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BAA readjusts for full independence

Jan. 29, 2010

By Laura Remson
Staff writer

Following the Baylor Alumni Association's decision to remain fully independent from Baylor, the organization is in the process of reorganizing, filling the advertising and communications gaps that Baylor once provided to the association. The major changes are regarding information systems and scholarship funds.

On Sept. 19 of last year, Baylor reached out to the BAA, asking that it give up its status as an independent, nonprofit organization and be absorbed into the university. While there was no formal response from the BAA, the university withdrew its proposal on Oct. 27, stating that this was in the best interests of the university.

The BAA's decision to remain independent also has caused the organization to lose access to the list of recent graduates and information that it previously received from the university as reported by The Lariat on

Dec. 4.

Annually, the BAA would receive this information to inform students of its reduced-price LSAT, GRE and GMAT preparatory courses.

However, in December, the request for graduating students' e-mail addresses was denied by the university for the first time, Beth Michaelis, director of membership and marketing at the BAA, said in The Lariat's Dec. 4 article.

Dr. Karla Leeper, Baylor's chief of staff to the president, explained that the university keeps a file of student information regarding classes, GPA, grades and organizations students are involved with. Then, after graduation, the university keeps information about donations from and addresses of its graduates.

The alumni association previously and still does have access to information regarding its members, but all other information is handled on a request basis, Leeper said.

"They have made the decision they want to be an independent organization, so we are treating them as we

treat any other organization," Leeper said.

"We may handle their requests differently," Leeper said. "It depends on what they are asking for. They are a separate organization. A lot of folks would love to have information about our students. We treat [the BAA] like anything else because we think it's our job to protect the privacy of our students' information."

Likewise, when the university denied the BAA's request, Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, told The Lariat that the university would not casually share student information with outside sources, noting that this is something students expect from their university.

At the moment, the BAA has not officially contracted any outside services, but it is in talks with two such companies. Jeff Kilgore, executive vice president/CEO of the BAA, estimates that this change to outside organizations will take at least six months.

The BAA met Tuesday with a group called Pursuant Agency, which provides online marketing and social media services for groups, including alumni associations, Kilgore said.

While Erik Rogers, vice president of higher education at Pursuant, would not confirm the meeting, the agency helps non-profit organizations, such as the BAA, to better communicate with their constituents.

"It's pretty comprehensive. We provide any and every service to nonprofit organizations as they are attempting to communicate with their constituents...whoever their clients may be," he said.

Other clients of the organization listed on its Web site include the Baylor Executive Masters of Business Administration, Baylor University Athletics and a number of university alumni groups, including the Purdue Alumni Association and University of Illinois Alumni Association.

Rogers would not comment further, noting privacy for potential clients.

The BAA also has a scheduled meeting with Blackbaud Inc., a company which could provide the data systems that will be required to connect with alumni.

Kilgore said the BAA is staying positive, particularly in regard to its mid-year membership revenue, which is up 10.2 percent from last year, from $382,000 in 2008 to $421,000 in 2009, according to membership data sheets. He believes this increase is the alumni's response to the last six months.

The BAA's annual budget is approximately $1.9 million, according to a fact sheet by The Dallas Morning News.

Since Baylor once provided help with advertising to appeal to students, faculty, staff and alumni, the BAA was free to use a portion of member dues to fund scholarships, said Kilgore.

However, since the university will no longer supply some information, the BAA has been in talks to hire out these services, thus reducing its funds available for scholarships.

"It is our intention to raise this money through increased memberships and surplus to our operations," Kilgore said in an E-mail to the Lariat. "Therefore, new and unforeseen costs of having now to secure separate data services to do our job will simply have a direct affect on our operation surpluses thus reducing the amount available for scholarship. Although duplicative in many regards, maybe having our own software and data information system is not a bad thing in regards to us being able to do our job, but it simply comes with a usage of funds that we could be directing toward our scholarship effort instead. We remain committed to both our work, raising scholarship for students and moving forward."

In previous years, the BAA has donated all remaining membership revenue after operating costs are taken out.

That money is donated through Baylor's university development department, by giving its money to the BAA endowed scholarship program, which was created in 1997.

Since then, Kilgore said, the total BAA scholarship fund is just over $200,000. While the amount of funds given by the BAA each year varies, last year the BAA donated $6,877, according to Kilgore.

In an e-mail, Fogleman said that, through a combination of donation and interest, the BAA's endowed scholarship fund is valued at $173,000. The fund did not give awards to students until 2005. Since then, there has been a total of $60,500 awarded to students.

With the new costs associated with third-party contractors, the operating costs of the BAA will be higher and Kilgore anticipates scholarships donations will be lower.

In addition to working with outside organizations, Kilgore said the BAA would be making itself more of a presence at campus events and online.

"We are going to ramp up some on-campus marketing efforts, we are going to reach to students in ways that we haven't in the past," Kilgore said.

"Traditionally, you advertise in the Lariat, you have to get yourselves out in front of student groups on campus at student events, sponsor different things. We are also spending a lot of effort, as every alumni association or business entity is, how to ramp up your online products and social media."