Building an alumni club fundraising and communications platform with WordPress

UMACT Horizontal logo
When I became the president of my alma mater’s alumni club in Toronto, I reviewed other University of Michigan alumni club websites around the world.  Currently UM alumni club websites are plain-looking, cookie-cutter sites that don’t feature the flavours and feel of each community nor do they let each club easily fundraise and collect detailed information about their members. I started the UM Alumni Club of Toronto (UMACT) in 2011 and  quickly experienced the pain  alumni leaders have when they start clubs — no money and a list of zero members to work with. 6 years later the club is has over 500 on our mailing list, and we’re aiming to have 1000 members in our membership list by end of 2018. We hope to have at least 50% of Canadian UM alums on our mailing list with the help of our technology platform.
Each alumni club has an obligation to communicate with their members through a well-maintained membership list on a well-designed online fundraising platform. We chose WordPress to build our platform and were pleasantly surprised by the flexibility and power of the platform. The UMACT had the privilege of hosting two LSA Opportunity Hub/Global Internship interns, Reis Becker and Olivia Varnado. Reis and Olivia built the UMACT fundraising and communications platform over the summer with a bit of guidance and direction from Alex Sirota, director at NewPath Consulting.
The benefits of the resulting platform are truly amazing:
The features we’ve implemented:
  • The homepage can be used to feature any UMACT photos and events, as well as a call to action to create a UMACT member profile.
  • Visitors can view UM alumni member profiles under the ‘Member directory‘ page, where approved UMACT members can display their photos and information. Contact information is protected and can only be viewed by other approved UMACT members.
  • Members can choose to hide their profile but still allow the club to maintain their information. Each member has a username/password to update their information directly with the club.
  • The ‘Connect‘ page lists our social media platforms and contains a contact form which can be used to contact UMACT directly via email. 
  • The ‘Blog‘ page will feature newsletters as they are published and other news. These can be pushed to social media channels automatically. We are exploring ways to push automatic notifications to WeChat and other app platforms.
  • The ‘Events‘ page displays all upcoming club events and supports online registration forms.
  • The ‘Donate & Shop‘ page can be used to make online donations to UMACT, and features merchandise like t-shirts and other UM memorabilia. WordPress has a full ecommerce system with support for inventory, backorders, and supports multiple currencies.
  • Each member can be assigned a role (like ‘board members’) to enable select access to pages exclusively for board members. When you login as a board member you get access just to the pages and file you need.
Here is a list of free plugins we used to build our UM alumni club fundraising and communications platform. All these plugins can be extended with commercial ‘add-ons.’
  • Ultimate Member – membership management, member directories, integration for protected access to sections of site and dynamic menus
  • Mail Poet – email marketing, supports template and dynamic content from the WordPress database (automatic event calendar in emails for example, or latest posts)
  • WooCommerce (for ecommerce) – can be used to sell just about anything including keeping inventory, and you can have special items available only for members
  • The Event Calendar – event calendar management, categorization of events, premium ticketing features
  • Ninja Forms – custom forms to enable surveys, event registrations and other data collection functions
  • Duplicate Posts – A very handy feature is being able to “clone” any page, post, product, event, venue or really any other “post type” in WordPress. This makes it easy to create template content that can be modified quickly. (Editor: Added this plugin on Feb 7 2018)
If you’d like to know more about how we accomplished all this for free this summer with the help of a couple of UM LSA interns please get in touch and I’d be happy to share our efforts. We even have administrative documentation you can use and adapt/translate for your needs as website administrators. I look forward to talking with you soon.

About the author

Alex is a pioneer in using the cloud to meet the needs of small and medium sized business (SMBs) and membership-based organizations. He has a BSc in computer science from the University of Michigan and has worked as a product manager at two Internet startups. Alex is a father of 2 and plays the trumpet for fun. He is the founder and the president of the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Toronto.