Case Study – UNCG

 

Quick Facts

  • The University of North Carolina Greensboro Alumni Association (UNCGAA) decided to engage a consulting firm to provide a comprehensive evaluation of its programming, board structure, fund-raising, and institutional relationships.
  • The Alumni Association board chose Savvy Growth out of twenty national consulting firms that specialize in higher education. The Association choose Savvy because of Grace’s ability to listen carefully, ask good questions and that she would not apply a cookie cutter approach to their specific challenges.
  • Grace delivered her findings and recommendations to the Vice Chancellor of Advancement, Executive Director of the Alumni Association, President of the Alumni Association’s board, and a representative from the board of directors.

Overview

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) is a public coeducational research university and member of the UNC system offering more than 100 undergraduate, 61 master’s and 26 doctoral programs. At the time of the study, UNCGAA was serving 119,000 alumni from three distinct eras in the university’s history as a 501(c)(3) working in cooperation with UNCG’s Alumni Affairs office. Relying mostly on endowment funds, the Association wanted to determine the most efficient practices and operating model to enable an expansion of programming for alumni, increase the alumni participation rate, as well as develop additional sources of revenue.

The Challenge

UNC Greensboro Alumni Association chose to hire a consultant when several opportunities converged: a new chancellor calling for “giant steps forward” throughout the university community, the hiring a new vice chancellor of advancement with a focus on philanthropy, and UNCGAA’s desire to revisit whether their organizational structure made sense going forward.

Savvy was considered alongside twenty other consulting firms and made the short list.  After interviewing the top three, UNCG Alumni Association board leaders decided to engage Savvy because they believed Grace would tailor her services to their specific needs and not simply use a one size fits all cookie cutter methodology. Grace’s approach and the questions she asked after listening intently to the board’s describing what success would look like confirmed their decision to engage Savvy.

Savvy Solution

Grace conducted 45 interviews with UNCG alums, board members, trustees, administrators as well as leaders at best practice universities, pored through UNCG artifacts along with secondary data, and synthesized all findings.

Grace presented difficult feedback and enlightening findings to university and alumni association leaders. She made specific recommendations going forward on changes for the organization’s structure and reporting within the university, board structure and role changes. She shared case studies from other universities to provide insights on how to dramatically improve alumni engagement at UNCG. She suggested a revised mission statement and positioning for the UNCGAA leadership. She also made recommendations on the relationship between alumni engagement and fundraising, including which segments of the population to prioritize outreach and programming.

Results

Shortly after the findings were presented, the Executive Committee of the board had a good discussion about Savvy’s findings.  In turn, their discussion was shared with the larger board. Even with somewhat difficult content being presented, both meetings were very positive and huge steps forward.

As a result of the study, the board authorized the Executive Committee to begin, in cooperation with university administrators, the evaluation to dissolve the organization’s 501(c)(3) status.

Members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee have met with the members of the Chancellor’s cabinet including the Chancellor, University Counsel, Vice President for Business Affairs, and the Vice Chancellor for Advancement.  These meetings have proven to be very productive as both the university and the Alumni Association define the best organizational structure for the Alumni Association going forward. The Executive Director shared, “I couldn’t be more pleased with the conversations and the process.”

The Alumni Association has hired legal counsel to represent their interests during this time of change.  This was encouraged by all involved in the process, so that any legal changes made to the existing structure would be conducted with good faith using best practices.

The Executive Committee, members of the Association’s legal team and university representatives will meet with the full board on February 9, 2019.  At this meeting the parties will share with the board members their previous conversations and provide them with the  information needed to make well-informed decisions about the future organizational structure.

Both the University and the Alumni Association have agreed to have discussions finalized and the final agreements in place by June 30, 2019.

Grace’s thoughtful, calm style was very helpful. Her firm’s broad mix of clients brought a different feel to the process.  Nonprofits tend to silo themselves, yet many of the things we discuss transcend industries, as they are relational. Grace’s approach was very different than the cookie cutter approach from the niche consulting firms in the higher education sector that were on our initial list.

Grace exceeded our expectations as she dove into our situation, speaking extensively in her Discovery Process to, not only key stakeholders throughout our University, but by leveraging her wide network, to higher education leaders throughout the country. We were impressed at the great lengths she went to formulate her recommendations on our next steps forward.

UNCGAA Board Member

From the moment we met Grace, we knew that she would help empower us to think differently.  Our goal was to position our Alumni Association for the future.  We felt that Savvy Growth, with their broad range of clients, would help us become a more relevant, purpose-filled and dynamic organization.

Grace immersed herself in our culture and took the time to meet with key stakeholders across the spectrum.  When we asked her to meet with several key people along the way, she did not hesitate.  She was at ease with all our alumni, whether it be the Chancellor or one of our younger alums.  Her listening skills proved invaluable as she discovered our strengths and weaknesses.

In the end, Grace presented her findings with sincerity and grace.  The bad news was delivered fairly and the good news was equally shared.  We’re beginning to make bold changes.  We’re eternally grateful for the valuable tools that Grace provided to us.

Mary Landers, Executive Director of the UNCG Alumni Association, Director of Alumni Engagement, University of North Carolina Greensboro