With schools open after the summer break, this is an excellent time to start discussions about setting up a past pupils’ association (PPA) if a school does not yet have one.  This is particularly the case in under-resourced communities, where alumni can not only open up opportunities for talented learners, but also have a positive impact on the neighbourhood beyond the school gates.

Inyathelo, a non-profit organisation (NPO) that works to help other NPOs and some universities to become more sustainable, has extensive resources that include a free booklet How to set up a Past Pupils’ Association. This was compiled jointly with the Western Cape Education Department some years ago and can be downloaded from the Inyathelo website here. (www.inyathelo.org.za)

Inyathelo Operations Director Feryal Domingo says past pupils can serve as mentors and role models to learners, do volunteer work, and help with fundraising. PPA programmes can include school reunions, raising money for bursaries and scholarships, community service projects, career guidance, job shadowing opportunities, cultural events, and guest lectures.

The ability to maintain contact with one another gives past pupils the opportunity to network and find common ground in their post-school lives. When they do meet up, these events can contribute to the community in the form of sport, music or fundraising events. 

A solid relationship between a school and past pupils creates a legacy for those who follow. Many past pupils will contribute their time, money and skills to ensure greater opportunities and better experiences for future generations of learners. When past pupils’ achievements are recognised, this reflects well on the school and learners can share in their achievements.

“Cultivating a good relationship with alumni can create a win-win situation for both the school and its associates.”

Association membership

The booklet recommends not only including past learners in the association, but also staff, teachers, special associates, current learners, members of school committees and the governing board.

A crucial step in setting up a successful association is to understand the needs of past pupils, and to show how they can benefit from being involved.

“Attracting the attention and support of different generations or groups requires different approaches, programmes and activities. Alumni or past pupils can be segmented along many lines, including graduating class, age or life stage, location and work interests, to name a few,” says Ms Domingo.

“Just because something works for a successful association at one school does not mean it’s going to work for another. Respond to the unique interests of past pupils, the spirit of the school, and the special conditions of the community where the school is situated.”

Setting up an association

Based on the booklet, seven handy tips for starting an association are:

  1. Get the support of a senior school leader and involve teaching staff and school governing bodies at an early stage;
  2. Gather a small group of keen volunteers. This is usually more effective than a cumbersome committee;
  3. Have realistic expectations, particularly if resources are limited;
  4. Create awareness that people’s time and expertise are as valuable as financial contributions;
  5. Define a clear purpose for the association – ask why the school needs a PPA, what the function of the PPA will be, and how the school will benefit;
  6. Update existing student records to get an accurate database; and
  7. Put together an initial letter with an update on progress, and an appeal for contact details.

Harold Cressy Alumni Association

An example of a successful PPA is the Harold Cressy Alumni Association, an NPO set up in March 2006 with members who are former students and teachers of the school in District Six, Cape Town.

The association was born from a 21st anniversary reunion of the class of 1980 in March 2001. A voluntary group organised regular fundraising events, such as gala dinners, to assist the Harold Cressy Bursary Fund. These functions served to establish and build a network amongst alumni and culminated in the establishment of the Harold Cressy Alumni Association on 26 March 2006. The chairperson is Dr Shafick Ismail, from the class of 1980.

The support base of the Association has helped the school with various projects and activities. These include regular theatre and other fundraising events for the Bursary Fund, raising money towards a multi-purpose hall, and the Harold Cressy Heritage Project, that led to the school being declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 2014.

Source: How to set up a Past Pupils’ Association, joint publication of the Western Cape Education Department and Inyathelo. Compiled by Bea Abrahams and Nazli Abrahams.

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