2023 Strategic Plan for the Society of Alumni

The Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni of Williams College is pleased to present this Strategic Plan for the Society of Alumni. This Plan is designed to complement the Engaging Alumni section of the Williams College Strategic Plan and is informed through the analysis of findings of an Alumni Survey launched in the fall of 2021.

The 2021 Alumni Survey

Beginning in early 2020, the Strategic Planning Committee (a subset of members of the Executive Committee; members listed at the bottom of this page), along with Alumni Relations Staff and advisors from Hawk Partners worked diligently, tirelessly and with an intellectual and curious fervor to understand the breadth and depth of the Williams alumni experience.

The purpose of the survey was to better understand the experiences of Williams alumni, their engagement with the college and with each other, their preferences for future engagement, their overall satisfaction with the Society of Alumni, and their agreement with the vision of the Society of Alumni as being global, inclusive, and relevant. The Strategic Planning Committee achieved consensus on an online survey tool which included both closed-ended (rating scale and yes/no) and open-ended questions designed to gather qualitative feedback from alumni in their own words. The survey was deployed in October of 2021 to all undergraduate Williams alumni. Twelve percent of alumni responded to the survey, or 3,438 individuals.

The Strategic Planning Committee, Alumni Relations Staff and advisors from Hawk Partners engaged in deep analysis of survey responses, including responses from specific cohorts of interest identified by the committee; additional time was invested in discernment, reflection and productive dialogue about the significance of alumni responses. It should be noted that many alumni used the open-ended questions to provide a rich and detailed story of their experiences either as students, as alumni or both. These narratives are at times heartwarming and heartbreaking and reveal a tapestry of the alumni experience that is both complex and multi-dimensional. We are grateful to all alumni who shared their perspectives and experiences through the survey.

Both the quantitative results and a thorough qualitative assessment of the narrative responses to the open-ended questions inform the content of this Plan.

Pillars of Engagement

Through this analysis, the Strategic Planning Committee identified four pillars of engagement, aligned with the three strategic principles complementing the six commitments articulated in the Engaging Alumni section of the college’s Strategic Plan:

1. Lifelong Connection

Continue to foster broad-based, relevant opportunities for connection between and among alumni, and between alumni and the college, throughout the life trajectory of the alumni experience or the alumni life cycle. Ensure these opportunities are inclusive and accessible to alumni by providing a range of in-person, regional, on-campus and virtual programs, including bountiful opportunities that do not focus solely on fundraising.

2. Career Mentoring and Development

Alumni value their Williams connections as a conduit to professional opportunities for growth, development and mentoring. Continuing the development and support of structures and programs that foster these connections, including EphLink and the alumni directory, would facilitate these career-based connections between and among alumni while also deepening opportunities for alumni to connect with the college around their own career path and professional journey, and in support of current students.

3. Lifelong Learning

Williams alumni form a vibrant intellectual community, and a love of learning continues throughout the lives of alumni long after their Williams graduation. Whether through virtual classrooms, alumni travel or on- or off-campus opportunities, a robust array of programs to deepen knowledge and understanding will foster continued intellectual and personal learning—the very values that initially led alumni to Williams as students.

4. Intentional Cultivation of Belonging

Continued support for alumni who hold historically underrepresented and marginalized identities is essential. Further work should continue to support and evolve the Alumni Networks, and consider structures for supporting other intersectional identities and emerging populations. As the alumni body continues to diversify, these efforts become increasingly important. Ensure that the wide range of experiences alumni had as students, and continue to have as alumni, are recognized and validated, including opportunities for reconciliation and repair where harm has been done.

Strategic Recommendations

Five strategic recommendations inform these pillars and constitute the Strategic Plan for the Society of Alumni. These five recommendations incorporate the voices of the 3,438 alumni who shared their thoughts and experiences through the 2021 survey.

The five strategic recommendations are:

1. Value Engagement and Volunteerism

Ensure that the generous contributions of time and service performed by the more than 10% of alumni who volunteer for the college each year are valued, recognized and stewarded. These non-financial contributions and forms of engagement build a stronger and more connected alumni body. Work to foster inclusion and belonging for all alumni by building additional forms of engagement that draw from the Bicentennial theme of “There’s a Place for You” and the storytelling initiative “Every Person Has a Story” (EPHS).

2. Expand Programming

Build upon the success of the Bicentennial celebration by expanding online and in-person programming to foster inclusion, intellectual engagement, career networking, and exposure to campus events and priorities.

3. Demonstrate Commitment to and Accountability for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Create and publicize intentional efforts to address systemic inequity and to create inclusive living, learning and working environments through programmatic offerings throughout the Society. Strengthen Alumni Networks and connect them with their future prospective members (current students on-campus) to foster mentorship and career support.

4. Reimagine the Alumni Website

Revise information architecture, navigability, and content of the alumni website in its entirety to make it more accessible, useful, intuitive and easier to navigate. Ensure content and data collection reflects the diversity and intersectionality of alumni identities, along with a representative array of voices and perspectives. Ensure the alumni website serves as a compendium for college policies and protocols relevant to alumni.

