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Three alumni join Board of Trustees
By Hannah Marr, News Editor • June 21, 2024

New alumni association to debut by April 30

Roslyn Brock, the chair of the volunteer engagement task force on the Board of Trustees, said at a board meeting earlier this month that the new association will be run in part by Gary Olsen, a consultant at eAdvancements.

The University’s new alumni association is just two months from its launch.

Months after the University cut ties with the GW Alumni Association and announced it would develop its own alumni group, officials said the new organization will debut by the end of April with the help of the outside fundraising consultant eAdvancement. Officials said they will collect alumni feedback and choose leaders for the association over the next few months before they launch a new group they hope will better connect graduates with their alma mater.

Donna Arbide, the vice president for development and alumni relations, said “some engaged alumni” have already volunteered to lead the new organization. She said the group’s leaders will be “diverse, engaged, passionate about GW and excited about the future of the University.”

Arbide said the Board of Trustees has approved guidelines dictating the association’s “general structure,” but the new leadership team will work with administrators to “build out additional details and to develop a more robust association strategic plan.”

“Together, the newly established Alumni Association and the members of the Office of Alumni Relations staff will work to build an even stronger alumni network for GW,” Arbide said in an email.

She said officials plan to offer alumni opportunities to provide feedback and ideas for the new association, which will contribute to the organization’s strategic plan.

She declined to specify what the association’s operating guidelines dictate. She declined to say how the new alumni association will engage alumni differently than the previous alumni association, which rebranded in the fall as the Independent Alumni Association of George Washington.

Roslyn Brock, the chair of the volunteer engagement task force on the Board of Trustees, said at a board meeting earlier this month that the new association will be run in part by Gary Olsen, a principal at eAdvancement.

The consulting firm offers services in alumni relations, fundraising, leadership development and marketing. Olsen has expertise in engaging volunteers and creating strategies for integrated alumni relations and fundraising, according to the firm’s website.

More than half of GW’s peer schools have used or are currently using eAdvancement’s services, including the University of Miami, University President Thomas LeBlanc’s and Arbide’s former employer.

Brock said the new association will continue to be free to join and will have “flexible” opportunities for alumni to be involved with GW, but she did not specify what those opportunities would include.

“As I reported before and it bears reporting again, our association will focus on engaging all alumni regardless of where they are in their life cycle or where they live,” she said.

Nelson Carbonell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the new alumni association is part of the University’s attempt to improve alumni volunteer and fundraising numbers. GW’s alumni giving rate has hovered between 8 and 9 percent in recent years, lower than any of its peer schools, and the number of alumni volunteers has dropped off by more than half in recent years.

Carbonell said officials decided to create their own alumni group to hit their goals because the former association encountered issues while attempting to merge with the University last year. Internal discord over the merger led to at least seven resignations and the removal of the organization’s president.

“As we looked at having a separate alumni association, it kind of started to become obvious we couldn’t achieve improvement in those areas with them,” Carbonell said in an interview earlier this month. “But we have to move forward because our duty is to our alumni.”

He said the new association will be run by a third party because the Office for Alumni Relations does not currently have the resources to run the new association.

“I think Vice President Arbide decided in the short-run, the best strategy was, ‘Let’s bring a third party in to help us get launched while we’re actually building the infrastructure to build the alumni association ourselves,’” Carbonell said.

Martin Baum, the president of the Independent Alumni Association of George Washington, said he hopes the new association is more than a fundraising tool because alumni are interested in engaging with GW in other ways than through donations. Because eAdvancement’s description of its alumni relations services includes a description of “educational fundraising programs,” Baum said he is concerned that the mission of the group will not be clear to alumni.

Baum said the two alumni groups could be “complementary” because the University supports alumni in a broad way, while the independent group offers alumni a chance to voice their opinions about programming and GW events on a smaller scale.

“You don’t want to put a veneer of an alumni association when the true purpose is fundraising,” he said.

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