A living document. This is how the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors envisioned the new strategic plan for our organization.
Created to continue evolving through time and change, the strategic plan is a map that guides our progress while preparing us to carve new pathways. It gives us a shared way forward to make the future brighter for our dedicated Ohio State alumni and the communities we all serve.
Our strategic plan was approved in 2017. As we reach a midpoint in the milestones our plan outlines, we want to pause to look back at how far we have gone, take in where we are now, and look to the horizon for what is next.
On the following pages you will read updates on each of our seven defined strategies. The Alumni Association has implemented changes and new initiatives that are equipping us to better connect our Buckeyes with each other, and the university we love.
This comes at a very special time, just as we begin celebrations for the 150th anniversary year of Ohio State’s founding and publicly launch the most ambitious campaign in our history. This campaign champions a challenging and inspiring goal: to engage one million people. With outstanding volunteer leaders who recognize the need to make bold plans, surely we will succeed, together.
As always, in firm friendship,
Jim Smith ’91, President and CEO, The Ohio State University Alumni Association
Engage an increasing number of alumni in mutually beneficial, personal relationships with the university and each other.
For too many, the word “alumni” marks the end of a journey. But we know it’s an ongoing partnership — one based on reciprocal benefits and opportunities. And because our Buckeye graduates are our best ambassadors, our work of growing affinity and participation is central to our mission.
We’re focusing on understanding our constituents better, which entails reviewing data needs and capitalizing on chances to track alumni engagement in the colleges and units. To that end, we’re working closely with the reorganized Alumni Engagement team in the College of Arts and Sciences to align outreach efforts for Ohio State’s largest college with the Alumni Association’s strategic plan.
And we’re conducting assessments of all data opportunities and challenges to ensure the most effective approach for our Alumni Relations Officers (ARO) and volunteers when tracking alumni participation. With resources in place, we’ll be setting goals to nearly double the number of tracked alumni engaged from where we stand today: Nearly 100,000 of our 570,000 alumni are tagged as having attended events, traveled with us or volunteered. We will grow that number to 174,000.
Communicate with alumni innovatively and effectively to enhance alumni engagement and connection with the university.
Content is everywhere, and people are hyperconnected — to the point that it can be a challenge to cut through the clutter. Alumni Association efforts have been focused on targeted, personalized messaging to build more meaningful relationships with our constituents.
We’re analyzing our audiences to understand their habits and what makes them engage with us. We’ve seen success across the board with email communications, in particular, sometimes increasing open and click-through rates by double digits over the previous year’s communication.
Social media accounts are being fine-tuned to increase engagement scores by focusing on nostalgia, pride and authenticity. We’re also partnering with University Marketing, Athletics, the Office of the President, Student Life and the Wexner Medical Center to amplify our events, programming and membership benefits, as well as integrate Sesquicentennial and Time and Change campaign content.
The first phase of our standalone Ohio State Alumni app has recently launched, putting individualized content at users’ fingertips. Alumni can see their gifts and membership status, update their biographical information, learn how to connect regionally or through clubs and societies, and read Ohio State stories, among other app features. Additional content will be added in upcoming iterations.
CLUBS AND SOCIETIES
Clubs and societies will soon have the tools and the opportunities to plan Time and Change gatherings, where they’ll convene different generations of alumni to share experiences across the decades. We’ll also help our alumni groups tie the Sesquicentennial into their scholarship fundraising efforts.
Enhance career and leadership development services so Buckeyes can be the best that they can be at whatever they do.
Our focus thus far has been on tracking Buckeye volunteers. We’re modifying our approach, rolling out a survey for volunteer administrators that will allow us to understand their needs, tracking systems, and the challenges and opportunities that exist.
Moving forward, we’ll also work toward career and leadership development, focusing on building a workforce-enhancement agenda that will shape how the Alumni Association helps constituents grow their careers. We will incorporate new programming like training sessions and certifications to augment professional growth.
Cultivate a culture of philanthropy that connects the passions of alumni and friends with Ohio State’s efforts to educate students, solve problems and transform the world.
Harnessing the signature pay-forward spirit of our Buckeyes, the Individual Philanthropic Strategy (IPS) team is focused on providing opportunities for donors, friends and staff to grow their motivations to give. We’re creating experiences for those making personal gifts or commitments at the major gift level, as well as those just starting to explore philanthropy.