5. Fortify the Regional Associations

Strengthen the Regional Associations both geographically and programmatically to ensure events are inclusive and impactful. This may also require a fresh approach to engaging with alumni who reside outside of an existing regional association.

The Framework for the Strategic Plan

Throughout this process, a framework for alumni engagement began to emerge. This framework provides a high level view of the strategic connection between past engagement experiences, current alumni satisfaction, and expectations for future engagement. The framework is centered on two important assumptions:

  1. Alumni experiences engaging with the college’s communications and programming, and with other alums, influence their perceptions of satisfaction as an alum.
  2. The more satisfied the alumni, the more likely they are to engage in outcomes considered desirable by the college, including attending events, volunteering, making donations, and embracing the vision as a global, inclusive and relevant Society of Alumni.

The framework below illustrates these relationships.

This framework is purely illustrative. Recommendations for future research include operationalizing the model with data to quantify the relationship between past experience, current satisfaction and future philanthropy and engagement. This model puts alumni satisfaction at its core and resembles more traditional corporate-based customer satisfaction models. It is duly noted that the metaphor of alumni as “customers” may be considered unpalatable by some. But consider this: the Society of Alumni of Williams College was founded in 1821 by virtue of the philanthropy of a group of alumni during a very vulnerable time in the college’s history. There is a strong precedence for the college to look to its alumni for loyalty, recurring financial support and engagement.

A Path Forward for Alumni Engagement

The Society of Alumni Strategic Plan was inspired by President Maud S. Mandel during the January 2019 meeting of the Society of Alumni Executive Committee. The Executive Committee went to work conducting its own SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis and achieving consensus in 2019 on a strategic vision that reflects the values of the Society of Alumni as global, inclusive and relevant. A Strategic Planning Committee was then formed in early 2020. A list of all Executive Committee Members who were part of the Strategic Planning Committee appears at the bottom of this page.

The global pandemic and the racial reckoning ignited by the murder of George Floyd in 2020 had a significant effect on the work of the Strategic Planning Committee; moving deliberations to Zoom and changing the dynamic and content of early agendas. The committee engaged in difficult conversations about leadership, about the potential benefits and risks of conducting individual interviews with alumni representing broad demographics, and even vendor relationships and profiles. This time of reflection was necessary and beneficial.

The Society of Alumni Strategic Plan was in draft form when the college reorganized administrative staff from Alumni Relations and the Alumni Fund into one Alumni Engagement team in April of 2022. Because the 2021 survey was decidedly Alumni Relations focused, it did not explicitly ask alumni about their experiences communicating and transacting with the Alumni Fund staff, and thus the Alumni Fund is not addressed directly here. A number of alumni chose to provide narrative comments that relate to the Alumni Fund program that yield insights into possible improvements; additional work will be needed to intentionally seek out feedback, and to incorporate existing data from other fundraising-specific surveys over the last several years.

The Office of Alumni Engagement now has an organizational challenge bound both by an ethical commitment to include all alumni in its programming and by fiscal sustainability. The next steps forward should be to enact a process that brings together the principles and commitments made in the college’s strategic plan with the pillars and strategic recommendations made in this strategic plan for the Society of Alumni.

It is expected that this process be transparent, with updates shared regularly with the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni and Vice Chairs of the Alumni Fund.

The Society of Alumni Strategic Planning Committee

The Co-Chairs of the Strategic Planning Committee are eternally grateful for the staff of Alumni Relations and all members of the Strategic Planning Committee who worked thoughtfully and tirelessly to develop this Strategic Plan over the last three years. Their names are included below; a deep debt of gratitude is also owed to all Executive Committee members who contributed to this process. 

William Boyd ’63,  Executive Committee Class of 2023

Alan B. Dittrich ’69,  Executive Committee Class of 2023

Noemí Fernandez ’09,  Executive Committee Class of 2023

Brooks Foehl ’88,  Executive Director of Alumni Relations and Secretary, Society of Alumni

Qadir Forbes ’15, Executive Committee Class of 2021

Emil Ghitman Gilkes, former Data Analytics Coordinator (2020-2023)

Christopher Kerby ’81 Executive Committee Class of 2023

Deborah LaPine, former Alumni Relations Operations Manager (2001-2022)

Sally Hart Petersen ’86, Executive Committee Class of 2022; Co-Chair, Strategic Planning Committee

Kate Boyle Ramsdell ’97, Past President, The Society of Alumni of Williams College

Leslie Jeffs Senke ’89, Executive Committee Class of 2023

Katherine Sharpe ’79, Executive Committee Class of 2023

Brent Shay ’78, President, The Society of Alumni of Williams College; Co-Chair, Strategic Planning Committee

Susan E. Sutler ’74,  Executive Committee Class of 2023

Cortney King Tunis ’04,  Executive Committee Class of 2021

Shawei Wang ’96, Executive Committee Class of 2024

Anri Wheeler ’03, Executive Committee Class of 2021