Alumni Lead the Way
"What began as a willingness to help organize Chicago-area alumni from my alma mater culminated in my being elected chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Cincinnati Foundation in 2014. It is a classic story of unlocking alumni passion, even for alumni residing hundreds of miles from campus."Read Bob Fealy's Full Story
How did ALUMinate get started?
From Volunteer to Chairman
By Robert (Bob) Fealy, President & Co-Founder
What began as a willingness to help organize Chicago-area alumni from my alma mater culminated in my being elected chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Cincinnati Foundation in 2014. It is a classic story of unlocking alumni passion, even for alumni residing hundreds of miles from campus.
“We need help here in Chicago,” implored the development officer from the University of Cincinnati Foundation. “We have almost 4,000 alumni here and no way to engage them, and we are kicking off the Proudly Cincinnati Campaign soon.”
Thus began a decade-long effort to build and engage a supportive alumni and donor base in Chicago. The Foundation had made little investment in regional activities, and it was clear that only limited resources would be available to assist any local efforts. Fortunately, we had two things going for us. First, I decided to allocate a significant portion of my very able and affable executive assistant’s time to tackle the not-insignificant challenges of communicating with our newly formed alumni leadership (including first identifying them), and organizing the local events and meetings. Second, we had an impressive group of accomplished alumni who had a genuine passion for UC, even though most had maintained scant contact with the school. Over the following years, “Chicagoans for Cincy,” as the group was dubbed, planned events, introduced University leaders and faculty to audiences, and expanded the alumni group across ages. We achieved our goal of raising $10 million for the campaign. In the process, we created many lasting friendships and relationships.
In addition to making new friends, my fellow alumni and I benefited from new business relationships. Given a choice, we preferred to do business with those with whom we shared a common passion — in this case, other UC Bearcats!
What we learned from this experience is that local volunteers — properly organized and with strong and committed leadership — can create a vibrant university community, however far from the central campus. An important factor in this success is having the local logistical support to schedule calls, maintain contact information for alumni and volunteers, and keep the communication flowing. Adding new people to the mix, assigning not-too-burdensome responsibilities to volunteers, and celebrating the achievements of local alumni and friends are also critical. We must go beyond the typical game-watch gatherings at local bars and design programs that appeal to the varied interests of alumni and friends. The momentum created from these activities enhances alumni affinity for the school, which leads to more successful and sustainable fundraising results.
Speaking with advancement professionals and other university board members, I’ve learned that the challenges of organizing regional activities are not unique to my institution. Few universities seem to do regional engagement well, due to the logistical challenges, the cost of time and travel for central development officers, and the difficulty in cultivating relationships from afar. After my experience with UC in Chicago, I wondered whether this problem could be addressed with a new model. If we could create an organization of highly skilled development professionals and support teams and locate them in major cities, they could serve multiple universities in that region. Using this new shared services approach, the logistical challenges would be greatly reduced and regional chapters would flourish. As I considered this model, I was fortunate to meet two individuals, Esther Choy and Caitlin Scarano, who likewise had a strong interest in researching the effectiveness of alumni engagement. Hence the formation of ALUMinate!