June 2016

After a few years of a “new normal” following the Great Recession, disruptive forces with evident or potential impacts on higher education are reemerging in the headlines. Certain developments, such as growth in online education or experiments with new business models, never disappeared, and these and other disruptive forces today are presenting perhaps even bigger and bolder challenges that are also connected to ongoing social and political changes. Read more >

February 2016

Private independent schools for elementary and secondary students have been central to the United States’ educational continuum as long as higher education has existed, but there is nothing “old school” about the environment they find themselves in today. Once identified with elite education, provided by both secular and religious organizations, models of independent education have broadened considerably at the same time that some of their once-distinctive practices are now being adopted by public schools. Read more >

The headlines this spring and summer in higher education have captured the steady drumbeat of challenges: supporters sued to block the closing of Sweet Briar College – and after weeks of litigation won, despite questions about its future. Louisiana and Wisconsin legislatures entertained $300 million in cuts to their public university systems. Several university presidents resigned, along with other college and university chief executives announcing abrupt or early departures since the first of the year; the latest high-profile exit occurred at the University of British Columbia. Read more >

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October 2013

As dependence on tuition revenue becomes patently shaky ground on which to sustain a college or
university, the institutions taking the bold leap into new business models will be the ones realizing
greater market share, stability and growth.
More engaged boards are demanding fiscal approaches applied by successful businesses and built
around principles such as “strategic risk.” Board members often bring the experience from companies
whose market share for once-popular products has decreased or disappeared. Responding to the
concerns of parents and students, the Obama Administration and most states have launched scorecards,
metrics-based graduation completion legislation and funding policies attached to defined outcomes.
There are multiple efforts to develop less costly, more flexible paths toward degrees as individual
institutions are developing innovations in curriculum, blended and “flipped” classrooms, online
programs, enhanced student retention and other services, lower cost programs and broader external
partnerships. But the industry has yet to redefine itself, and still lacking is a convening force to engage
higher education leaders to assess the many new concepts in light of a full industry redesign.
In this churning environment, fixing higher education’s faltering business model is the new “race to the

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The trends are clear and the clock is ticking. Even prestigious institutions – those with money and long
histories – are now on the downgrade list by Moody’s and other ratings agencies. They include
Haverford College, Morehouse College, Oberlin and Wellesley, due to new signs of fiscal stress several
years after the recession. In fact, Oberlin’s outlook has changed to “negative.”
Enrollment is down in many places, which is particularly challenging for the institutions receiving more
than 90 percent of their operating revenues from tuition. A survey of college and university business
officers by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed in July found that only about 25 percent expressed strong
confidence that their institution’s financial model would remain viable over the next five years and only
13 percent over the next 10 years.1
Moody’s recent review of public universities emphasizes the “unsustainable” trend of expense growth
outpacing revenue growth.” Private nonprofit universities managed their costs somewhat better, as
governing boards and management teams held median operating margins relatively constant over the
past five years, even as revenue declined.2
Other analysts draw parallels to the antiquated financial models that drove industries such as the
newspaper business into near-oblivion. These analysts counsel against the practice of tuition discounting
– the percentage of tuition revenue handed over to financial aid – which cuts deeply into revenue to
attract students and puts institutions even farther behind.3
Others are speaking out against quick fixes,
which actually may cost more without careful considerations of longer-term strategic benefits, such as
adding programs to reposition institutions competitively or cutting programs without complete analysis
of the broader financial sphere.4
But the disturbing evidence won’t go away. Tuition rates last year were more than five times higher than
in 1985, according to a New York Times analysis.5 A survey of 436 small private colleges and
comprehensive state institutions conducted in September found that nearly half missed their
enrollment or net-tuition-revenue goals. More provocatively, at many institutions adapting to the
challenge through deliberate strategies, more than half met or exceeded their enrollment or revenue
As one university president told us recently, “We have a wonderful model for this university as a
student-centered institution, but we can’t afford it anymore. We’ve got to find a way to embed that
value in an experience students can afford.”


