Independent alumni group launches website to connect with graduates after split with GW

Media Credit: File Photo by Sam Frey | Staff Photographer

Martin Baum, the president of the Independent Alumni Association of George Washington, said the new website is a first step to re-establish the association’s reputation outside the University.

The independent alumni association launched a website members hope will become a one-stop shop for alumni to receive financial support and connect with other alumni.

The Independent Alumni Association of George Washington debuted a new website Sunday where alumni can apply to receive grants, serve on the board and partner with the group to host events and network with alumni, leaders said. The website will allow the association to reach pockets of alumni it hasn’t reached before and reaffirm its ability to function after parting with the University earlier this year, leaders said.

The website includes a page to contact the board, a list of board members and tabs to apply for board membership, grants and affinity groups.

Martin Baum, the group’s president, said the association previously worked with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, where the original association’s website was housed, to plan events and fund groups. Without the office’s oversight, the group has the freedom to broaden its engagement and influence with other alumni, he said.

The alumni association had been negotiating with the University for years to merge with the development office when the University unexpectedly announced in September that it would create its own alumni association and cut ties with the other group.

The new website is a first step to re-establish the association’s reputation outside the University, he said.

New partners
Baum said members of the board will begin actively recruiting new members using social media and will advertise three to five open board positions over the next few months. The group lost more than half of its board over the summer amid internal discord about the merger between the University and the association and the departure of former GW Alumni Association President Venessa Marie Perry in July.

Baum said the group also plans to recruit partners with one or two affinity organizations – alumni groups formed through common interests, like financial literacy or sustainability – to facilitate more networking opportunities or combine funds to host events and create new grants. The association will use the new website and its social media outreach to recruit partners, he said.

A handful of board members are currently developing criteria for organizations that indicate interest in partnering with the association, Baum said. Interested partners can email board members listed on the website and set up a meeting to discuss the potential partnership, he said.

Baum said the group wants to be selective in choosing its two partners to ensure board members can build more in-depth relationships. Currently, there are 13 alumni affinity groups, 40 regional groups in the United States and 24 international regional groups, according to the GW development website.

“We are trying to impact the breadth of our constituency,” he said.

Broadening impact
Baum added that the group will utilize its new partnerships to help fund its long-running grant program that gives money to student and alumni groups for events. Applications for the grant program will become more rigorous than before by asking groups for additional information about the details of their events, he said.

He said the new application will encourage groups that are awarded funding to plan events that engage a larger alumni base because the association has fewer financial resources. The more detailed process will also ensure board members can attend all of the events they sponsor.

Previously, board members were unable to attend all the events hosted by recipients of the grant because there were too many events for the relatively small number of members. Grant applications will be accepted starting in January, Baum said.

“We’re trying to raise the bar so that we’re really impacting as many deserving alumni and groups as possible,” Baum said. “It’s really more, ‘Is the group deserving of that, are they aligned with really impacting alumni, with helping them in some way?’ as opposed to, ‘Let’s just go out and have a good time on someone else’s dime.’”

Rachel Talbert, a board member, said association leadership is still in the process of developing an application that focuses on a proposed event’s potential to impact alumni. The application will likely place a heavier emphasis on events expected to have high attendance and those that also include students, she said.

There will not be a minimum for the number of people who attend, she said.

In the former application process, she said that only groups who had received grants for years knew about the program because staff in the development office did not promote the program to potential new organizations. Talbert said more groups will become aware of the financial opportunities through social media posts on Twitter and the board’s outreach on each member’s respective social media handles.

“You can still go to the website, but we are taking a much more proactive approach,” she said.

Asha Aravindakshan, the chair of the group’s career services committee, said she has worked with the development office in recent years to run career services events – a sector alumni have voiced they want to be expanded.

She said the development office favored networking events when she worked with the office in past years, but the alumni association will plan “a couple” of events in the spring with keynote speakers that will be determined in coming months to make events more engaging for attendees.

“We want to do events with speakers because I feel like those are more engaging and help people, who especially if they are looking to change careers or different career paths to follow or even to find transferable skills, it makes it easier for them to see that when people showcase what they’ve done in their careers,” she said.

She said that despite losing access to the University’s all-access to alumni, the board still has a broad enough network through LinkedIn and other networks to bring in keynote speakers and other interested alumni.

“The access to alumni is there,” she said. “We can use our networks and social media to connect with alumni who are willing and able to give back to the University.”

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