The times they are a-changin’ and so are the ways the alumni board approaches its work.
Last fall Alumni Association President Beverly Harrison Miller ’67 told us that she wanted to change the board meetings from reporting-out sessions to accomplishing-work sessions. She assured us that our diversity of perspectives, mutual trust and respect, and dedication to Skidmore are clear advantages in our ability to work together, and she challenged us to develop a climate of preparedness so that we are proactive rather than reactive.
In the past the board has had a president and three vice presidents who comprised the executive committee, with each vice president overseeing several committees and stewardship areas. Committee reports were distributed at the board meetings, and agendas were so full that there was little time for in-depth discussion or questions. Some board members had very prescribed responsibilities and others weren’t sure how they could best contribute. We weren’t capitalizing on the capabilities of all members. We needed more focus and flexibility and better use of our time.
So we assembled a working group—Barbara Underhill Collyer ’52, Melanie Lee ’83, Spencer Goldin ’93, Justin Model ’91, Nick Cavaliere ’01, and myself— to review recommendations of the Alumni Volunteer Task Force and study ways of working on nonprofit boards. We learned about using team approaches not only to accomplish work but to gain a diversity of ideas, to get buy-in for the results, and to sustain the efforts and results for the long term—that is, to get things done and to build strong relationships. We also gained insight into the importance of measurable goals, clear roles, active leadership, effective planning, open and timely communications, and concern for time management—including a five-step process to improve our meetings.
So what’s changed?
Structure. Acting on working-group recommendations, the board has adopted a new structure that consists of three “clusters” of service and stewardship efforts: alumni outreach, alumni involvement, and alumni giving. Outreach seeks to strengthen the College’s relationship with certain groups of alumni, to advocate for alumni opinions and needs, to increase the visibility of volunteers and their activities, and to strengthen ties between the trustees and the alumni board. Involvement means facilitating alumni recognition and volunteer recruitment, encouraging the involvement of alumni with diverse talents, bringing alumni back to campus, and keeping volunteers connected with the College after their service ends. The giving cluster focuses on developing leadership in fundraising on behalf of the College.
Planning. Each year during Reunion as many board members as possible gather to brainstorm ideas and projects for the coming year. In June the executive committee prioritizes the projects and assigns members to carry them out, so that members know their roles and can begin work at the first board meeting in the fall.
Meetings. Agendas and reports are now mailed out two weeks in advance of board and cluster team meetings. A scribe is designated for each meeting to record decisions made, actions taken, and tasks assigned. Minutes are distributed two weeks after the meeting. Time is allotted at each full board meeting for the clusters to meet and work on their projects.
So what’s next? The board begins working in the new team-based arrangement this fall. We hope its flexibility and focus will help us better ascertain and achieve the expectations of the alumni community for a meaningful alumni association. Let us know how we do.