Programming for Special Constituencies: University of Waterloo - Gold Award

Category 1C: Alumni Relations Programs – Programming for Special Constituencies
University of Waterloo 50th Anniversary Gala in Hong Kong
Gold Award

Jude Doble
Communicaitons Officer
Office of Alumni Affairs
200 University Ave W
Waterloo Ontario
Canada N2L 3G1
519-888-4567 ext. 36173

Jude Doble Communications Officer
Jason Coolman Director, Alumni Affairs
Chantel Franklin Alumni Officer, Students and Young Alumni
Alison Boyd Alumni Officer, International Programs
Pat Duguay Alumni Officer, Events and Reunions
Carlo Siochi Alumni Programs Assistant
Dean Perkins Alumni Officer, Events and Reunions

University of Waterloo 50th Anniversary Alumni Awards Program

Staff resources
Professional staff - seven; administrative staff - two

Program description
To commemorate the University of Waterloo's (UW) 50th anniversary in 2007, the Office of Alumni Affairs wanted to honour and recognize 50 outstanding alumni who have shown tremendous involvement and citizenship to the university through activities like volunteering, mentoring, involvement with committees/boards/panels, philanthropic support, advocacy, etc. By publicly showcasing the commitment these alumni have shown to UW, we hoped it might also inspire other alumni to engage with the life of the university.

The initial program idea was proposed by the UW Alumni Council (AC), a 16-member volunteer advisory board. We strategically engaged the AC to determine the award criteria and select the award recipients, in consultation with Alumni Affairs staff. An AC ad-hoc committee was created with six members, charged with the task of helping to create and implement the program.

We initiated a call to all alumni, requesting nominations for alumni who displayed great citizenship to the university. Almost 200 unique nominations were submitted, and based on the determined criteria, 50 outstanding alumni were chosen. A gala awards dinner was planned at the home of our university president, for September 28, 2007, as part of Homecoming weekend. In lieu of the standard plaque as the award, we initiated a call to alumni artists to submit samples of their work in order to select one artist to create a work of art as the award. Fifty limited-edition prints of the award would be created, one for each of the recipients.

The planning and implementation process took the dedicated work and creativity of nine staff and many volunteers from the alumni council, over the course of 14 months. To make a truly memorable event, we decided to host this dinner at the president's farm, in a converted horse show stable. This unique venue required detailed planning and preparations including building a floor, securing interior and exterior lighting, securing multiple heating sources, audio visual and catering electrical requirements, exterior washroom rentals, and people-power to transform the barn into an elegant venue for a three-course meal, with 230 highly influential alumni and guests.

The AC reviewed nominations, and selected award recipients and the alumni artist in March 2007. All recipients were telephoned by alumni staff to notify them of their selection and confirm whether they would accept the award (all gladly accepted). All nominees not selected were sent an email or letter from the president acknowledging their important contributions and advising them of not being selected, and all nominators were notified if their nominee was selected or not. All recipients were interviewed by phone or email so we could write a personal biography for the alumni web site, and were requested to submit a photo of themselves in a professional or fun capacity reflective of their personality (see Appendix A), to avoid a sea of standard head and shoulder shots. [Visit the photo gallery online:]

By August 2007, the artist had created a piece entitled Fifty: Upholding Imagination (see Appendix B). Fifty limited-edition prints of his work were created for award recipients, and the original has been placed on permanent display in UW's Dana Porter Library foyer. Details of the alumni artwork and artist can be found online:

The award dinner itself included a three-course meal, brief speeches by the UW president and the Alumni Council president, an ongoing AV presentation of the award recipients, the original artwork was unveiled and the artist addressed the audience, one award recipient acted as valedictorian to speak about the importance of staying connected to UW and the impact it has made on his life, and each recipient (or family member*) came to the stage to be presented with their award and pose for a photograph with the UW president.

The program has had a tremendous impact on the university and specifically on alumni relations. As it was a year full of 50th anniversary celebrations, this event acted as a flagship event, involving 50 of UW's most connected alumni, key government officials, and community members. The promotion of the alumni award recipients in the media, online, and through print publications not only brought great attention to the accomplishments of many of our alumni, but also brought great attention to the university.

As the goal of Alumni Affairs is to provide opportunities for alumni to connect with each other and their university, this program facilitated both of those elements in several ways. Alumni could nominate other alumni for this award of distinction; UW was able to make important connections with its alumni through promotion of this program and individual communications with nominators and nominees; alumni artists, a group often disengaged from the institution, were courted to showcase their work; one artist was selected whose work received great profile; key alumni were able to meet each other and network at the awards dinner; and the subsequent promotions of the recipients informed other alumni of the many ways one can connect with the university, and hopefully inspired others to become more involved with UW.

