’s University Calgary Branch.


10. Day of Service

You can organize an alumni volunteer day any time of year by partnering up with organizations like United Way and Habitat for Humanity. But certain times of the year stir constituents to be more generous with their time.

For example:

  • #GivingTuesday
  • Random Acts of Kindness Week
  • Make a Difference Day
  • Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning

For a bigger list of days with high volunteerism rates in North America, check out this page.

Serving others on behalf of your alma mater is a great way to make a difference and get involved. Make it easy for your alumni to do so by organizing days of service throughout the year.