As the ranks of Echols Scholars graduates have grown steadily over the years, one thing has become increasingly clear to program director Michael Timko: Alumni are clamoring for ways to stay in touch and to give back to the University. By the beginning of this year, more than 1,000 former Echols Scholars were part of an alumni group on LinkedIn, and Timko knew he needed to do more. So he set up an Alumni Interest Group (AIG) with the help of Kate Redding (Col ’03), director of AIGs at the Alumni Association.
“This is just in the very early stages, but we’re already seeing the reward and benefit of having the AIG as a focal point of how to contact all of our alumni,” Timko says.
Running a group for alumni is time consuming and laborious. There’s the planning of reunions, maintaining an up-to-date website and sending out regular newsletters, never mind the internal tasks, like board meetings and minutes, long-term strategic goals and fundraising.
That’s where Redding and her staff come in. The first step in forming an AIG is to contact Redding, who uses a series of databases to track alumni engagement; this helps groups identify the specific needs and desires of their alumni. Redding and her four staff members provide support for nearly 50 AIGs. The fee they charge varies and is based on the needs of each group. Some, like the two dozen fraternity and sorority groups, have fairly simple missions and require less involvement. But others are more hands-on, like the Ridley Scholarship Fund, the oldest African-American scholarship group at UVA.
Redding and her staff help Ridley’s board members with daily operational tasks so they can focus on the bigger-picture endeavors of governance, mission goals and strategic planning.
“I want to help build a much more sustainable, dynamic organization with them,” Redding says. “The question they need to answer is: How are we recruiting the best and brightest African-American students across the country? The day-to-day stuff, we’ll take care of.”
For the Echols Scholars, Redding has helped form a mentoring program, which pairs graduates with current scholars. About 50 students and more than 250 alumni have signed up, Timko says. Next, Redding and her staff will help Timko send out a newsletter, launch a website and form a board.
And for the first time, Redding and her staff have taken on an entire school: the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Batten is a relatively small school—started in 2007, it has about 400 alumni—and because of its size has no alumni relations staff of its own. Jill Rockwell, the school’s senior assistant dean for student and career services, says its alumni ranks are growing rapidly. So they asked for Redding’s assistance.
“Among their own, classes are pretty tight and stay in touch informally, but what we’ve heard is that they have a greater desire to connect with alumni across classes,” Rockwell says.
Redding and her staff approached the Batten alumni interest group as they would any other: They conducted a survey to gauge interest, and will follow up with the most impassioned respondents about forming a board and taking on leadership roles within the group. They recently launched a website, which will help determine how their alumni want to connect. Do they want more frequent reunions? A mentoring program? Professional networking? Those answers are to come, but for now, Batten alumni have said, “Yes, we’re interested.”