The University’s outgoing top fundraising official and alumni coordinator tried to better connect graduates during his short tenure at GW, alumni leaders said.
Matt Manfra, the associate vice president for alumni relations and annual giving, announced last week that he will leave GW to serve as the vice president of institutional advancement at an institution in New Jersey after more than three years at the University. Alumni leaders said Manfra’s passion for alumni relations was evident as he tried – though unsuccessfully – to merge the independent alumni association with the University’s alumni office to better connect graduates with their alma mater.
Manfra, who also served as the interim vice president for development and alumni relations for about a year, said he will miss the “thousands” of alumni who volunteered at and attended events and donated to the University. He said their contributions “are the backbone of alumni engagement.”
He declined to say why he stepped down but said he is “looking forward” to his new “promotional opportunity” at Georgian Court University, a school with a population of roughly 2,400 students situated in Lakewood, N.J., which he said is located near his immediate family.
“I’ll miss GW and D.C.,” he said. “Making any kind of career change is difficult, but it’s easier knowing that GW is heading in a terrific direction.”
Manfra said he is most proud of his involvement in the University’s $1 billion campaign, which ended a year ahead of schedule in 2017. He said he also faced several challenges during his tenure, including bolstering the number of alumni who are involved with GW.
He said GW is “uniquely positioned” to engage alumni all over the world through digital programming like an alumni book club that launched last spring and online networking events.
Manfra added that the University catered to a diverse group of alumni before he arrived at GW and will continue to do so after his departure early next month.
“Individuals will always have their own unique relationships with GW,” he said. “Advancement professionals can only help to strengthen those relationships through programs, communications and other initiatives.”
Janice Warner, the interim provost at Georgian Court University, said that even during the interview process, Manfra was well-informed about the university and had done his research about its relations with alumni. Georgian Court has a 6.5 percent alumni giving rate, compared to GW’s relatively low 9 percent.
Warner said it was important that Manfra could work well in a team because he will lead a group of fundraisers and alumni relations staff members in his new role.
She said Manfra’s role in finishing GW’s largest-ever capital campaign was one of the items on Georgian Court’s wish list but added that officials wanted Manfra to refer to the achievement as a collaborative effort. Manfra also helped GW’s alumni office raise the fifth-highest amount ever fundraised in one year in fiscal year 2018 despite staff turnover.
“We wanted someone who can really foster the team and the university,” she said.
Warner added that Manfra will participate in the execution of the school’s recently completed strategic plan and will help the university prepare for a future major fundraising campaign.
Alumni who worked with Manfra said his time as the liaison to what was formerly known as the GW Alumni Association was marked by connecting alumni more effectively to the University, but some remaining members of the organization said he soured relationships with the group during his tenure.
Renee Lewis, who worked with Manfra on the board of the GW Alumni Association last year before resigning from her position, said Manfra brought an “all things are possible” attitude to his job. Some of his initiatives were not popular, but he pushed through them for the good of the University, she said.
“Working with his staff, he elevated the level of measurement in the organization to ensure they brought value to alumni and the University,” she said in an email.
Manfra was the University official responsible for coordinating the independent alumni association’s merger with the University last year, a process that led to several resignations on the association’s board last summer and the removal of the association’s president. The merger plans eventually ended months later when officials decided to cut ties with the alumni association and create their own alumni advocacy group.
The independent organization is now known as the Independent Alumni Association of George Washington.
Manfra declined to say who would oversee the creation of the new alumni group in his absence. He also declined to say who will take over his position in the interim and when a search for his position will begin.
Martin Baum, who worked with Manfra as the former president of the GW Alumni Association and the current leader of the rebranded group, said he was “passionate” about the University and alumni. Baum said Manfra was supportive of the alumni association’s decision to merge with the University and provided the association with the information it needed to move forward with merger discussions.
“He had a genuine interest in helping support the alumni community,” he said. “His interest and passion were very genuine.”
Scott Wilson, a current board member of the Independent Alumni Association of George Washington, said that after the failed merger attempt, there were “upset feelings” on both sides.
“Perhaps his leaving will make it easier for us to mend fences,” he said. “And I don’t mean the relationship will go back to exactly what it was, but perhaps in the future, there will be more opportunities for collaboration.”