Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Alumni Association considers restructuring dues in hope of raising larger donations

By R.P. Hitt

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After years of having fundraising lag behind the alumni networks of peer institutions, the University of Massachusetts Alumni Association is now considering different ways to attract members to the Alumni Association. One of the plans currently being discussed is lowering the annual dues required for membership to the association.

“The Alumni Association has been evaluating membership for some time now and are considering a restructure that would not eliminate dues but would restructure how they’re paid,” said Anna Symington, executive director of the UMass Alumni Association.

“What is currently being considered is eliminating annual dues, embracing all alumni as part of the association, maintaining current life membership dues and implementing a dues structure that would provide greater opportunity for all members to attain Life membership,” continued Symington.

According to a Boston Globe report released earlier this month, only 3 percent of UMass alumni are members of the school’s alumni association.  Of the 215,000 UMass alumni worldwide, only 6,000 are active members of the alumni association.

Symington elaborated on the possible reasons for the low membership, including UMass’ geographic location and campus culture, the current weak economy, the relative weakness of the University’s athletics program and confusion regarding dues-based membership verses donations.

“We have found that many alumni have an affinity for their respective department or area of study, rather than directly to the University,” said Symington. “Confusion exists in that alumni who have made contributions to UMass, either directly or through the Annual Fund, often consider that as dues or contributions paid toward the Alumni Association, which they are not,” said Symington.

If the annual dues are eliminated, the way members pay dues will be restructured. Although the annual dues will be a thing of the past, members will still need to give money to the Alumni Association in one form or another.

According to the Boston Globe report, some schools that have eliminated annual dues find their alumni more generous with their donations.

“The Alumni Association is a non-profit organization that relies on membership dues paid directly to the association to provide programs and services to alumni and students,” said Symington.

The money from the dues are used for programs and events including career resource and networking workshops and webinars, Bateman Scholar lectures, Distinguished Alumni Awards, Homecoming, Class Reunions, alumni club social and networking events (currently 35 clubs nationwide), student scholarships and awards, student social functions (ex: Pancake Breakfast, Commencement Ball) and alumni communications, which are meant to keep alumni connected and engaged.

According to Symington, any restructure will happen mid-to-late next year accompanied with a transition period. However, she noted that the Alumni Association will continue to try to gain more members through the programs and benefits that the organization offers.

According to Symington, the Alumni Association has already taken steps to get alumni more involved by providing involvement in volunteer service programs, implementing social media sites, launching alumni travel programs, working on faculty lecture series and partnering with departments and colleges on campus to provide more career service resources to students.

“We are responding to what we are hearing from both our alumni and students as to their needs and what they consider of value to them in their continuing connection with their alma mater,” said Symington. “More importantly, we will strive to do a better job of educating alumni as to the services and programs we provide and how their dues make this possible.”

Rutgers University and Cornell University’s Engineering program have already eliminated their annual dues, with the goal of both institutions being to create an association inclusive of all alumni. According to Cornell Engineering Alumni Association’s website, the postage, material, and staff time spent to manage paid membership amounted to over 40 percent of the revenue from dues.

Bobby Hitt can be reached at [email protected]


10 Responses to “Alumni Association considers restructuring dues in hope of raising larger donations”

  1. Ed on November 25th, 2009 9:25 am

    Symington elaborated on the possible reasons for the low membership, including UMass’ geographic location and campus culture, the current weak economy, the relative weakness of the University’s athletics program and confusion regarding dues-based membership verses donations.

    How about the real reason – the fact that 97% of the students leave this place hating it so much that they want nothing ever to do with it again in this or any future life. How about the fact that 20 years of treating students badly – at great expense to the students themselves (1989 was when the fees went through the roof, 1990 when the alcohol rules came into effect) – has now “come home to roost.”

    UMass openly admits that it “doesn’t care what students think” and now there are 20 years of alumni who don’t care about UMass, either… And the reason why this is an issue is because the alumni from the 90s are at a point where they now have some money and should be starting to donate to UM and aren’t. At all…

    I am a UM alumnus and I not only don’t belong to the alumni association but I threatened legal action if they didn’t stop trying to get me to join…

    The UMass Police alone arrest over 1000 students a year. There are probably thousands of judicial reports as well.

    How long before every student either has an unpleasant experience himself or knows someone who did? Enough said?

  2. Rick Williams on November 25th, 2009 1:08 pm

    The reasons for low membership have nothing to do with the current dues fees or the economy or the location of the campus. It has everything to do with the association itself. I was a member of the board for the past four years. I was not allowed on the last ballot. The alumni association needs a complete restructuring a new alumni hall with class and conference rooms and food service. I loved Umass. I have two boys who graduated recently from Umass and have excellant careers. I have another son who is currently a junior and on the deans list. What attracts alumni. Pride, high class, Networking and an opportunity to give back.

  3. Ed on November 27th, 2009 10:01 am

    Rick is right – “networking” does attract alumni to the association.

    If you graduate from Harvard, or Amherst College (r any of the other 4 Colleges), it means something. It means something more than just that you have your college degree in whatever.

    There are people who open doors for you if you go to one of those schools, at UMass the only door they will open for you is the back door of the police car.

    You may learn as much at UM as other schools, but you don’t have the fun while a student and you don’t have the network to rely upon afterwards and thus why would anyone want to continue any relationship with this purgutorial cesspool?

  4. JR Boucher on November 27th, 2009 3:46 pm

    This is an interesting article that begs a number of questions and perhaps some additional research by the Daily Collegian.

