The Bear ForceDec. 19, 2005
Karri Zumwalt thrives on being around others. It was this quality that prompted her to start a Young Grads Baylor Network group in San Antonio in summer 2003. And it's an attitude that characterizes many of the Network's key facilitators -- volunteer leaders.
Today, Zumwalt, BA '02, still helps coordinate the Young Grads group and has been involved in the Women's League since 2004. She works closely with Kendall Cockrell, the Network's alumni officer for young grads, to schedule events, coordinate details and issue e-mail invitations. "I try to get alumni motivated to come to these events and take part in fun stuff with other alumni," she says. "I also gather ideas from fellow alumni about things to do, places to go, so that we are catering to everyone's likes."
Many alumni are following in Zumwalt's footsteps. There are more than 250 active volunteer leaders in the Network. They are people of influence in their community who can promote events and encourage attendance, says Randy Lofgren, associate vice president for the Baylor Network.
Identifying such leaders has been crucial to the Network's ability to grow, Lofgren says. In the past three years, alumni participation in Network activity has increased to 15,000 nationwide. "I felt very strongly at the beginning that the biggest requirement for catching the interest of other alumni was leadership," he says.
Lofgren hired four alumni field officers -- Brenda Morris, Carol Kent, Brent Edwards and Cockrell -- chosen for their ability to identify leaders and listen to the needs of Baylor graduates. "The key was to find staff members who had the kind of outstanding leadership that volunteer leaders would follow," he said. Events are planned through the field officers, and then other volunteers are recruited to host and organize the events.
As director of the Network, Brenda Morris spends much of her time working with volunteer leaders. "They have their own large networks of influence and attract others as participants in the various Baylor networks," she says. "Our four-person field staff, in place for the past two years, simply cannot function without the influence of the 250 Network leaders who engage the 15,000 participants in the various activities."
Volunteer leaders also contribute to the proliferation of alumni events. "Baylor produces a lot of leaders. Wherever they've lived, they've established themselves and developed a network of influence. Then when they move, they are likely to be instrumental in starting something new in their new communities," Lofgren says.
What once was a spattering of activities in major Texas cities now is an expanding agenda of more than 60 locations and 350 events in 27 states that ranges from the business and women's networks to theater, sports, service projects and discussion groups.
Many volunteer leaders are interested and involved in more than one area. Lofgren says the alumni Web site shows people the variety of events offered and encourages them to communicate with each other -- something that leaders do naturally. It's this "cross-pollination," says Lofgren, that has led to increased participation in events. Many activities attract 50 to 200 people.
Increased alumni involvement has important implications for the entire Baylor community. University Development has seen a marked increase in the number of donors to the annual fund and in first-time contributors, Lofgren says. He attributes at least some of this increase to the work of the Network volunteer leaders and staff.
"When the University demonstrates its commitment to its graduates by providing high-quality activities and services for them," Lofgren says, "there is a natural response that assists the University in recruiting, public relations and fundraising."