Alumni Affairs division forges strategic plan to strengthen front-line fundraising

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Simeon Moss

As Cornell embarks upon strategic planning to take it to 2012 and beyond, Alumni Affairs and Development (AAD), the division responsible for the university's $4 billion, five-year capital campaign, is undergoing a major restructuring to transform the way it does business.

The realignment will shift more resources into front-line fundraising, placing additional major gift officers in the colleges and expanding the division's presence in New York City. It also aims to make strategic investments in alumni programs, and to take full advantage of the expertise of other units within the administration. The planning is in response to budget reductions being implemented across campus. And as at other university units, AAD layoffs are being announced.

The new organization follows 18 months of planning involving staff and managers from every program in the division. The national economic downturn and the university's budget realities make moving ahead with the strategic imperatives even more important, said Charles Phlegar, Cornell vice president for AAD. "We've positioned our resources in a way that is best going to enable us to execute our mission."

Further planning will determine how many fundraising officers will be concentrated in the New York metropolitan area to serve the Boston-Washington, D.C., corridor. Alumni who contribute a majority of gifts to the university live in those areas.

In addition, eight major-gift officers will move to the colleges of Arts and Sciences, of Agriculture and Life Sciences and of Engineering, as well as to the Hotel School, Johnson School and Law School. "Alumni remember faculty who made a difference in their lives. We need to connect alumni with those people who made their Cornell experience extraordinary," Phlegar said.

Except for the office in New York City, all regional AAD offices, including those in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Miami and San Francisco, will close June 30. However, major-gift officers in those cities will work from home managing prospect portfolios.

AAD's strategic plan also calls for more focused programs and better use of state-of-the-art technologies to communicate with alumni. For example, a Web site to make it easy for Cornell alumni to share information and collaborate, called Cornell Connect, is in development. And new online efforts to reach current students, young alumni and such affinity groups as minorities and entrepreneurs are planned, said Chris Marshall, associate vice president for alumni affairs. "We have a mission and an obligation to put top-notch programs out there that will encourage alumni to participate and extend their participation with the institution long after they have left. These are lifetime relationships that we're trying to encourage. That's one of the great things about attending Cornell."

As a result of the restructuring, last week 41 AAD employees, about 10 percent of the division's workforce, were informed that they would be laid off, most on April 30.

"These were difficult decisions that were carefully and thoughtfully made," said Phlegar. "Every effort was made to balance the sincere concern we have for our current employees with the financial realities we face."

The changes at AAD reflect President David J. Skorton's ongoing call for all university divisions to work more strategically and efficiently in support of university priorities, said Thomas Bruce, vice president for university communications. "Supporting AAD's objectives is an integral part of the mission of University Communications," he said. Some aspects of AAD support, he noted, will be "in-sourced" to other Cornell units to allow the division to make more effective use of essential resources and focus on its core mission. For example, many information technology functions will shift to Cornell Information Technologies, while back-office business operations will transfer to the University Business Service Center.

Said Phlegar: "We're taking a step forward by doing this. The days ahead will challenge each of us to think and work in new ways. I am confident that we will continue to be creative, open-minded and forward thinking in our work."

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