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Alumni and Annual Giving: Maintaining vital connections

April 22, 2003

This week's departmental profile takes a look at the Office of Alumni and Annual Giving, which is housed in the Pace Alumni Center at Emerald Hill. Sharing her insight is Shelia Boone, an Austin Peay alumna and 32-year veteran staffer. Boone has been director of alumni an annual giving for three years.

What is the function of this office and where does it fit into the University's mission?
April 22, 2003

This week's departmental profile takes a look at the Office of Alumni and Annual Giving, which is housed in the Pace Alumni Center at Emerald Hill. Sharing her insight is Shelia Boone, an Austin Peay alumna and 32-year veteran staffer. Boone has been director of alumni an annual giving for three years.

What is the function of this office and where does it fit into the University's mission?

Our main function is to develop and maintain contacts with Austin Peay alumni and continually foster those relationships. We have almost 43,000 alums now, with records (addresses or phone numbers) for approximately 37,000. We stay in contact by phone, in writing and through personal visitation. It's a day-by-day, year-round function.

Alumni support is vital to sustain us not only from an economic standpoint but also to provide connections to major corporations and personnel who can be called upon to aid the University so that growth and improvement continue.

Supporting Austin Peay benefits alumni as well as the University. The more Austin Peay is lauded, the more valuable the degree they received earlier becomes. Hopefully, our alumni feel that connection to Austin Peay, so they want to be involved and/or give something back to their University — by mentoring current students, being guest lecturers on campus or at away functions or helping recruit future students.

“Special Events Are Us” could be our slogan because we host or sponsor so many special events. We coordinate an annual Phonathon, a four-week event in the fall in which faculty and students call alumni and ask for donations. We assist the Montgomery County Alumni Chapter with their annual big event, “Round Up.” We host a reception for graduating seniors in the fall and spring. We host the Candlelight Ball in February or March and last year held the first ever Greek Alumni event for social fraternities and sororities. There is a 50-Year Reunion celebration each year that we plan and host; the class of 1953 was honored last weekend. Together with the Governors Club, we host pre-game tailgate parties, receptions or send-offs at selected away football and basketball games. This year we've presented three football and three basketball events. And, of course, our biggest event each year is Homecoming, which has evolved into practically a year-round project. We also work in conjunction with the Admissions Office to co-host alumni/student receptions in selected locations.

We work with our alumni chapters to organize and plan events in their areas. I'm going to Florida soon to host alumni events in Tampa and Orlando in the hopes of establishing new chapters in both locations. Roy Gregory and I will also do visit individual alumni in those areas. I travel to Washington, D.C., in May for an alumni reception, following trips to Chattanooga, Memphis and Atlanta since January.

We're constantly attempting to broaden our alumni base and establish new chapters. Our 14 chapters are located in the Southeast currently, but we hope to increase that number and expand our coverage. A new chapter in Cheatham County is being formed, along with one in Chattanooga.

We're hoping to establish a Student Alumni Council to get current students more involved and familiar with the Pace Alumni Center at Emerald Hill and the National Alumni Association. Such an organization would expose them to giving early in their college careers, something we hope would continue after graduation.

How many people work in the Office of Alumni and Annual Giving, and what do they do?

In addition to me, there's Carolyn Britton who serves as our technical clerk. She handles all the bookkeeping responsibilities for both the Alumni and Annual Giving Office and National Alumni Association, initiates and processes purchase orders, prepares correspondence, coordinates mailings and supervises our six scholarship student workers. She assists people who come to the Pace Alumni Center and continually works to update and maintain our alumni database, something that takes constant effort and is vital to our mission. Our communication efforts with alumni are certainly adversely affected when the address information is incorrect. Carolyn also disseminates e-mail messages to alumni on a regular basis and is responsible for handling inquiries from alumni via our online community. She also prepares for and attends our National Alumni Association Board Meetings three times a year and attends many of our special events to assist as needed.

We also receive great support when needed from the University Advancement Office, especially during Homecoming.

If we were to drop by this office, what might we see?

You'd see us talking on the phoneI'm on the phone all the timeor on the computer. You might see us visiting with alums or tourists who have come by to see our beautiful Emerald Hill, or in the middle of many committee meetings or working on a mailing to our alumni.

What we do isn't always glamorous, but it is always rewarding. We do a lot of physical work setting up for events, moving tables and chairs, decorating, moving things from location to location, hanging banners, putting up yard signsand cleaning.

What would people find most surprising if they could work here a while?

The quality and quantity of work that is produced in this office with limited staffing. People probably don't realize how much we interact with the whole campus in providing information, mailing labels, alumni lists, assisting with department mailings to alumni. We serve a magnitude of people and are continually doing our best to serve them well.

What's the most challenging thing about being part of this department?

Keeping the alumni database up-to-date, increasing alumni contact and expanding our alumni chapters are our biggest challenges. Realizing what needs to be done and wanting to add new projects but not having the staff or financial resources to do those things and do them well is a continual concern as well.

What's the best thing about working in this office?

The personal interaction with our alumni. This is a wonderful job. It is so rewarding for me to reconnect with former classmates or meet new alumni and their families, to hear how important Austin Peay is to them and the difference it made in their lives.

I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to serve as alumni director. It has been a chance for me to not only give back to the University that I love dearly and that has been such a major part of my life, but also to do my best to promote my alma mater so it will continue to grow and prosper.