Alumni Engagement Stronger than Ever
Strengthening alumni engagement. It’s been the first of the three priorities of For the Bold since the beginning, helping to guide and direct this historic campaign — and it will continue to be an area of emphasis now that the campaign has closed.
To meet this vital campaign goal, the William & Mary Alumni Association, in collaboration with University Advancement and alumni volunteers, bolstered programming and resources for alumni to deepen their connections with each other and alma mater.
During the campaign, the WMAA has expanded career resources, renewed their focus on affinity, identity and regional programming, added new signature events and greatly increased virtual and online offerings, leading to a three-fold increase in alumni engaging in the life of the university through these new and creative opportunities.
“Our mission is to cultivate our vibrant and inclusive alumni community, which is now more than 100,000 strong worldwide,” says Marilyn W. Midyette ’75, CEO of the W&M Alumni Association. “Your relationship with William & Mary doesn’t end when you graduate — in many senses it is just beginning. We add value to your William & Mary degree with programs and resources for every stage of your life, whether you are looking to advance your career, connect with classmates or fellow alumni who share your interests, or learn something new.”
For example, seeing a need for additional career and networking support for alumni, in 2016, the WMAA hired its first director of alumni career management and professional networks. Now, alumni can take advantage of weekly online networking hours, on-demand webinars, industry panel discussions and the W&M Switchboard, an exclusive online platform for alumni to share job opportunities, seek advice and connect with others in their field or city.
In February 2020, the WMAA hosted their second annual Professionals Week. More than 1,200 people participated in 33 events over five days, from panel discussions to Tribe@Work events to webinars on topics like “Developing your Leadership” and “Creating a Career You Love.” Tribe@Work brings together alumni who work in the same company, building or industry.
Participants ranged in age from the Class of 1957 to the Class of 2020 and hailed from across the nation and around the world.
There was also a social media component: throughout the week, alumni and staff shared how they show their Tribe Pride at work, from displaying W&M swag on their desk to connecting with other alumni in their workplace. Next year's Professionals Week is tentatively scheduled for February 22-26, 2021.
Through a partnership with Mission Collaborative, the WMAA has also held two Career Change Bootcamps and offers a 30-day online Career Change Fellowship for those transitioning to a new phase of life or looking to reinvent their career.
“Especially now, as the pandemic brings new economic hardships, it’s important we leverage the strength of William & Mary to help each other, personally and professionally,” says Michael Steelman, director of alumni career management and professional networks.
Another area of growth is affinity and identity groups, which include the Hulon Willis Association (representing alumni of Black or African descent), LatinX Alumni, LGBTQ Alumni, the Order of the White Jacket (representing alumni who worked in food service), W&M Women, the Alumni Band Organization and the Association of 1775 (alumni who serve or served in the military or government).
These organizations, as well as the Young Guarde (alumni within 10 years of graduation) and the Olde Guarde (alumni who graduated 50 years ago or more), provide an opportunity for alumni who share similar affiliations or interests to support one another and connect with current students, staff and faculty.
Affinity and identity programming takes place throughout the year, as well as during Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, providing another way for alumni to connect during the WMAA’s biggest signature event of the year.
More than 3,500 alumni, family and friends have returned to campus for Homecoming & Reunion Weekend each year since 2015 — and a record-setting 4,500 participated in 2017. With the “big white tent” covering the Sunken Garden as central hub for the occasion, dedicated reunion receptions with full food and drink service, and new events like Virginia Uncorked, Homecoming has a fresh spin while maintaining traditional elements like the reunion receptions and tailgate.
A new signature event, Traditions Weekend, brings together three of the university’s most loyal groups: the Olde Guarde, the 50th Reunion class and the Boyle Legacy Society (all those who have included W&M in their estate plans). Since 2017, these three groups have returned to campus each April to reconnect, reminisce and learn more about William & Mary today.
In September 2018, William & Mary hosted its first W&M Women’s Weekend. Nearly 500 alumnae, parents, family, staff, students and friends gathered on campus for the Weekend, a signature event in the yearlong commemoration of 100 years of coeducation at William & Mary. They hailed from 27 states and three countries, spanned the generations from the Class of 1948 to 2022, and represented a variety of professional fields. Through three days of panel discussions, keynote speakers, performances and activities, they shared how they inspire, empower and lead in their industries, families and communities.
"We wanted this Weekend to showcase the wide variety of experiences of William & Mary women — we all have stories to share," said Val Cushman, senior director of alumni engagement and inclusion initiatives. "We have so much to learn from each other, and the collective power of women can accomplish amazing things."
The next William & Mary Women’s Weekend is tentatively scheduled for September 2021.
Another major women’s initiative to emerge from this campaign is the Society of 1918, a giving society committed to growing the engagement, leadership and philanthropy of W&M women. At the close of the campaign, the society was 437 members strong. Together, they collectively raised over $4.3 million for the Alumnae Initiatives Endowment, which will support regional and interest-based programming that brings W&M women together to strengthen their bonds with one another and the university.
The WMAA has also taken its signature events on the road. William & Mary Weekend brings the best of William & Mary to iconic locations in a host city for insider tours, intellectual panels and world-class events. W&M Weekend reaches alumni in other regions and brings hundreds of alumni, parents, family and friends to each city to connect, discover and celebrate together. After successful events in Washington, D.C., in 2016, New York City in 2017 and Chicago in 2018, San Francisco will host the next William & Mary Weekend June 10-13, 2021.
A wide variety of smaller regional events also helped reach alumni worldwide — from cheering with the Tribe at William & Mary Night at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to museum tours in New York City, to apple picking in Boston, to celebrating One Tribe One Day in London and Tokyo.
The new Annual Review and Accolades process, now in its third year, recognizes and celebrates the efforts of these regional networks. They are a process for volunteer leaders in regional networks to reflect on the last year, celebrate successes and plan for the future — while sharing their great work with the alumni community and providing Alumni Engagement staff and the network leadership teams with insight as to how to best support W&M alumni, parents, family and friends in their regions.
While this year has been uniquely challenging with the continued spread of COVID-19, the WMAA has adapted their engagement programming to focus on virtual opportunities so that alumni can stay connected despite physical distancing requirements. A full list of virtual events can be found at wmalumni.com/virtual-opportunities.
Once campus reopens, engagement events of all kinds will have a new home in the expanded Alumni House, one of the WMAA’s major initiatives during the For the Bold campaign. The expansion added 33,000 square feet to the original Bright House, creating additional space for programming and offices. The expansion features an AV-equipped grand ballroom that can seat up to 400 for a banquet-style event, a new entrance and dedicated reception area, an alumni lounge, and a variety of hardscaped outdoor spaces, including a Family Courtyard recognizing multigenerational families as well as others with strong ties to William & Mary.
“The expanded house reflects the important role our alumni play in the life of the university,” says Midyette. “We hope this will be the first stop whenever alumni and their families and friends visit campus.”
Whether on campus, around the world or online, expanded and value-added alumni engagement has served not only to strengthen relationships among alumni and with alma mater, but also to generate a renewed sense of pride in William & Mary that will last far into the future.