Institutions of higher education, like the College of William and Mary, have been proactive in offering new ways for their alumni to stay involved post-graduation. It takes a different type of engagement now to maintain a college’s strength through alumni giving. No longer do the universities atop Princeton Review listings only ask for high-dollar donations from the high-dollar alumni. That kind of strict focus on monetary gifts has proven both ineffective and somewhat disingenuous. Today, one word is the living, breathing embodiment of how our culture at the College has changed in an effort to best represent a love of our alma mater: participation.
I do not mean that everyone must send an envelope with their nearest $5 bill in it. No, “participation” is engagement with your place of education. The days of returning only for five-year reunions and nothing else, as was customary decades ago, are over. Now, the College seeks to continue a lifelong relationship with its students and alumni through our continued participation in undergraduate traditions. The traditions we know and love — like Opening Convocation, Homecoming, Yule Log, Charter Day and more — are today’s ways of participation. A lifelong relationship with the College is constantly changing but ever-constant. From undergrad to graduate, from Young Guarde to Olde Guarde, methods of engagement change slowly but drastically as you progress from going to an 8 a.m. class to going to a 60th reunion.
We are a historic college madly competing in a modern world. To do this, our culture has changed to become a constant one of participation.
What prompts each trip back, or each fond memory, is lifelong appreciation and reverence for the College. This is the tradition of participation at work, and it has produced better results. This past Homecoming boasted the highest numbers of attendees in recent years. More alumni are tuning in to the live streaming of traditions like Yule Log or the Convocation speech than ever before. The “Class Ambassador” program has skyrocketed since its inception only a few years ago to almost 1,000 members. My favorite stat to quote, for the competitive streak in everyone who goes through William and Mary, is that five years ago we were top 35 in the country for alumni giving, now we are top 20, and at the end of the For the Bold campaign we’re expected to be in the top 10.
Behind the scenes are many directed, effective organizations pushing for greater involvement and connections. Two of those that I am involved in are the Annual Giving Board and Students for University Advancement. Both organizations have a similar mission to promote this new culture, but with different scopes. The AG Board, per the College’s website, “plays an active role in developing volunteer networks, reaching out to donors and advising in the development of strategy and operational plans to drive success of annual giving.” SUA operates on the undergraduate level to both promote time-honored traditions and impart the impact of regular participation with the school. Our efforts, strictly for those who have not yet graduated, have also seen upticks in interest and engagement, specifically with Impact Week (a week-long event in which organizations compete for a school-sponsored grant for community service purposes). Having begun just last year, the week-long philanthropic and supportive effort has already seen more clubs applying and more students voting. Impact Week is growing in relevance on campus, and even many students seemed interested in listening to our competing three finalists talk about their proposals and partnerships.
This is only one of William and Mary’s many traditions and a new one at that. It accomplishes its goals of student participation and noble community service endeavors. All of our traditions communicate something unique like this. Convocation serves well as the yearly reminder to all students, and alumni as well, to keep an open mind, strive for your goals, and love the College. Homecoming shakes us with spirit and shouts of “Go Tribe!” to tell us that the love of alma mater is strong within. Tag Day — in which buildings and equipment provided by financial support have a “tag” on them — is for the students to reflect, to realize how giving has provided us such a wonderful school to call home. And here we are now, almost to Charter Day — a day well known by American history buffs worldwide, but especially well by those who love the College. Your participation in the weekend’s events, in all ways you choose to, keeps William and Mary’s strong alumni network still visibly dedicated to the place.
Precedent is being set with traditions like these and the individual aspects of the College they support. Their annual renewal with growing support feeds into our culture of participation. The goal is letting not a year go by with slipping numbers, but to grow the engagement and participation in William and Mary’s endeavors each year. We are a historic college madly competing in a modern world. To do this, our culture has changed to become a constant one of participation.
Email Caleb Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org