Sunday, December 16, 2012

Open Letter to Vassar 2: Electric Boogaloo

So my previous post about my issues with Vassar's engagement with alumni was well received by alums and friends and others.  It apparently raised eyebrows at the Vassar Alumni and Development Office.  About a day after the post, I received a call from Susan with their office to see if we could have a talk.

I had known Susan and she had been present at the planting of Erin's tree and I would usually try and meet her for coffee whenever she was in Boston or DC to meet with more lucrative donors. So I was happy to talk to her because we know each other, and it wasn't just some random person who called to appease me.

So some things I've learned from VC:

  • There are apparently already outlets for alumni who help Vassar with financial assistance: There's even a committee for Alumni House.  However, it's pretty non-transparent.  Also it appears you have to be an AAVC Trustee or something be on these committees, which is not what I was looking for.  So while it's great that some alums are helping, it's not enough.  
  • The school understands the issues with Alumni Interviews:  This shouldn't come as a surprise, but many folks who participate as alumni interviewers are often frustrated about a lack of feedback from the college or the fact that the interviews are informational and therefore don't seem like a good use of a busy alum's time, if they're not going to matter that much.  
  • Vassar says that alumni want to be engaged in all different ways:  This is true.  However, you can't use this as in "We can't be everything to everyone, so we'll just not do much." I explained that they need to do something, especially if the breakdown is as follows: 
    • 50% want to be left alone
    • 30% are content with that awesome book of trees
    • 20% want more active engagement.  
           They need to engage that last group.  Also, they need to recognize that this last group is going to         grow and continue to grow, and be loud about it.

  • Vassar sort of gets it, but they're nervous: Some at the college see this change happening.  They know that their donor base is becoming more diversified and therefore less eager to drop a check in the mail for thousands of dollars without explanation.  However, they're understandably nervous about moving to a new model, when the old model made them so much money.  I mean, if you sent out envelopes and got them back filled with cash, would you change?  
So Susan and I agreed to reconvene in January.  She wanted to talk to some people in the department about this and how it could be done.  That's cool.  And she also said that people in the office were taken aback and slightly hurt by my last post.  For that I'm sorry.  Understand that my words came from a place of love and passion and not anger.  I think the fact that I even am talking about this shows that I care.  

So I'll keep people updated.  But know this, I'm not letting this go.  This is the future of giving.  And Vassar should get out in front of this and not have to play catch up.  This isn't rocket science.  I was a cop.  I once had to watch a training video telling me to open the gas cap before fueling my car.  If I can figure this out, then clearly Vassar College can too.  

If you're with me, lets make some noise. 


maikib said...

Totally agree with you. I'm a little taken aback that the college is surprised by this, though. We are smarter than that... And we are a product of them in many ways. Also- hurt by your post? Hmmm... I re-read it and found nothing offensive or hurtful. In fact, thought your humor kindly masked the serious problem they will have if they don't take steps to engage younger alums to creatively tackle the financial future of the college.

Hero to the Masses said...

Why thank you. Yeah, I think colleges sometimes feel like Blockbuster. They see the writing on the wall, but they were making so much money that even spending a little to change anything wasn't worth it.

Did they even have BB over there? Or is in only BBC 1-12?