When the Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (YaleGALE) travels abroad, people ask us, “How do you create successful alumni events?” Just as importantly, YaleGALE participants have sensed an unspoken question, “How do you measure ‘success’?” We’ll try to answer both questions – or at least begin to answer them. But first, a little bit about our point of view.
At Yale, alumni relations is not about fundraising – at least not directly.
At Yale, fund raising is separate and distinct from alumni relations – often referred to as friend-raising. (This is not true everywhere, not even in America.) At Yale, alumni relations is handled by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA). YaleGALE is a program of AYA. As such, we at AYA and YaleGALE do not measure the success of an event by how much money it raises. Instead, we focus on increasing the number and depth of friendships and connections among alumni and those alumni’s sense of connectedness with and loyalty to Yale. Measuring that is surely an inexact science. However, we also believe, and studies have shown, that alumni who feel greater connection to their university give more money.
(Note bene: Certainly some alumni events have fundraising components, but that is not the focal point of AYA’s efforts.)
The Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) has a select top-notch professional staff, but could not do its job without an army of dedicated volunteers.
AYA has a staff of 30 to 40 paid professionals who work with literally thousands of alumni volunteers. Staff and volunteers together plan, organize and run over a thousand events and programs every year around the world, attended by tens of thousands of alumni. Certainly, Yale alumni have a long tradition and history of active and entrepreneurial volunteer involvement in alumni affairs (see in the About section the page on Alumni Volunteerism at Yale). Nonetheless, the expense would be prohibitive, if AYA tried to run all of those events and programs by itself using paid staff.
YaleGALE participants are volunteers, who see opportunities for volunteering and ways that university staff can help.
YaleGALE participants are alumni volunteers with years of experience in that role. We know what volunteers can do, and tend to see opportunities for volunteer efforts. We know how much work is really involved. We know about nurturing and motivating volunteers. Many of us have also served as volunteer fundraisers for Yale. However, for the most part we are neither professional alumni relations personnel nor professional fundraisers. This is in contrast to most of the people we meet on a YaleGALE trip – the people asking us questions.
Having read this Preface, many readers will realize that they actually want us to answer a somewhat different question, “How can alumni relations staff create successful events?” Our answer, involve volunteers – and provide the support, guidance, and infrastructure so that staff can leverage volunteer efforts, and visa versa.