My husband and I met at college a long time ago. This year for Valentine's Day, I got one card (actually a postcard), and it wasn't from my husband. It was from our college. It bore a photo of a couple holding a school book bag between them with the hope that our memories of campus would bring the two of us closer. The lack of Valentine's greetings from my husband notwithstanding (really, it's fine), what the card truly brought closer was me and my college.
Let's face it. Couples who meet at school probably have fond memories, prompting them to stay loyal and connected. A card like the one I got can remind them of those memories while letting them know someone at the school is thinking of them, even if that someone is an alumni relations computer. At least a human being thought enough about an important group of alumni to set up the process.
The simple act of reaching out makes an impression, as it did when my children got birthday notes from the head of their elementary school. By contrast, when I heard nothing from a school whose board I had to resign from due to illness, that also made an impression—and not a good one.
Too often alumni and parents complain that they only hear from a school when it's asking for money. We all know this isn't true, but it can sure feel like it. To banish that perception, schools should connect with their constituencies in memorable ways, the more personal and appropriate to the school the better. A Valentine's card is particularly fitting for our college, which is known for its high percentage of alumni couples. If your school doesn't produce couples (K–8, for example), change the focus—to the fun and inclusiveness of exchanging those small Valentines by the pack, perhaps. Or check in around Halloween, Earth Day, May Day, or another school tradition that students look forward to and alumni remember, like "class day" (send greetings in class colors by year) or the impromptu "head's holiday" day off (send wishes of unexpected joy).
Start small (a targeted group) or large (a Thanksgiving or winter holiday video emailed to everyone, popular though less personal). Use e-mail and e-cards to save on costs and paper. It truly is the thought that counts.