Every so often, "Fresh Air’s" co-executive producer Danny Miller sends an email update out to the "Fresh Air" alums. The email updates us on what’s happening with the show, and any new developments underway.
I love getting this informal email. It makes me feel connected to a job I had five years ago, and it makes me feel more invested in the future of the show.
I know Miller is updating alums because he cares about us, but there are strategic reasons for staying connected with previous employees, especially for nonprofit news organizations. There’s a big benefit to staying in touch and making people feel connected to the work, even if they’re no longer on staff.
For example, previous employees and interns can help connect your newsroom to potential employees one degree removed from your existing networks. They can also connect your newsroom to influencers or potential donors that they meet at their next job.
They can share lessons or best practices they encounter or simply help spread goodwill about your organization. For college interns, they can become informal campus ambassadors, helping spread the word about job openings or special news stories to their classmates and career offices.
We can think about this in the same way nonprofit organizations cultivate potential and current donors: How do you cultivate relationship with your employees during and beyond their tenure so that they stay connected and invested in the work you do beyond their tenure?
Many fellowship and internship programs already do this in some form. I receive a quarterly magazine from the Nieman Foundation, and I’m a member of a Facebook group that caters to former interns and fellows at NPR. Your previous employer might sponsor a reception for alums at a journalism conference, or gather everyone in a Facebook or LinkedIn group.
Still, many of these are informal groups, often organized by the alumni themselves or on a catch-as-catch-can basis. Formalizing the programs (or starting a program from scratch) could benefit your nonprofit news organization in the following ways:
1. Helps alumni feel connected to nonprofit news and mission-driven journalism, even if they’re no longer working in the industry or at a different kind of news organization.
People who work in nonprofit newsrooms often feel connected to the greater mission of the organization and mission-driven journalism. That sentiment doesn’t evaporate when they leave your news organization. Sending them updates or particularly impactful stories helps them stay informed and feel connected to the work that they did at some point in their lives. It may even incentivize them to return at another point in their career, or to connect you with people who they meet at their next job.
2. Helps your newsroom connect with potential sources, influencers, donors or other people who could help your work, and connects you with potential partners.
A wise mentor once told me that I would continually cross paths with the people I met early in my journalism career. It’s true, and though we’re now all at different organizations, we still stay in touch and often bounce difficult problems off one another.
Keeping track of previous employees expands the network of potential contacts you have for partnerships and initiatives within your own newsroom and keeps you abreast of new developments in the industry. This is especially true if you work in a small newsroom and don’t have the time or money to send folks to conferences.
You can ask your alums about what they’ve learned, things they’ve noticed, or any number of questions that you have. If you’ve maintained a relationship with them, they are more likely to respond, particularly if learning information from other alums could also help them.
3. May have high returns for very little upfront cost.
What I’m envisioning doesn’t involve a lot of upfront costs or time. It could be as easy as initially sending a quarterly newsletter to your alumni and making sure everyone who has worked at your organization is accounted for with their current job.
You can likely repurpose a newsletter you already send out to donors or readers and change the header. My college newspaper has an online directory with people’s current organization listed — every year, I’m asked whether it’s still current. Oddly, none of my post-college employers do this.
It may mean sending your interns home with laptop stickers that they can pass out to their friends, or sending them updates about particularly interesting stories.
It may mean reaching out and asking for updates, or asking everyone a question and then sending out the responses.
All of these ideas mean thinking of your previous employees as worthy of a continuing relationship. We do this for donors and subscribers — why not the people who give quite a lot to our organizations?