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All in the Family

Nov. 20, 2002

It begins with the first recruitment letter a prospective student receives -- be a part of the Baylor family, it says. That message permeates the University's communications, and administrators are committed to making it a reality -- not just during the student's undergraduate years, but for life.

"The relationship between a university and its alums is very special," says Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr., "especially when you come from a place like Baylor where loyalty, tradition, lifelong friendships and transforming experiences are owing to the undergraduate years."

Although it's always been a part of Baylor's vernacular, the University wants to extend and strengthen that family connection, Dr. Sloan says. When a student graduates, the family connection should remain strong.

"If that word 'family' is intended to mean anything, it has to include longevity. If you're in the family, you're in the family -- for all your life," he says. "Great universities maintain contact with their alumni and furthermore work to enrich the lives of their alumni."

That is the impetus behind Baylor's new Alumni Services division, approved by the administration in July 2002 and gearing up this year. With the motto "Bears for Life," its goal is to develop the alumni community personally, spiritually, professionally and socially, says Dr. Charles S. Madden, vice president for University relations and overseer of the division.

"We have never in an intentional way been there for everyone who graduates," Dr. Madden says. "This is a lifetime commitment. Education is not static. It is a living, growing organism that must be maintained and nurtured."

Redefining 'belonging'

Universities throughout the nation, especially private colleges such as Baylor, are re-evaluating how they deliver alumni services, largely because of societal changes and national trends. Alumni 35 years old and younger communicate differently from their parents' and grandparents' generations. They no longer define "belonging" through institutions, Dr. Madden says.

"The model of the membership-driven alumni association was appropriate in the '40s and '50s, but it hasn't been for a long time now," he says. "The level of expectations of graduates has gone up very fast in the last several years. These younger alumni are not joiners, and they don't like institutionalized social life. They want an ad hoc, evolving, need-based social life, and they expect their alma mater to help them with their lives -- a warranty on their education. It's what we call a covenant."

In the coming months, Alumni Services will be busy strengthening the University's database of addresses, surveying alumni, prioritizing their needs and developing programming to meet those needs. Some initiatives will be implemented through a robust Web presence in which alumni can interact with the University and other alumni in a variety of special interest groups and in career networking -- a need often mentioned by alumni to Dr. Sloan.

"In going around the country on the Baylor 2012 tour, I have heard some sobering observations from people," Dr. Sloan says. "As one example, two women in two different cities mentioned that they loved the University, they loved their Baylor experience, but that when they needed to find a job or change jobs, Baylor just wasn't there for them. I simply had to say to them, 'You're right, but we're going to work very hard to correct that.'"

Challenging goals

The division's goals are challenging:

• to communicate with each member of its alumni community at least 16 times a year with news of the University;

• to produce an effective career development tool;

• to provide opportunities for volunteer service and mission projects; and

• to offer a full array of events, seminars, special interest groups and continuing education and certification courses, all matching need-based initiatives.

To make this happen, the University has re-examined its approach to outreach. "Our services used to be organized so that everything ran through and came back to the campus," Dr. Madden says. "When we talk about the Baylor community today, we move away from a strictly geographically based approach. We don't want to try to define alumni solely by where they are but by who they are at different points in their lives." He cites examples of special interest groups that could revolve around parenting issues, spiritual concerns, management skills or leisure activities.

Nor will it be programming driven by what Baylor administrators think alumni want; rather, it will result from alumni responses obtained from up to six annual surveys. "We can't always plan a get-together and say, 'All of you come,'" Dr. Sloan says. "People just don't connect like that anymore. We don't want these activities to originate from us. What we want to do is to find out what they're doing and then facilitate and enrich those connections."

In addition to increased Internet communication, Alumni Services will continue support of traditional alumni chapters while developing new ways for alumni to connect. Brenda Morris, director of alumni networks for the University, works primarily in Dallas/Fort Worth, where 32 percent of Baylor's alumni live, and in Houston, where 15 percent reside. She began her work in September 2001 by visiting with alumni in these cities and assembling steering committees with diverse representation. From the 12- to 14-member committees, a variety of networking ideas emerged. Morris says that she realized two things in these initial discussions.

"In their brainstorming, they thought much bigger than we were thinking," she says, "and they didn't want the University doing for them. Our alumni want to help Baylor, not one division or another, but just Baylor. In their minds, it's all the same."

