When I was chatting with Tom one day at the office, he mentioned that he serves as President of his alumni association. As some of our Avectra nonprofit customers are alumni associations, I thought it would be great to get a volunteer leader’s perspective. Tom kindly agreed to an interview on his experience.
First things first, what is your alma mater? Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask which year you graduated!
Even though you politely didn’t ask, I’m proud to say I’m a 1987 graduate of Millsaps College in Jackson, MS, which is recognized by U.S. News, Forbes, Fiske and the Princeton Review as among America’s best colleges. Oops, did that sound like a commercial?
How long have you served as President, and prior to that did you serve with the alumni in a different capacity?
I’ve been on the Alumni Board for four years and my term as President of the Millsaps College Alumni Association runs from July 2011 to June 2013. Before being invited to serve on the board, I helped organize the Washington, DC Alumni Chapter. It was a great experience to build something from the ground up. Up to that point, our chapters weren’t very well organized. It’s been a lot of fun meeting and mentoring a lot of the young alumni who flock to DC after college.
Which came first, your interest in volunteering or working for a company that designs solutions for nonprofits? Did one affect your decision on the other?
Coincidentally, and fortunately, they happened at about the same time! My work on the Alumni Board helped me better understand the needs of alumni associations, and other member-based organizations. And definitely, my work with Avectra gave me great exposure to many thriving association staff, executives and volunteers who are passionate about their mission. They helped me understand the importance of engaging members in a meaningful way.
What is the most surprising thing for you about working with the Millsaps College Alumni Association?
It’s not really a surprise, but something I got to witness. I’m amazed at how many people have a deep-rooted love and appreciation for the institution. My favorite question to ask fellow alumni is… “what inspired you to attend Millsaps?” The reasons and answers are varied, but it’s fun to hear the passion in their voice as they describe what originally connected them to the college.
Do/did your parents volunteer? Did they influence you in your choices to give back?
I wish I could be one-tenth as generous as my parents. Both my Mother and Dad were involved in dozens of local, state, and national organizations. My Mother was a local legend as president of the school board. She was also very active in the DAR, our church, and the state and local Democratic Party. My Dad was very active in the National Farmers Organization and volunteered as the host on a nationally syndicated farm television program. I’m not sure if it’s a curse, or an honor (that I inherited) but I don’t believe either of them were ever a member of any organization in which they did not serve as president.
What is, for you, the number one reason to volunteer?
My college experience was a gift to me, and something which I can never fully repay. A friend and fellow alumni received her undergrad education at a state university, and her MBA at Millsaps. She recently sold her technology company and wanted to endow a scholarship at Millsaps. I asked “why Millsaps and not your undergraduate alma mater?” She responded that a gift to Millsaps would have more impact because “Millsaps has the power transform the life of a young person” in a way that isn’t possible at any other institution.
I give of my time and resources because I believe in the mission and power of the College to build lives with purpose.
A young Tom (left) represents his College (and state) in Central Park, NY, circa 1988
Have you made friendships and/or professional connections through your volunteer work?
I don’t even know how to begin to describe the breadth of personal and professional connections I’ve made through my participation in the Alumni Association and the Board of Directors. The answer is a resounding YES! When Avectra had needed to expand its business development team, I connected with about a dozen young graduates and we selected three to join our team. It has been fun and rewarding to witness their growth and professional development first-hand.
Do you have any advice for alumni associations and similar organizations looking to remain relevant in the future?
I believe the key to success for alumni associations is to engage early and often. In the past it might have been forgivable to lose a connection with young alumni –– they tend to be very mobile as they go on to graduate school, or move around in their early career. And, after a few years they might get “lost” and become much harder to engage. Today with the help of technology and public and private social media outlets (like Avectra Social CRM) there is no excuse for losing the connection with young alumni. Keeping younger alumni engaged is the foundation of success for generations to come.