As institutional executive teams and boards evolve in their fiscal, strategic and generative roles, they
are rightly asking questions that businesses have addressed for years – issues such as continuous
improvement in response to consumer demand, competition in declining markets, risk management and
contingency efforts and responsibility to stakeholders. With these questions, they are introducing new
practices like Resourced Centered Management (RCM), revenue and cost modeling based on growth
goals and rigorous analysis of academic programs and faculty and staff productivity.
Consumers and higher education advocates alike agree that there is “value” on which to build. The value
of a college degree continues to grow among students, parents and employers, even amidst concerns
about student debt, graduate unemployment and curriculum relevance:
• While it may take longer to accumulate the financial benefits of a college education than in the
past, median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients during a 40-year full-time working life are 65
percent higher than those of high school graduates, according to the most recent in a series of College
Board surveys on the topic.7

• Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a Northeastern University poll in September said a
college degree is more important than for their parents’ generation, but with an important qualifier: 62
percent said colleges were doing only a “fair” or “poor” job of preparing graduates for the work force.8
A number of new approaches are beginning to fill the void, but are not being applied widely or radically
enough within institutions. Many are so new they have not withstood the test of time; they are largely
incremental and not part of a comprehensive response. Among them are MOOCs, competency degrees,
personalized degrees, disaggregated degrees, $10K degrees and online professional certification.
In our experience, several additional business tools must become core strategies for university
management teams and boards in their dialogue about risk and solution-building:
• SWOT analyses – realistic assessments of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – but
importantly, against strategic and business objectives, not the current state.
• Growth goals – that plot the future according to defined annual targets for such activity as
enrollment, faculty productivity, endowment, fundraising, external partnerships, investment income,
full use of physical plant capacity, technology “up” time, graduation and retention rates.
• Five-year scenario planning – using these targets and threat models based on revenues and
costs, which apply corporate focus on strategic risk, to chart optimistic, realistic and pessimistic
scenarios. These might include scenarios to increase enrollment, reduce student attrition, increase
offer-to-attendance yield, lower operating costs, address tough business issues around program viability
and the impact of tenure and increase new sources of revenue through industry and other external
• Institutional health indicators – customer scorecards through dashboards and other reporting
measures that communicate this activity to legislatures, the public, faculty and staff, parents, students
and alumni and promote internal review and redirection where indicated.
• Strategy maps – that translate strategic plans into five-year adaptive roadmaps based on
“sustained shareholder value” through improved cost structures, increased asset utilization, investment
in innovation and practices re-envisioning traditional teaching and learning models, enhanced customer
value and expanded revenue sources.
Fundamental is a commitment to new thinking by leadership teams and boards to deliver institutional
sustainability. These include the tough decisions that eliminate nonperforming programs to free
investments for innovation, right-size the institution and ensure successful attainment of growth and
revenue targets.


Metrics for higher education should be directed to outcomes – not the traditional measures of incoming
class quality, test scores, number of alumni and so forth. Without the context of future aspirations and
goals, these benchmarking numbers mean very little today. The Obama administration is committed to
developing a meaningful performance scorecard based on metrics for access, affordability and student
success, and defining strategic “value” should be central to the equation. As another university
president told constituents recently, it’s not what students bring to the university but what they leave
with that is important.
Increased market share, reputation, financial sustainability and growth are the framing elements for this
revised definition of educational “prestige.” What’s most relevant to the needs of students, parents and
employers is part of this calculus: online education not only is less costly in many cases, but expectations
for technology are central to the habits of the networked generation and the non-traditional students
who are not following the residential, four-year path to degrees.
One of our clients, the University of Tennessee System, has developed a model dashboard that tallies up
several measures in one overall metric – “Impact.” This metric alone speaks volumes about the
institution’s progress and has become an important means of communicating accountability, reassessing
and redirecting strategic initiatives and creating advocacy and buy-in for public higher education in
Effective use of board expertise to enhance decision-making within accepted business frameworks and
accelerated pacing around tough decisions has given some institutions a head start in the challenge to
streamline infrastructure, eliminate barriers and provide laser-like attention to strategic risk. In addition
to developing new business models, the institutions well-served will be those that ensure they have the
most qualified boards for these challenging times.
Two important characteristics are among the requirements for sophisticated boards: (1) the
understanding of the paradigms of higher education and what and what cannot be successfully adopted
from their business worlds and (2) clarity around institutional core competencies and mission as the
issues become more complicated and time runs short. Making the most of the board-management team
partnership in colleges and universities is another critical avenue for ensuring that smart business
thinking becomes the new normal in higher education.
This is the broad context that institutional leaders, influencers and boards should bear in mind to
effectively solve these strategic business and governance decisions and achieve what we call Strategic
Results (www.napagroup.com). Now is the time to move aggressively with focus and commitment into
this uncharted future.

