Members of the GW Alumni Association said they were “blindsided” Thursday when the University announced it would create its own alumni group.
Officials launched a new alumni association Monday that will operate under the Office of Development and Alumni Relations – effectively ending GWAA’s monthslong plan to merge with the office. Members of GWAA’s board of directors said the University made the decision without consulting them, leaving them in the dark and unsure how to continue serving GW’s nearly 300,000 alumni.
Martin Baum, the president of GWAA, said the group has been in negotiations with University officials over the past two months about how to integrate the organization with GW’s alumni office. He said officials never gave any indication that they were unhappy with GWAA’s proposal for restructuring the group, which it delivered in late August.
He said administrators promised to provide feedback on the group’s seven-page proposal during the first week of September but then delayed discussions twice in the following weeks. But on Thursday, the University informed GWAA leaders that it would instead create a new organization, Baum said.
He said the University terminated GWAA’s access to the GW trademark, effective Monday, and cut ties with the group. He said the group has a pending name change but declined to say what it would be.
“We were making progress, we thought, and then the rug gets pulled out right from under us,” Baum said.
The group’s former president, Venessa Marie Perry, announced in May that the organization would merge with GW’s alumni office. Several alumni resigned over their opposition to the merger, saying integration would threaten the 58-year-old group’s independence.
Board members ousted Perry from the organization in July – leading to at least three more resignations – but the board passed a resolution to start negotiations the same month. Baum announced last month that the organization would move forward with negotiations.
Baum said GWAA will continue its operations because it is an independent nonprofit with its own endowment. He declined to say how much the nonprofit has in its endowment but said the organization will continue to fund alumni events.
He said the board of directors will discuss its strategies moving forward during an October meeting.
“Change is difficult but our mission remains the same,” Baum said.
University spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said the University decided to create its own group instead of merging with GWAA “within the last few weeks” following “unsuccessful discussions” with the organization’s new leadership.
“Due to conflicts among the current GWAA board members about leadership, structure and mission, the GWAA board has been unable to move forward to serve both GW and its alumni,” she said in an email.
Hamilton said the University has been discussing integration with GWAA for more than two years, but officials changed course after the removal of the board’s former president and the resignation of a member involved in planning the merger. She said that after the board of directors presented its most recent proposal, “it became clear that GW alumni would be better served under a leadership structure that aligned with the principles and values of GW.”
“The University will move forward and focus on building excellent services and programs that serve GW’s alumni community,” Hamilton said.
She said Matt Manfra, the senior associate vice president for alumni relations and annual giving, and Roslyn Brock, a member of the Board of Trustees, will develop the “structure and operating principles” of the new association.
“Together, the newly established alumni board and the members of the Office of Alumni Relations staff will work to build an even stronger international alumni network for GW,” she said.
Hamilton said GWAA has partnered with the alumni office in the past for several events, like Colonials Weekend, that the alumni office will continue to host and pay for. She did not specify whether GWAA would still be involved in the planning for these events.
She declined to say whether the University believes GWAA should dissolve its organization, saying that “the University welcomes continued involvement of all our alumni volunteers.” She also declined to say who was involved in the decision to make a new alumni group.
Perry, the former president of GWAA who was removed in July, said in an email GWAA leaders initially began the integration process three years ago “to create a premier alumni association that would serve ALL of the alumni.”
“Unfortunately, the current leadership of the former GWAA lost sight of that in the last couple of months,” she said in an email. “By creating a new entity the University is focused on ensuring that ALL alumni are served and that is a very good thing!!!”
Renee Lewis, a former member of GWAA’s executive committee who resigned after Perry’s removal, said she was not surprised to get a call from Manfra, the senior associate vice president of alumni relations and annual giving, last week to tell her integration was no longer on the table. She said GW was expecting the board to vote to support integration and had set a deadline of about three months after the July board meeting.
She said the conflicts surrounding the leadership were a distraction as the deadline for integration approached. She said that if GWAA and the alumni office share the same goal, there shouldn’t be concerns about losing independence.
“It’s an illusion in my mind that control was more important than figuring out how to leverage all our experience in all of our years in the GWAA to serve alumni,” she said. “I don’t need control to serve alumni. I need money.”
Jeremy Gosbee, a former president of GWAA, said he received a call from Manfra about the upcoming announcement last week. He said his initial reaction was “shock” that the University would terminate negotiations without first consulting board members.
He said board members are dedicated volunteers, and the University could be losing some of its greatest connections to the alumni community.
“My concern is that by showing a lack of respect for some of GW’s most dedicated alumni volunteers, that it will send a signal that the University needs their involvement but is not necessarily interested in a good-faith partner,” he said.