Publications & Products
Volume 2, Issue 10


Trailblazing Alumni Relations Officers Give Professional Insight

Establishing a successful alumni relations program at a community college doesn't happen overnight. It takes sustained financial investment, championing from institutional leaders and a lot of patience, say two pioneering practitioners.

Last year, Susan Kubik retired as vice president of institutional advancement at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa.—an institution she had worked at since 1975. When she was hired, she was one of the very few full-time alumni relations professionals in the community college sector.

Robert Kopecek, Northampton president from 1977 to 2003, says the college began to look to its alumni for financial support because money from local and state governments was slowly dissipating. Also, he says the institution didn't have much success in securing gifts and partnerships with corporate entities—like many community colleges today do—because industry in the Rust Belt town was drying up.

Kopecek and Kubik say they faced many challenges in defending the college's commitment to alumni relations in those early days. For example, Kubik recalls receiving a chilly reception at a fundraising presentation the two did at a national convention of community college leaders in the early 1980s.

"We talked about how institutions can get their hands around their alumni population and ultimately get them to be a source of gifts for the college," she says. "We really had a few presidents walk out of the room. Some of them said, ‘I didn't sign up to be a community college president to get into development.' Times sure have changed."

Kubik says it was helpful for her career and the college's alumni association to have the strong support of a leader like Kopecek, who she says had to withstand pressure from the college's board and others in the early days when the value of alumni programming wasn't yet clear.

"I always used the bully pulpit," Kopecek says. "I wanted our community college to be the best in the country. And if you want to be the best, you can't do that with the same money everyone else gets."

Barbara Capsouras, director of alumni relations at County College of Morris in Randolph, N.J., also had to endure a few bumps in the road to establish a successful program at her institution, where she's worked since 1990. Early in her tenure, she participated in a networking group of alumni professionals in New Jersey. She was the only attendee from a community college.

"We talked about what worked and what didn't work," she says. "With each idea, I thought, ‘Well, this worked for a four-year school, so why can't it work for me at a two-year school?'"

Capsouras says she initially encountered difficulty when trying to partner with local businesses to offer affinity programs for her alumni association similar to those offered at nearby four-year institutions. She recalls being told by the representative of a local insurance company, "We don't have any experience with two-year schools, and we're not going to start now." Today, however, the college has affinity programs with an insurance company, hotel chain and even a car dealership, among others—all of which offer alumni notable deals for their services.

Showing value to alumni and building personal relationships is imperative for the success of an alumni association, Capsouras says.

"In the beginning of our alumni program, it was all about getting them back and connecting and then hoping that they'll be a resource for future development," she says. "It takes time to see benefits."

Capsouras says she sees a number of community colleges new to development work rush into soliciting alumni before they've had the chance to establish relationships with them. She believes this is a serious mistake.

"It seems to me that more and more community colleges are getting involved in alumni relations and the only way they can justify creating a position for it or spending money on programming is if they can raise money from their alumni immediately," she says. "I can only talk from experience. I think that would have been a bad move for us 20 years ago."

Please share your questions and comments with Marc Westenburg via email at mwestenburg@case.org or +1 202 478 5570.

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This article is from the April 2013 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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