Dear Stevens Alumni and Alumnae,
We are pleased to distribute the Alumni Relations Program Review Report that was jointly commissioned by the Stevens Alumni Association (SAA) and Stevens Institute of Technology and conducted by the consulting firm Bentz Whaley Flessner. To view the full report, please visit: http://connect.stevens.edu/file/stevens-alumni-association/Stevens-Alumni-Relations-Program-Review-Report-141702.pdf
The purpose of this statement is to put the report in context and indicate how we are responding to the findings and recommendations.
What led up to the decision to conduct a review of the Alumni Relations program? The precipitating factor was the new Memorandum of Understanding between the SAA and Stevens that was adopted in December 2014. The MOU emphasized that the two organizations were committed to working “as one” with coordinated programming aligned with the university’s strategic plan. In light of the positive and forward-looking MOU, the SAA’s and Stevens’ leaders felt a comprehensive review conducted by independent experts would provide insights and findings that could help us chart the future of alumni relations and assess the SAA governance structure in ways that bring the SAA and Stevens even closer together.
Two other factors were important to our decision. First was our awareness that American work and family life has changed in recent decades. Americans are busier than ever before, and technology is infused in all we do. We wondered about the implications of these trends for alumni programming. And second, Stevens has changed dramatically as well, and for the good. Is alumni programming responsive to an alumni constituency that is younger, includes a growing number of women, is more geographically dispersed, and is employed in a much wider array of professional endeavors?
Why was Bentz Whaley Flessner selected to conduct the review? We wanted a firm with experience and expertise in alumni relations and that had professionals in whom we had confidence.
Most of the firms occupying this field emphasize fundraising over alumni relations. BWF has a strong alumni relations footprint. We were comfortable with the BWF personnel during the interviewing process. And we wanted to start with a clean slate, and hence, we chose not to consider firms previously connected to the SAA or Stevens that might raise concerns about objectivity. BWF seemed to be the best. We were pleased with the working relationship throughout the review process.
What are the key “take aways” in the report?
The Executive Summary (pages 2-7) of the report provides a concise overview of the findings and recommendations.
As we evaluated the report, examined the benchmarking component, and read the comments from the alumni survey, we kept returning to three points: 1) While the report naturally focused on shortcomings, we kept in mind the quality of current alumni programming and the dedication the SAAs’ leaders. In fact, the SAA is strong, and its relationship with Stevens has never been better. That said, in the spirit of Stevens’ commitment to “Excellence in All We Do,” we also realized there is room for improvement. Hence, points two and three: 2) Alumni programming has not fully kept up with the changing needs and interests of our alumni, and 3) the SAA governance structure, as set forth in the Constitution presently in force, is not optimal for an organization that must be highly efficient and nimble; attractive to alumni of all ages, backgrounds, and professions; aligned with Stevens, and able to forge productive partnerships with many parts of the university, including the Admissions and Career Development offices.
What happens now? What changes are being considered?
We have been at work from the time preliminary findings were available to us. Our action steps have included the following:
- Governance. An Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on the SAA Constitution, composed of a diverse array of alumni and university representatives, has been established to examine ways the SAA can streamline its governance structure in order to be more nimble and responsive and attract a greater number of younger and more geographically and professionally diverse alumni into leadership roles. The committee, composed of alumni spanning six decades, has been at work for a month. While the committee is determined to get it right irrespective of the time it takes, we are working towards a proposed new constitution that is ready for an alumni vote sometime before June, 2016.
- Staff Integration. While the BWF review was in progress, our exchange with the BWF professionals was one factor among several that led us to the decision to administratively integrate the alumni relations and annual fund staff under a new position of Assistant Vice President for Alumni Engagement/Annual Giving & Executive Director of the SAA. Following a national search, Melissa Fuest was appointed to the position in June. We now have a more effective team able to offer responsive and innovative programs.
- New and Expanded Alumni Programming. Melissa’s team has already expanded alumni programs and established partnerships, albeit at an early stage, with the Admissions and Career Development offices. The “Stevens on the Street” program, geared to alumni in the financial and investment sectors, will conduct multiple events and activities annually. Entrepreneurs are being brought together for networking and the exchange of ideas amongst themselves and with Stevens faculty, and “affinity” networks of Greek and athletics alumni are being strengthened. Much more lies ahead, but we are off to a promising start.
- Reaffirming SAA’s Mission. BWF recommended that the SAA consider dissolving as a 501 C 3 organization and function instead as volunteer component of the university.
We discussed this idea but rejected it unanimously. Whether or not the SAA is an independent organization is a secondary matter. Of paramount importance is ensuring that the SAA is a vibrant and energetic organization fully aligned with and functioning as one with the university.
With confidence in the future, we reaffirmed the SAA’s mission:
The Stevens Alumni Association is formed to establish, maintain, and cultivate among its members a sentiment of regard for one another and of attachment to Stevens Institute of Technology, and to promote in every way the interests of the institute.
Per Aspera, Ad Astra. Please join us in moving Stevens ahead. Get involved, or more involved, with the Alumni Association. We welcome your questions, comments, and suggestion. Please send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org
Stevens Alumni Association
Stevens Institute of Technology
Immediate Past President
Stevens Alumni Association
Vice President for Development
Stevens Institute of Technology