    The Alumni Association is annually provided with a large sum of money by the university. Considering the floor space, employee salaries/benefits, office equipment and operating capital the organization receives approximately $2MM/year of tax payer money.

    If a business that well subsidized is unable to accomplish its mission it may want to look hard at the relationship it has with its customer base. Toward that end I offer the following:
    • Stop looking at all the other functional areas of the school for reasons that the alumni are not engaged with the association. Identify why they are not joining the AA. You will find that they alumni are not happy with the treatment they receive by the AA. You are accountable for your success or failure. To this point in time your actions have brought you to this level of failure.
    • Given the money that is provided to the AA by the university – when they raise money through donations will they be competing with the university? In this economy the competition for share of the alumni wallet will be more intense. (Note to University Advancement – why are you finding your competition?)
    • The board and the officers of the AA are not open to discussion. They remain a closed society that perpetuates itself and is not interested in new ideas. Try answering this question, “When is what you’re currently doing going to begin to work?”
    • Is the 6,000 figure legitimate? The Collegian may want to ask for the real numbers.
    • If the AA is failing, how can the assets allocated by the University be better used for the benefit of the students?
    • What is the position of the life members who spent $1,000.00 only to learn that those who didn’t pay one cent and who have no affinity for the AA are now members with equal access to the organization?

    If it is your intention to build an affinity group you may want to have an attraction to which the Alumni will rally.

  5. A UMmie on November 28th, 2009 11:01 am

    Don’t blame the Alumni Association. Let’s take a look at everything. While I had a GREAT experience at UMass, I know many that did not. I also know that it wasn’t until recently did the university take an interest in students. It is unfortunate that at a university so large the commitment from its alumni is so small. Let’s rethink. How can we make UMass a better experience for current and future students and alumni.

  6. Ed on November 28th, 2009 4:00 pm

    The university has taken an interest in students? Oh really?

    We still have people in high places who consider students to be a fungible asset. Like the 19th Century lumber barons, there are plenty of kids willing to come to UMass and hence why worry?

  7. JR Boucher on November 30th, 2009 2:00 pm

    Many have properly cited the relationship between the university staff, instructors and the alumni association as valid reasons for our graduates not being engaged.

    While I agree that we not blame the alumni association I do suggest that we hold them accountable for meeting the objectives outlined in their strategic plans and mission statement.

    The two critical questions become;
    1. How much will you deliver?
    2. When will you deliver?

    The alumni association receives significant financial support from the taxpayers through the university’s advancement department.

    There should be some blame placed with that group. That department is involved in the oversight of the monies that are allocated to our failing alumni association.

    While we cannot make a better yesterday – the alumni association is tasked with influencing the alumni to support the university. To date they are failing at a financial cost to the school, the students and ultimately the taxpayers of the commonwealth.

    They are spending money and not increasing revenues.

    When that happens in other organizations the leadership is called into question along with their strategic and tactical approach to the marketplace. No one in a position of oversight is doing that function – they are just writing more checks.

    All goals and objectives must have an executable plan with a time designated to measure deliverables against those targets.

    With that in mind can anyone answer this question, “Can you tell me when what you are currently doing will begin to work?”

    How much and when will it all happen?

  8. A Happy UMass Alum on December 2nd, 2009 12:05 pm

    As a fellow young alum, I find it so sad to read these hostile and damaging comments about our University and our Alma Mater. Posting comments like this which are completely inaccurate just further alienate alumni and students alike from being engaged and positive about UMass and their experience here. When this kind of negativity and false information is displayed in such an irresponsible manner, it only hurts our Univerity.

    Networking is, and always will be a very important part of being an alumni of any institution, and you don’t have to be an Ivy League graduate to find value in doing so. I find it very hard to believe that 97% of students did not have a good experience here. I did and so did many of my friends and fellow graduates. If you want to throw out numbers, join linkedin and maybe you’ll see that 7,175 other people disagree with you who are linked to the UMass Amherst network.

    Instead of continuing to post these negative comments about your own school, maybe you should consider making better use of your time and contribute something positive that can turn the situation around if this is really how you feel. GO UMASS!!!

  9. JR Boucher on December 2nd, 2009 4:49 pm

    Actually in the interst of accuracy the Linkedin group was formed and grown to an excess of 6,000 members as an independent entity.

    A few months ago it was given to the Alumni Association. it was not a home grown group.

    In terms of who had a good or bad experience at UMass that is relative.

    The success of the Alumni Association is a real and compelling discussion as it does affect the ability of the school to improve its position politically, intellectually and financially.

    To date the AA is not a positive force given the support they are not getting from the alumni.

    An open discusion with the intent of making the AA more effective is a positive action.

    go UMass

  10. JR Boucher on December 7th, 2009 5:57 pm

    It may be of interest to others that there is a Daily Collegian editorial titled; “Meaningful Outreach for UMass” published 12/1/09, concerning the effectiveness of the Alumni Association in meeting their mission.

    As it is unsigned it represents the majority opinion of the editorial staff and may serve to provide additional perspective to those who responded to this news article.

    I would enjoy reading an article that expands on and ties together the articles printed in the Boston Globe and the Daily Collegian with that editorial.

    Such an article could serve to bring to light the opposing views of the Alumni Association and those of the 98% of the alumni who are not members.

    They say the definition of a problem is simply the difference between what you have and what you want.

    Defining that value gap would add a lot to the quality of this discussion and potentially the membership of the Alumni Association.

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