To complete our series on “engaging leaders”, we are pleased to present the perspective of class officers from three different institutions: Julianne Puckett, President, Class of 1991, at Mount Holyoke College (www.mtholyoke.edu); Chuck Culp, Form Agent, Class of 2002 at St. Paul’s School (www.sps.edu); and Angus Christie, Class Agent at Holderness School (http://www.holderness.org).
Please describe the ways in which you and your class officers are engaged in advancing your school/college. What are the priorities for your officers and how are those implemented?
JP: Our job as class officers is twofold: 1) To keep the members of our class connected to each other and 2) To keep them connected to the College and the Alumnae Association (our AA is a separate entity from the College). The primary vehicle for achieving both these goals is the 5-year reunion; the greater attendance we have from our classmates back on campus every five years, the greater our class-wide engagement and the better engaged we stay with the College. So we focus a lot of our energy on event planning and fundraising to support that planning.
CC: My class at St. Paul’s has two main class officers: the Form Director and the Main Form Agent. The Form Director is responsible for organizing our reunions, which occur every five years, and they serve five-year terms. Prior to the Reunion, the Director may also organize events for classmates and keep the class informed of what is happening with classmates. Leading up to the reunion, the Director will plan events, collect contact information, and work to increase attendance.
The Form Agents are responsible for annual fundraising. We are organized with a main form agent and additional agents. Our goal is to drive high participation rates in giving. We believe that this is more important than driving large dollar gifts because we are only ten years out of high school and we believe that engagement through small gifts should have more value for the school in the long-term. In general, the main agent will write two annual letters to the entire class. The agents (including the main agent) will then split the class up so that we ensure that all of our classmates get at least two personal (email or phone) solicitations a year.
AC: Initially, we had a full compliment of class offices including a president, vice president, class agents, and class correspondents. Over time, however, it was the class agents that have continued on a yearly basis. From the school’s perspective, the priority is the annual fund and that is what is asked of the alumni. For the annual fund, raising participation is the critical component. For me, as a class agent, I also want to have our classmates re-connect with each other as we are spread all over the country and the world. With our phone calls and letters, we can then contact them and share information from other classmates. We also encourage the classmates to attend the regional social events for Holderness.Some alumni are also reconnecting through social networks. The school has an on-line alumni directory, though further work is probably required. I also like to promote the school to those who might have children, grandchildren, neighbors, colleagues, and others to consider Holderness for their school.
Please describe the ways in which you and your other officers engage/communicate with your classmates in your school/college.
JP: Our class scribes are responsible for soliciting and compiling news on classmates that is included each quarter in the Alumnae Quarterly magazine, produced by the Alumnae Association. This news is generally collected via email (they email our class email list, asking for news), our class' Facebook page and/or our class web site. The class president also aims to send an annual letter (used to be distributed via snail mail but is now sent via email, which is a huge boon for our not-so-large class treasury!) to the class, giving an update on any fundraising goals, new fundraising products for sale, news of classmates, interesting happenings at the College, etc. Once we are about a year or so away from the 5-year reunion, the reunion chairs then kick the communications up a notch, sharing planning information and soliciting volunteers, again usually through email, Facebook or the class web site.
CC: We send two written letters a year through the school. In addition, we also send emails and make phone calls.
AC: Class correspondents and the alumni office reach out the alumni quarterly for class news. This is published on the Holderness School Today (HST). In addition, the annual fund campaign starts in the late summer or early fall with a direct mailing to the alumni. We, the class agents, use the phone calls and additional letters to contact our classmates, encouraging participation in the annual fund. Our primary goal is raising money and participation from our class. The key for us is the communication and direct contact with classmates. As the annual fund campaign deadline approaches, we extend our efforts using email, texting, and social networks to reach alumni.
To what extent are any of your class officers engaged in raising philanthropic support for your institution?
JP: As part of our board of class officers, we elect (based on recommendations from the Development Office) a team of Class Agents, who work with the development office to help set an annual class fundraising goal that supports the College's programs, financial support to students, etc. In all our communications with the class, we encourage participation in the fundraising effort and keep classmates abreast of goal milestones throughout the year.
AC: Our first priority is to increase participation while also considering the total dollar amount raised. In addition, we encourage alumni to attend our reunion. For our 25th reunion in FY 10, we hit 70% participation in the annual fund; in the following year, we hit 50% so we’re still doing well. We try to encourage all of our classmates to give a gift because we know that participation is very important for Holderness to talk about overall alumni participation as a strength of the school. It also helps them raise additional support from other funding sources.
From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges in engaging and communicating with your classmates?
JP: Right now, our biggest engagement problem is our classmates' busy lives! As graduates in their early 40s, our classmates are right in the thick of career advancement and child rearing, which often leaves little time for volunteering or being as involved with class activities as they would like. The reunions are our most important touch point, so we focus most of our attention on increasing attendance and participation. The biggest help in the past few years has been the rise of social media, as it provides an easy and more cost-effective way to reach a majority of our classmates.
CC: The biggest challenge is maintaining relevance (in social and financial engagement) for something that happened a few years ago and potentially thousands of miles away. There is no universal message that works, so it can be very difficult to engage the entire class efficiently.
AC: Our biggest challenge has been mobility. As alumni change jobs and location, their contact information is lost to the school. With the various search engines and social networks, I have been able to find and contact “lost” classmates. I find that in my 25+ years out of Holderness that I have much more in common with my classmates than I thought I did as an 18-year old graduate. It is rewarding to reconnect with classmates even though we may not have always been in direct contact since graduating.