By RJ Valentino, President, and Janis Johnson, Senior Partner
October 2013

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1 “CFO Survey Reveals Doubts About Financial Sustainability,” Inside Higher Ed, July 12, 2013.
2 “Moody’s Report Forecasts a Gloomy Future for Public Universities,” Chronicle, ibid., August 14, 2013.
3 “Higher Education is Headed for a Shakeout, Analysts Warn,” Hechinger Report, September 3, 2013.
4 “If Enrollment Falls Short, Cutting or Adding Programs Is No Quick Fix,” Chronicle, ibid, October 18, 2013.
5 “Why Tuition Has Skyrocketed at State Schools,” Economix blogs, New York Times, March 2, 2012.
6 “Enrollment: A Moving Target for Many Colleges,” Chronicle, ibid., October 15, 2013.
7 “Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” The College Board, 2013.
8 “Employers and Public Favor Graduates Who Can Communicate, Survey Finds,” Chronicle, ibid., September 18, 2013.


The new academic year launches against the backdrop of clashes and compromises between state legislatures and public universities in recent months, much of it about money and educational policy. While some states provided short-term relief to struggling public institutions because of unanticipated tax revenues, in most cases the longer-term solutions about the big issues were left unresolved. Some examples:

  • Texas Rick Perry announced he would not seek a fourth term after ten years of pitched controversies over the role of research, teaching, the regents, access, accountability, metrics and overall quality in higher education in his state. What’s been happening in Texas essentially is a template for the issues in other states.
  • Newly elected North Carolina Pat McCrory, whose state has developed a premier university system, declared that an “educational elite” supports “worthless courses” in the liberal arts that don’t lead to jobs and threatened to withhold tax funding.
  • In Florida, Rick Scott lobbied university leaders one-by-one to cut tuition rates, bypassing boards of trustees who have the authority.
  • Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Nebraska are among the states where universities have agreed to hold off tuition increases if lawmakers give them more California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a budget bill that includes a 5 percent increase for public universities as part of a four- year plan to boost state funding by 20 percent while freezing tuition.

While the picture varied across the nation, linking state funding and college costs was a consistent theme, yet sharp strokes of fiscal pens alone will not produce the comprehensive reform necessary for the 21st century, and they are detrimental to efforts to recoup educational and economic advantage for the U.S. A better model would be for political, government, business and community leaders to convene in data-informed environment and address the real issues. This critical first step could refocus the conversation on the “value” of college and university assets and how to grow them. Then legislators and educators can use those standards to determine the ROI of their investments – and their collaboration for constructive change.


Increasingly a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite to employers, who are looking for the best qualified workers for entry-level positions. What’s more, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education Special Report, new graduates applying for jobs often do not have the analytical, communication, research and problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in today’s workplace and thus to continually improve their quality of life.

In a survey of 318 private and nonprofit sector executives this year, 93 percent of respondents agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” In this report by the American   Association of Colleges and Universities, about 75 percent of employers surveyed also stated that they would advise their own children to pursue a liberal arts degree that teaches broad-based knowledge and critical thinking skills. While there are other well-rounded paths to an undergraduate degree through business, science and engineering, liberal arts has always had a practical dimension directed at employability and cultural literacy, or the skills, knowledge and humanistic awareness needed for its times.

Not only will graduates in today’s global society likely have several jobs and careers, technology is constantly shifting how things work. New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman contends that graduates need to be “innovation-ready.” The value-added of a higher education is that graduates have the ability to learn and assess information and acquire new knowledge when they need it. Institutions that are strengthening the fundamentals of their liberal arts and core curricula are, in fact, responding to market demand.


If nothing else, MOOC-mania has stirred up a healthy debate over creative and pragmatic alternatives to traditional classrooms in traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions as the favored path to a diploma.

