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Table of Contents

Comings and Goings: Class of 2000

Comings and Goings: Class of 2004

Working to Serve

Making Connections

Ready or Not...

Now We're Talking

Alumni Accomplishments

The Kenya Connection

Laurentian Reviews

Table of Contents

Now We're Talking
Opening the Dialogue Between St. Lawrence and Our Youngest Alumni

By Kimberly Robinson Hissong '94

Over 50% of young alumni recently surveyed said that St. Lawrence currently plays "no active role" in their lives.* How can this be? Have we as a University failed to educate our youngest alumni on the importance of maintaining lifelong connections with each other and with St. Lawrence? I think not…but the lines of communication need to be reopened and we [young alumni] need to be communicated with in a way that is special to our unique set of experiences, needs, and circumstances.

As the new director of alumni and parent programs and a young alumna myself, I feel passionately about the words I spoke at a recent presentation my staff and I did for the University's Alumni Executive Council. For whatever reason, there is a large contingent of young alumni who feel disconnected from our alma mater. As a result, many of them haven't been back to campus since graduation; they don't volunteer; and they haven't participated in the tradition of annual giving.

Our interactions with young alumni lead us to believe that they don't feel poorly about their time at St. Lawrence; in fact, many of them feel very positive about their experiences. It's simply that we have failed to connect with our youngest graduates in ways they find meaningful.

All is not lost, however. In that same survey, those young alumni who responded that St. Lawrence plays "no active role" in their lives said they want St. Lawrence to do so, particularly in career development and social networking. They reported feeling engaged with the University and well informed about University initiatives, more so than young alumni at several peer institutions. They read the magazine, access the University Web site and attend regional alumni events at a greater frequency than their peers elsewhere.

So, what's at the heart of the problem? What I believe is lacking is a "connectedness" to the University that comes with an understanding of what the University can offer young graduates and what they, in turn, should give back to St. Lawrence. That's where the dialogue begins.

Here are just a few examples of how are we making a concerted effort to communicate with young alumni in different ways:

  • SLU News
  • GOLD Link Newsletter
  • St. Lawrence magazine
  • Online Community
  • Staff visits
  • Young alumni focus groups and surveys

SLU News is a weekly online newsletter designed to keep alumni informed of University initiatives and events, alumni accomplishments and fundraising priorities. Over 550 alumni have taken advantage of this free service, and nearly 25% are young alumni (defined as those who graduated 10 or fewer years ago). You can gain access to this newsletter by e-mailing Colleen Fenity at

The GOLD Link Newsletter bi-annually communicates fundraising and alumni relations activities to young alumni and serves to "link" "Graduates of the Last Decade" (the source of the acronym "GOLD") to their University. Articles demonstrate how St. Lawrence continues to provide valuable services to our recent graduates in the form of career networking, Laurentian events, reunions and so on. The newsletter outlines the importance of young alumni giving back to St. Lawrence through their time and personal donations.

Although the magazine's audience ranges in age from the low 20s to over 100, it continues to be an important tool for keeping young alumni connected to St. Lawrence, particularly via their Class Notes, where we place items on upcoming regional events, career networking opportunities and fundraising challenges so as to catch their eye. We also make a concerted effort to keep our youngest class reporters as active as possible, so that columns are always filled with the latest comings and goings of their classmates. As demonstrated by this issue, communicating with and highlighting the accomplishments of our young alumni is a top priority.

A much-awaited online community will be launched in early fall, allowing alumni to connect with classmates through a secured e-mail directory. Alumni will be able to search for classmates by name and class year. Future add-ons, such as chat rooms and discussion boards, are being explored. We are very excited about the community and know that our younger alumni especially are eager to make use of this long-awaited service.

