#364. Six Steps for Inviting Alums and Young Families Home

Posted on | The Agurban
We receive a great newsletter, the Youth Engagement Update from the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. The November 2011 issue arrived with a terrific message for small town community leaders. What are you doing to encourage the young people in your community to stay or to come back and raise their families there?
Six Steps for Inviting Alums and Young Families Home
Many rural leaders view recruiting alums and young families to their community as vital, especially if they are facing population decline and aging population. However, taking on this work when economic development resources are stretched and plates are already overflowing with priorities can be a real challenge!
This month I want to share with you six steps to help you create an effective alumni and young families recruitment strategy that is also realistic in terms of staff and volunteer commitments.
The first step is to inventory any existing alumni recruitment activities in your community. Ask yourself what’s working and what can be improved? It’s often easier to build upon what you have than to begin a new program, especially if it puts you in the position of supporting duplicative efforts.
Next, consider how current alumni-focused events can be used to send clear messages about opportunities to move home. Also think about how you can make spouses and children of alums feel welcome. Brainstorm simple ways to welcome young families when they are home for the holidays and community festivals. For example, host an open house or booth where visitors can interact with local leaders about their interests in moving to your community.
Another important step is to determine how best to communicate to graduating seniors that their hometown cares about them and invites them to return to live, work and raise their families in the future. This message should be personal and the capstone of the graduates’ experiences as young people. Thank them for being part of your community, remind them of the investment made in them and their future, and invite them to come back to their hometown and contribute to its future.
It’s also important to maintain periodic and sustained contact with alums, especially those who are considering options to move. This includes college students who are pursuing their first career, couples beginning a new family, and young adults undergoing economic distress and looking for new opportunities. Evaluate how this work can be accomplished without significant additional staff time. For example, writing short articles for the alumni newsletter or a social media site that already connects alums with former classmates.
A parallel and vital step is deciding how to make follow-up contacts with alums that respond and express interest in moving back to your community.  Consider recruiting several volunteers who are outgoing and would enjoy visiting with former classmates, hosting community tours and introducing alums and their spouses to community leaders.
The last step I suggest you think about is how recent returnees, and newcomers, are made to feel welcome and invited to get involved. A disappointment I sometimes hear from young adults who have moved to a small community is that they do not feel welcome. Often community leaders are surprised to hear this and tell me they simply didn’t think about being proactive in reaching out to them.  This frustration can result in young families leaving again, so it’s a very important issue to address. This welcome does not need to be complicated, but it does need to be deliberate. A simple greeting of, “We’re glad you’re here!” can make a big difference in how alums and their families feel about making the decision to move home.
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