FROM THE PAST YEAR
- Fifth year of Thank-a-Donor Day, engaging 1,500 students in learning about philanthropy and showing appreciation to donors
- A 20 percent increase over FY18 of monthly donors through the call center and online efforts
- $42 million in new philanthropic activity for more than 700 Ohio State funds
To encourage a culture of giving that connects the passions of alumni and friends with Ohio State’s drive to better the world — that was the impetus for our engagement center. A core team of four is working to integrate marketing and philanthropic efforts to support the ambitious goal of engaging one million donors in the Time and Change campaign.
Like any new skill or practice learned during the course of a student’s education, philanthropy must be learned. Building this pipeline has proven a challenge at Ohio State, as it has with most other universities. But we’ve begun laying the groundwork for future giving. It’s a sort of alumni-in-training approach.
By engaging this group in campaigns like Day of Giving, Buckeye Funder and Thank-a-Donor Day, we saw student donors increase by 13 percent during the past two years. And in partnership with Student Life’s Student Philanthropy Council, we’ll continue to steer stewardship and campaigns to further encourage a culture of giving back on campus.
PEER TO PEER
In FY20, we’ll launch a support effort through the engagement center to identify, recruit and engage individuals who will act as ambassadors for Ohio State, fundraising on its behalf.
Our annual Day of Giving campaign was a testing ground, and we saw great success.
We’ll also leverage longevity by aligning Ohio State’s Day of Giving 2020 with the community open-house celebration of our Sesquicentennial. Challenges, incentives and matches will all be used as inspiration.
As causes are identified through Advancement’s campaign planning, we’ll incorporate these priorities and impact narratives into existing and new campaigns, perhaps most notably during our Day of Giving efforts.
We’re also working toward novel approaches to amplify these stories, including through the use of an interactive giving kiosk that allows donors to learn about a cause, support it and see impact in one real-time experience.
And we're looking to our emerging partnership with Legends to help highlight these needs, connecting them to our generous Buckeyes.
Strengthen the Association’s commitment to its culture, volunteers and staff, through initiatives focused on diversity and leadership development.
In April 2018, the Alumni Association partnered with Ohio State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of protests related to racial equality. We honored their legacy, which lives on through increasing excellence and diversity among our graduating classes, and through essential programs that support minority students.
Recently, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education awarded its Circle of Excellence Silver honor for our inaugural Women’s Leadership Symposium. Led by women in Advancement, the June 2018 event was a daylong exchange of ideas surrounding the unique strengths and challenges of being a woman.
We’re also working to improve accuracy in recording alumni with self-reported diversity characteristics. The heart of our strategy is connecting more effectively with our growing constituent base.
After an employee engagement survey in 2018 showed room for improvement, our leadership team began focusing more on culture across our teams: opportunities for community building, monthly all-staff touch-base meetings, and encouraging the freedom for teams to create their own cultures and traditions. Culture shifts aren’t instant, but by cultivating an environment that promotes growth, empowerment, ownership, collaboration and creativity, we’ve seen some successes. The follow-up engagement survey showed improvement in these areas, jumping from a 43 percent to 61 percent satisfaction rate. We continue to talk openly about what this means and how it will evolve.
From the survey, we also learned that our team members would like more substantive training. We’re now encouraging staff to participate in development sessions.
Manage all association resources thoughtfully, intentionally and inventively to increase operational efficiency and effectiveness across the organization.
We’re producing smarter events using better resources.
We scaled back on the number of events we produced, taking a quality-over-quantity approach. Interactions centered on the importance of connection with alumni and the Buckeye community. This allowed a renewed, more efficient approach to properly engaging new and longtime constituents.
The result: We engaged the same number of alumni for the year with fewer events, while reducing expenses.
SPACE FOR ALUMNI AND STAFF
Using our building endowment, we’ve begun a five-year improvement plan to update our spaces for alumni and staff. Progress to date includes revamped lower-level security, new audio-visual equipment throughout the building and a keyless entry system for staff. We’ll work next on furniture upgrades, a video welcome center and other aesthetic improvements.
As we move into the second half of our strategic plan’s implementation, we’ll continue using our investment of time and resources to work smarter and connect better. We’ll produce results that are meaningful and have a real impact on the trajectory of The Ohio State Alumni Association and our Buckeyes everywhere.