Alumni and Parent Programs staff members visit over 500 alumni each year. Two staff members, Rob Larrabee '97 and Colleen Fenity (a 2002 graduate of Hamilton), visit over 100 young alumni a year. The purpose of those visits is to keep young alumni informed of University programs and initiatives, to get their feedback on the direction the University is headed, and to encourage them to make St. Lawrence a philanthropic priority through gifts of time and money. Face-to-face conversations are key to making lasting connections between the University and its youngest graduates.

Focus groups and surveys are another valuable tool for gaining direct information from young alumni on their undergraduate experiences, attitudes about St. Lawrence, and volunteer and giving behaviors. We have conducted focus groups in New York, Albany, Boston and Washington, D.C., and attempted non-donor focus groups in those same cities with limited success. We also surveyed young alumni in the classes of 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999 via e-mail and mail. Our goal in both cases was to provide an open forum for young alumni to share their experiences, offer feedback on St. Lawrence's master plan and evaluate the impact their undergraduate education has had on their lives. Among several key findings:

  • Young alumni, in general, feel very positive about their time at St. Lawrence
  • They stay connected to the University through the St. Lawrence magazine
  • They feel we need to increase our career services and networking opportunities
  • They aren't sure how to volunteer for the University
  • They don't know how gifts to the University are used
  • Alumni five years out report having received more financial aid and more student loans than alumni 10 years out
  • The most popular reasons for giving are to honor the education they received and to provide for future students
  • The most popular reason for not giving is perceived inability to afford to.

We've already begun to use this information to alter our approach with young alumni. In recent months, events in cities such as New York, Boston, Albany, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., have been specifically geared toward them. These have welcomed our most recent graduates to their new cities and helped them build social connections. We've also worked with the career services staff to hold business networking events in those same cities, as well as career workshops designed to help young alumni who want to change careers. The feedback we have received from participants has been extremely positive. We look forward to expanding those opportunities to other cities in the near future.

We've also taken a proactive approach to recruiting young alumni volunteers. Over 50% of our newest Saints Network Event volunteers are young alumni. Volunteers are the backbone of many of our fundraising, Reunion, admissions and career service functions, and young alumni bring a new and creative energy to that force.

Young alumni can volunteer for the University in any of the following ways:

Saints Network Event Volunteers help us plan social, career networking, athletic, educational, cultural and community service events throughout the country.

Fundraising Committee members (e.g., GOLD Leadership Committee, Reunion Development Committees, GOLD Team Challenges) help raise critical dollars and participation for the University.

Reunion Planning Volunteers organize Reunion Weekend activities for classmates (e.g, hospitality center, entertainment, workshops, parade, Reunion Web page).

Alumni Career Advisors assist with career advising, networking capabilities, summer jobs, internships and career opportunities.

Shadow A Saint Program Volunteers host a current St. Lawrence student at their place of employment for one day. The objective is for the student to get an inside view on the "world of work" and to explore a particular field of his or her interest.

Laurentian Admissions Associates (LAAers) interview prospective students, represent the University at local college fairs, identify and actively encourage potential St. Lawrence students by maintaining personal contact with them throughout the recruitment process, write or telephone students who have applied or have been accepted, attend (or host) receptions/events for prospective students and their families, and act as official alumni liaisons to local secondary school guidance offices.

It's critical that we get the word out to young alumni that their time is valuable to us. Philanthropy comes in many shapes and sizes. Volunteering is just one way that young alumni can give back to a University that has given them so much.

It's clear to us from the focus group and survey results that if we want to increase Annual Fund participation among our last 10 years of graduates, our approach needs to change dramatically. We need to continue to devise and implement new strategies in addition to those named above. What we've been doing has not been working, as demonstrated by our astonishingly low 14% young alumni participation rate. This has a negative impact on our ranking in the U.S. News and World Report and can have a detrimental effect on our corporate and foundation grant opportunities. It also brings down our overall alumni participation rate, which currently stands at 31%, our lowest since 1996-1997. That, in turn, affects how well the University provides an education to its students, as shown in the accompanying graph.

