Six months after arriving at the University, GW’s new head of alumni relations said she has worked to enhance the “culture” of her team and retain existing alumni donors.
Patricia Carocci, who arrived at GW as the associate vice president of alumni relations and annual giving in July, said her top goals in the office include adding a personal element to alumni engagement efforts and attracting and retaining more alumni donors. Half a year into her position, she said she has traveled to cities across the U.S. with University President Thomas LeBlanc to meet with alumni and set new donation goals.
“I’m just really impressed with the quality of folks at GW, and we want to make sure that our alumni efforts match that quality,” she said. “You came here for a reason, and you want to be proud of your degree. So we want to make you feel that way.”
Carocci added that she has adjusted to GW’s pace and culture in her first few months, which she spent getting to know her team’s members and identifying areas for improvement. Before arriving at GW, Carocci served in development and alumni relations positions at institutions like The Spence School – a private girls’ high school – and the University of Maryland, College Park.
“It’s nice to be back in higher education,” she said. “I find that the complexity of a big place like GW is really wonderful. I like collaborating with my colleagues at the school and center level and trying to understand their needs.”
Carocci arrived days after the University notched the lowest alumni giving rate among its 12 peer institutions for the second consecutive year, which she said is symptomatic of a nationwide downturn in the number of university donors.
She said her office is aiming to attract 14,500 alumni donors this fiscal year – a nearly 10 percent reduction from last year’s goal – and to retain 63 percent of existing donors. She said that in general, retaining donors tends to be easier than attracting someone who has never donated to give for the first time, adding that GW is “in great shape” to meet those self-imposed benchmarks.
As the alumni giving rate fell, the University marked its third-highest total donation amount on record. Carocci said that across the U.S., institutions of higher education are observing average gift sizes increase in light of the drop in the number of donors.
She said she has engaged donors while attending LeBlanc’s GW + You community receptions in California and Pennsylvania this spring, each of which so far has drawn at least 150 alumni. Carocci has met with alumni for coffee and held informal meetings during each of her trips as part of her goal to create personal connections through alumni engagement efforts, she said.
“I’m reaching out to alumni – ‘Hi, I’m Patty Carocci, I’m the new person and I’m going to be in town. Would you like to have coffee?’” she said. “So I’m sending out those emails just like the rest of my team, and the response has been great when people are able to participate and have the time.”
She said that in her conversations with alumni, they seem interested in learning from officials about the strategic planning process, the future of arts at the University and GW’s sticker price. The cost of tuition grew by about 3 percent this year, in line with its growth historically.
Carocci said a large part of her job is working with the newly minted GW Alumni Association that launched in May. The group conducted a listening tour at the start of the academic year and is currently devising its priorities moving forward, she said.
She added that the GWAA executive committee has met twice in person and has held at least five conference calls since the group’s formation. The group’s priorities will focus on three core principles – togetherness, spirit and connectivity – based on the feedback given during the listening tour, Carocci said.
“The themes that came up were that there’s more power together,” she said. “This GW alumni network is very powerful, and if we can make those connections, we have a stronger group.”
LeBlanc said alumni have appreciated the community receptions that Carocci has helped plan because they allow officials to personally connect with individuals in GW’s large alumni base.
“It’s really hard to engage in a community that big, but we want to get out and engage as best as we can,” LeBlanc said.
He added that Carocci’s efforts to engage alumni and increase donations will benefit students by funding increased investment in programs that affect the student body.
“Ultimately, if you’re passionate about students studying at the University, help contribute to the University so we can invest in it.”
Richard Jones, GWAA’s president, said Carocci has been “fantastic” and has brought energy and expertise to alumni engagement efforts.
He added that Carocci has spent much of her time interacting with students, officials and the entire GW community to better understand the needs of the University.
“She is very devoted and committed,” Jones said. “She has brought in some good leadership, some strong and some great advisers for us to just make sure that we are moving in the right direction.”