The committees have outlined connection opportunities that include bringing Baylor cultural and athletic events, career counseling and continuing education to their cities; developing and coordinating activities of existing groups such as the Women's Councils, Bear Foundation, Bear Hunters and other special interest groups; and bringing alumni to Baylor for special events, to serve on advisory boards or to guest lecture in classrooms.

"My goal is to help them identify their own needs and then facilitate their own solutions," Morris says. "Our part is to put wings to their ideas."

Collaborative effort

Alumni Services is designed to work collaboratively with programs offered through the Baylor Alumni Association, the independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1859 that previously has had primary responsibility for alumni relationships. Dues-paying members of the association, about 20 percent of Baylor's nearly 100,000 current alumni, receive the quarterly Baylor Line magazine, discounts at the Baylor Bookstore and at certain hotels and rental car agencies, special travel tour packages and a facility on campus. The association also bestows recognition awards, supports the Heritage Club, hosts reunion dinners and assists the Baylor Chamber of Commerce with organizing Homecoming activities.

As an independent entity attached to a private university, the Alumni Association has become a rarity, says Dr. Randy Lofgren, a longtime Baylor development officer who served as executive director of the association before being named the University's associate vice president for alumni services in July.

"Most knowledgeable leaders in the institutional advancement profession say it's not a matter of if free-standing alumni associations of private universities will cease to be, it's when," he says. "The fact is that the services that can be provided, based on income from membership dues and other sources, are not sufficient to meet increasing demands of a younger, more mobile, alumni base."

A dying breed

M. Laney Funderburk Jr., associate vice president of alumni affairs and development and director of alumni affairs at Duke University, says the separate nonprofit alumni association is a model that simply no longer works.

"Alumni services has to be part of a more collegial, more centralized, more organized approach to external relations. You cannot divide it from the university; it's part and parcel of the whole," says Funderburk, who has spent 35 years in alumni work and is a frequent conference presenter for the Council for Ad-vancement and Support of Education (CASE). At Duke, alumni relations always have been operated through the university, he says.

Funderburk cites figures from the national Council of Alumni Association Executives that show Baylor's association is one of fewer than 20 that is a self-governed entity. Of those, only two are private institutions. "You're a dying breed, and that's not a good thing," he says.

At a CASE presentation last fall in Chicago, Funderburk told participants that no alumni association is truly independent. "The university's interests are being ill-served and the university is guilty of squandering a very precious and permanent resource if it doesn't do something about it," he told the audience.

The Private Colleges and Universities Alumni Directors Association consists of 31 universities similar to Baylor in enrollment and number of alumni. Of these, Baylor is the only alumni association with an executive director who does not report to an administrative officer of the university, Dr. Lofgren says. None of them, other than Baylor, is a separate, nonprofit corporation. All raise funds for their universities and all are, in turn, partially funded by their institutions.

"Although a primary goal of alumni associations originally was to provide financial support to their universities, many associations, including Baylor's, are hard-pressed to provide for anything other than staffing and programming," Dr. Lofgren says.

National phenomenon

Despite its independent status, the BAA has been subsidized by the University for decades, increasingly so in the last six years. Funds provided by members of the association have not increased significantly in recent years, Dr. Lofgren says, despite efforts to rally additional support.

"We did some things that would have given us an indication of the level of support we could expect, and the response was not what we had hoped," says Dr. Lofgren, who was executive director of the association at that time. "This is not a Baylor phenomenon, it's a national one, particularly among private institutions."

One such private university is Stanford, which moved its independent alumni association into the university infrastructure in 1998. Carolyn Manning, vice president of the Stanford Alumni Association and a 22-year employee, was there for the transition.

"We found that we were missing out on opportunities by being separate, and at a certain point, the opportunities you're missing start to outweigh the things you get from being independent," she says.

Not having a voice at the table when decisions are being made at top administration levels was one of the association's concerns, she says. "By being a separate alumni association all those years, we really were allowing the university to not view alumni as a core constituent. Someone else was worrying about them, so they didn't have to," she says. "People at the university talk about 'faculty, staff and students,' but the alumni were never part of the thought process. We wanted to make alumni full constituents in the family."

