The University’s independent alumni association will disband over the coming months and donate its endowment to “GW-related organizations.”
The Independent Alumni Association of George Washington, which parted from the University in September, will phase out its existing grant programs as it begins the legal process to officially dissolve. IAAGW leaders said the decision to shutter the group will allow its members to have “the greatest impact” on students and alumni amid the University’s creation of its own group – the new GW Alumni Association – in May.
IAAGW President Martin Baum said the group’s 12 board members unanimously voted to fold the organization earlier this month. The association’s leaders made the decision with a “heavy heart” given their passion for and commitment to the group, but they realized the association’s members could have a larger impact by giving all of their financial resources to GW-affiliated groups, he said.
“We took a very hard look at what we call in the business world ‘the strategic assessment of the organization’: what we’ve done in the past, where we are right now and what are our future opportunities,” Baum said. “And we came to the conclusion that the way for us to have the greatest impact is to put our endowment to work directly for the students and alumni.”
IAAGW – formerly known as the GW Alumni Association – originally planned to merge with GW’s Office of Alumni Relations in the summer of 2018. But GW parted ways from the group last September after disagreements over the planned move caused at least seven board members to resign and pushed the organization to oust its president.
Baum said IAAGW formed out of “difficult circumstances,” but its members were able to make an impact even without the University’s resources through its grant programs and events.
“We held together and did a lot of great work over these past nearly 12 months – we had a lot of new and unique programs, we supported multiple organizations, we got a lot of publicity, we worked very effectively and at the end, we really feel that we made a difference,” he said. “But now, we’re at a point where we really feel that we have to turn the page.”
He said he was proud of the group’s diversity, which included members from all “walks of life” and from several ethnic groups. IAAGW’s board includes graduates from half of GW’s schools and the former Mount Vernon College, according to the group’s website.
“That’s what we’re very proud of, it really always was representative of the diversity of the University,” Baum said. “That we could come together and find common cause was always very satisfying for me personally, and I think for every one of the members.”
Kathy Bikus, IAAGW’s governance chair, said the group will keep its grant applications open until Sunday. At least 15 organizations, including The Hatchet Alumni Association and the literacy center at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, have applied for and received grants to fund programming.
Bikus said that after the vote to dissolve the group, IAAGW’s board began selecting organizations to ultimately donate the remaining funds to, including former School of Medicine and Health Sciences Dean Jeffrey Akman’s “research fund” and the Yellow Ribbon Program, an initiative that provides scholarships to student veterans. The groups that receive funding will be representative of the board’s diversity of interests and passions, she said.
She added that the board will continue determining and naming beneficiaries of IAAGW’s endowment over “the next few months.”
Bikus said that after IAAGW’s activities wind down, members will no longer need to feel “conflicted” over the choice to support IAAGW or the University’s official alumni group.
“Even though it is bittersweet, this is actually a great opportunity,” she said. “I think the great potential here is that now people can re-engage with the school and a new alumni association.”
Bikus said the IAAGW board’s unanimous vote to disestablish the group – and the commitment of its members since separation from GW – demonstrates IAAGW members’ unity through the group’s creation, operation and decision to close down.
“We’ve all come in together, and we’re all leaving together,” Bikus said. “I think it’s pretty amazing that we’ve all stuck together through thick and thin. So we’re walking out together – we’re not arguing, kicking and screaming on the way out.”
Peak Sen Chua, an alumnus and former Student Association president who sits on the GWAA executive board, said the IAAGW members are “passionate” alumni who care deeply about the University.
“I hope that in whatever capacity, as many alumni as possible support and contribute to the GW community in any way that they can,” Chua said. “With hundreds of thousands of alumni worldwide, there is so much every member of the GW community can offer to each other.”