Program goals and objectives

  • Honour and recognize 50 outstanding alumni for their citizenship to UW, in honour of UW's 50th anniversary
  • Publicly celebrate the award recipients' commitment to UW at a gala awards dinner and promote the awards program and recipients via subsequent promotions online, in print and through media releases
  • Strategically engage members of the UW Alumni Council (16-member volunteer advisory board) to help create the awards program, determine the award criteria, and select the award recipients
  • Engage alumni artists by requesting alumni to submit samples of their artwork in order to select one artist to create the 50th anniversary alumni award for the recipients, representing the theme of engagement and connection
  • Feature a high-profile alumni event in honour of UW's 50th anniversary
  • Inspire other alumni to engage in the life of the institution

Target audiences
Our primary audience was 50 of UW's most engaged alumni, who have shown tremendous involvement and citizenship to the university through activities like volunteering, mentoring, involvement with committees/boards/panels, philanthropic support, advocacy etc.

Our secondary audiences included all of UW's alumni (130,000 worldwide) who were asked to nominate their peers and the 16-member UW Alumni Council, who were not only the originators of the program idea but instrumental in designing the award criteria and selecting the award recipients.

*Note: two of the 50 recipients were recently deceased and award was accepted on their behalf by a family member

Number of participants
There were 50 award recipients, selected from 190 nominations; 230 guests at the gala awards dinner; 16 members of the UW Alumni Council; and seven alumni artists who submitted their work for consideration.

We have 135,000 alumni worldwide and 90,000 are addressable.

Program budget
Event venue (staging, signage, flowers, lighting, audio visual, etc.) - $6,375

Event catering - $18,000

Award (honorarium for artist, printing, framing) - $6,900

Promotions (magazine advertisement, event program, invitation etc.) - $4,250

Other (invitation postage, long-distance fees for meetings) - $350

Revenue from ticket sales (recipients and one guest were complimentary) - $15,375



Final cost

Documented results

  • The gala event was extremely successful (all recipients attended except three from Hong Kong who were recognized at a special event in Hong Kong the following month, and one who was in the UK on business) and garnered great praise from the recipients and others in attendance. The venue turned out beautifully and in the days and weeks following the event, we received many accolades from alumni and guests in attendance (see Appendix C). The event itself and subsequent recognition of the recipients' citizenship to UW was a wonderful stewardship opportunity for donors and prospects, and highlighted the value and impact of helping UW achieve its goals.
  • The Alumni Council members were deeply engaged with this peer-selection program, and were recognized at the awards dinner (five alumni council members were in attendance); this group demonstrated one of the vital ways to stay connected with UW: alumni board membership.
  • While citizenship to a university can be expressed in many forms, six alumni award recipients have made substantial donations to the university since receiving their award in September 2007 (gifts are in excess of $28,350,000)!
  • After a full year of Canadian and international alumni events in celebration of UW's 50th anniversary, this event was a wonderful reflection of the secret of UW's success: our committed and connected alumni.
  • This program allowed us to connect and reconnect with several alumni artists across Canada, a group often disconnected from their university, and were able to showcase the work of a talented artist and give great prominence to his work.
  • While it is too soon to say how these 50 recipients will inspire other alumni to become more involved with the life of the institution, because of the increased profile of the UW Alumni Council, we were able to easily recruit four new, highly-placed alumni in November 2007, representing the high-tech, not-for-profit, and business sectors.
  • The awards program has been used in subsequent, UW-wide marketing materials, such at the 2008 annual report, Building the Future (See Appendix D). It includes a photo from the event as well as quotes and signatures from 10 of the award recipients.

University of Waterloo External Relations: Mission, Values and Vision

External Relations advances the mission of the university by securing financial support and building public trust and understanding through communication and advocacy.

In fulfilling our mission, we are committed to serve and inform those individuals and organizations with whom we interact: alumni, students, friends, foundations, corporations, governments, and communities across Canada and around the world.

As such, we uphold and endorse these intrinsic values: excellence, integrity, trust, fairness, accountability, respect, teamwork, cooperation, patience, innovation, creativity, and adaptability.

In the sixth decade of the University of Waterloo's prestigious placement as Canada's most innovative university, External Relations' vision is to be a dynamic leader and passionate champion of the university's effort to achieve global distinction

UW's Office of Alumni Affairs Mission

The Office of Alumni Affairs strives to provide meaningful opportunities for alumni to connect with each other and their university.