We know that 14% participation does not accurately reflect how our youngest graduates feel about their St. Lawrence experience. So, how can we take steps to turn that participation number around?

The Challenge: This year, selected members of the Board of Trustees and Alumni Council have challenged St. Lawrence alumni to meet this participation issue head on. For each percentage of improvement over last year's 31% overall Alumni Fund participation rate, selected members of the Board of Trustees and Alumni Council will make personal donations to the St. Lawrence Fund, above and beyond their expected gifts, that total $25,000, for a maximum of $125,000 if we reach 36% participation. Every gift helps us to build momentum to 31% and beyond. We need our donors who give each year to continue to do so, our alumni who give occasionally to give this year, and those who have not donated in the past to consider a gift this year. Participation is the message here--every gift counts. We need to let our young alumni know that their gifts of $10, $15 or $25 have a direct impact on University programs, initiatives and most importantly, students. Last year, gifts of $1-99 totaled over $97,300! They truly do have an impact.

Alternative Ways to Give: St. Lawrence is making it easier than ever to make gifts to St. Lawrence. Our secured server offers an opportunity to give online at the click of a button. Our ACH debit service allows alumni to have their checking or savings accounts debited each month at a minimum of $10. Many of our youngest alumni also work for companies that will match their giving to St. Lawrence, sometimes even doubling or tripling the impact of their giving. The Alumni and Parent Programs Web site hosts a new searchable database where alumni can determine if their company has a matching gift program. We aren't asking young alumni to make large gifts, but rather to consider making gifts annually at an amount they feel they can afford.

New Ways to Communicate: In general, our youngest graduates don't want to hear from me as an administrator, from a trustee or from an Alumni Council member when it comes to giving. They want to hear from a classmate or peer. Accordingly, this year we are changing our appeal strategy slightly toward more personalized requests. We've also made a concerted effort to delay solicitations to the "first year out" class, knowing that many of our youngest graduates are still looking for employment, applying for graduate school, or just in flux.

Keeping in touch with young alumni remains one of our greatest challenges. We often have incorrect phone, address and/or e-mail information. As a result, young alumni don't hear about regional events in their area, get invited back to reunions, hear about career service opportunities or receive the St. Lawrence magazine. We need them to stay in touch with us. This year, the University will offer Class of 2004 graduates a St. Lawrence e-mail address for one year. We hope this will help them stay connected to the University and to each other and will assist them in their job search efforts.

New Organization: Opening the dialogue with our youngest alumni is a top priority. But, shouldn't we begin this process even before graduation? Yes, and we've started to do just that. Last fall, we were instrumental in the revival of the Student Alumni Association (SAA), which is designed to help students gain valuable leadership skills, learn more about St. Lawrence, meet alumni, network and give back to St. Lawrence through donations of time and money. We had a gratifying response to SAA and have 40 students on board. They have already split into active committees: Senior Transition, Career Services, History/Spirit/Traditions and Canton Marathon. Their slogan, "Laurentians Working for St. Lawrence's Past, Present and Future," demonstrates the important role they will have in creating a successful student-alumni transition. The Alumni Council has committed to meeting with this group regularly, creating a wonderful networking opportunity for our students.

Altered Undergraduate Giving Program: We've also made significant changes to the structure of our undergraduate giving program, with an increasing focus on philanthropy education. Our results are paying off. Already, over 20% of the senior class (2004) has made a gift to St. Lawrence this year. The key will be to transfer this culture of student giving into a culture of young alumni giving. The earlier we start this dialogue, the more effective we will be in helping our youngest graduates maintain lifelong connections and commitments to St. Lawrence.

Kim Hissong '94, a psychology major at St. Lawrence, graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After serving as executive director of Renewal House, a social service agency in her native Canton, she joined St. Lawrence's alumni and parent programs staff in 1999 and was named director of alumni and parent programs effective July 1, 2003.