Although Manning says the transition process was difficult, it was worth it. Tangible results in the past four years include a new alumni center on campus, increased funding for key outreach initiatives, improved regional presence, enhanced class programs and a larger circulation base for its magazine. "It allowed us to very quickly expand our programming for alumni," she says.

The beneficiaries of the change are the Stanford alumni, who just want to be connected to their alma mater, Manning says. "They're not really interested in how you get it done; what they're interested in is maintaining contact with their school."

Independence valued

Nevertheless, independence is a valued commodity for the BAA, and one it's reluctant to forgo, says Pruitt Ashworth, a Dallas attorney and president of the association's board of directors this past year. In the September 2002 issue of the Baylor Line, he ran an open letter to alumni informing them of changes in alumni services occurring at Baylor and asking for their input.

"I've had a lot of response to it," he says of the letter, estimating around 100 replies. "Many people feel it's beneficial to have an independent association and many are very supportive of the Baylor Line."

Of the agency's independence, Ashworth says: "I think it gives Baylor another way in which to communicate with alumni," which he says has been important in the past and could be again.

The BAA formed a study committee in June to review the relationship between the association and the University. The committee has met on numerous occasions and with Dr. Sloan. The BAA also has appointed a search committee to find a new executive director for the association

Continuing support

"The Alumni Association continues to be very supportive of Baylor and wants to continue to have a good working relationship with the University," Ashworth says. He notes that some of the services the University wants to offer alumni are not areas the association historically has been involved with, such as career networking and offering continuing education opportunities off-site.

"We plan to continue the Baylor Line and keep it a good quality magazine as it already is, to support Homecoming and to offer the awards programs and Heritage Club," he says. "These are some of our programs that have the highest profile."

At the BAA study committee's request, the University administration responded in the week leading up to Homecoming to four areas of concern put forward by the BAA: the association's name and other marks (such as the Baylor Line), the association's access to Baylor's alumni database (which is managed by University Development), use of the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center and the programs currently administered by the association.

After some discussion about the use of the association's name, there was agreement that the BAA, at least for the remainder of this fiscal year (May 31, 2003), would retain use of the name, have continued access to the alumni database and share space in the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center. Dr. Sloan also acknowledged the value of the BAA's independent status and its continued expression through the Baylor Line and its awards programs.

Bob Morrison, who identifies himself as "life member No. 31" of the Alumni Association, is a 1960 graduate of the University and has served on the association's investment committee since the 1970s. He was board president in 1985. While his loyalties to the association are undeniable, his commitment to Baylor is paramount.

"Anything that serves the University, which has given so much to me in my lifetime, is what I want," he says. "I want Baylor to be for the next generation what it was to me. I don't think that should be dependent on the location or the relationship of the Alumni Association to the University. It needs to be part of the whole effort, and however the best way is to accomplish that is what I'm interested in."

Nevertheless, Morrison, along with some others, believe the best solution is for the University to negotiate appropriate financial support to the BAA commensurate with services to be provided. A request for $1 million in funding for contracted services from the BAA was considered and declined by the administration last spring.

"Using the association to outsource expanded alumni services could easily be monitored to measure effectiveness," Morrison says, adding that if he were Baylor's president he wouldn't be willing to give substantial monies "without assurances as to how it would be spent."

In the BAA's annual membership meeting Oct. 25 at Homecoming, incoming board president Fred Norton referred only briefly to the discussions, saying:

"I believe in an independent and autonomous alumni association that cooperates with and supports Baylor University, and there's nothing further that needs to be said."

Historical role

Dr. Sloan is appreciative of the association's role in the University's history. "It has labored long and hard. It's done all the things the University ever asked it to do, and more, within the framework of its resources. The truth is, the job of developing connections requires a significant budget, professional training, technological sophistication and is hugely labor intensive.

"I think the Alumni Association can maintain its historic independence and its excellent outreach tool of the Baylor Line," Dr. Sloan says. "Then, it will have to decide what other programming its resources will allow it to support, and I believe it will do that in full faith and collaboration with the University."

This intentional reconnection with alumni is about more than building future endowments and giving opportunities, Dr. Madden says. It's about Baylor holding up its end of the deal.

"Baylor is decades behind on this," he says. "We need our alumni and their moral influence on the University. We need them to be our eyes and ears throughout the world as we recruit new students. We need them to tell the Baylor story. And in the same way, we need to be there for them at every stage of their lives -- not just the four or five years they spend on our campus."

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