Rapidly diversifying learning technologies (iPADs, mobile and more) and preferences of students are forcing academic and administrative resisters out of their comfort zones. The future is taking shape around course redesign in a variety of disciplines, incentivizing faculty to change, rapid growth in new models such as game-based learning for a new generation of learners and self-paced learning that improves performance and speeds the time to degree.

Accelerated three-year degrees and the “$10,000 degree” movement in states like Texas, Florida and Ohio have engaged academics and legislators, though not necessarily in collaboration, to come up with the next best thing. Retention is at the top of legislative lists since almost half of students in two- and four-year institutions currently fail to complete their degrees in six years. Since Tennessee kicked off the idea in 2010, many states have now tied public university funding to degree completion and other metrics that guide funding formulas.

In addition to college costs, a significant motivator for these efforts has been the rise of the “non- traditional” or what some call the “post-traditional” learner. Data show that the “traditional” 18- to 22- year-old full-time undergraduate student residing on campus represents little more than 15 percent of the higher education population in the United States. New statistics data from the U.S. Department of Education reveal that while enrollment of students 18-24 increased 52 percent between 1996 and 2010, the group will grow only 10 percent between 2010 and 2021. Conversely, students who are 25-34 years old will increase by 20 percent and those 35 and over by 25 percent.

This diverse group of post-traditional learners includes adults who want to complete or advance their degrees, part-time students who work and part-time students with families, among others, but they all have one feature in common: they are rarely opting for a four-year campus residential experience.

Serving this growing population of students is upending both educational delivery models and approaches to “student success.”


The previous trends add up to dangerous consequences for the United States and our overall quality of life and well-being. Failing to produce enough educated graduates with the right knowledge and skills means that our businesses and industries will lack the talent they need to maintain or innovate – and to provide even more jobs. A McKinsey Global Institute analysis in 2011 predicted a shortage of up to 1.5 million workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2020.

Coupled with this scenario, declines in state funding threaten the ability of major public research universities to produce premier research that is vital to a competitive U.S. economy and the well-being of society. In 2012, the National Science Foundation reported a 20 percent decline in per-student funding for the nation’s 101 major public research universities between 2002 and 2010, with 10 states; 10 states had decreases ranging from 30 to as high as 48 percent.

Former Oklahoma Gov. and U.S. Senator David Boren, now the president of the University of Oklahoma, knows the issues well from both sides of the aisle as an elected official and a university administrator. In an editorial in the Tulsa World in April, Boren argued that “most Americans have barely noticed a trend that gravely threatens our future.” With “almost no public debate,” he charged, “our budget decisions are causing the dismantling of our system of public higher education,” which has undergirded U.S. economic growth and strength since World War II. “In only a decade we have dropped from first place in the world to 12th place in the percentage of our young people going on to college.”

Another state has accepted this challenge in a significant way to advance its self-interests, providing a model that others might consider. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed “Next Generation Connecticut” into law in June to begin revitalizing the state’s economy through unprecedented investments in STEM research and education at the University of Connecticut. A $1.5 billion construction component will invest in new scientific laboratories, advanced equipment, new classrooms and housing; another $137 million in operating funds will hire hundreds of faculty and expand the student body in STEM fields – in response to the bioscience, engineering, digital media and technology jobs that are revitalizing the state’s economy. The governor sponsored the bill, which was endorsed by more than 100 businesses and received overwhelming bipartisan support in the General Assembly.


The very value proposition of higher education is being challenged – so we propose that politicians and educators become far more collaborative in developing solutions instead of butting heads. This could start with politicians investing more time in learning about the mission and opportunities of their colleges and universities, not grandstanding on headline-making proposals that dilute both energy and constructive debates.

“Creating a New Compact Between States and Public Higher Education,” which was released in late June by a task force of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, is a positive response to the turbulence of the past few years. The blue-ribbon panel, which focused on “making public higher education a state priority,” urged lawmakers and public higher education leaders to form a new alliance on accountability, finances and affordability.

As critical first steps, they emphasized that university leaders must “address public higher education’s change-averse reputation, especially as it involves online and other alternative educational delivery models,” and that both sides “develop a shared understanding of critical higher education priorities in their state.”

By contrast, the “Next Generation Connecticut” legislation passed and signed in June may be the first to show what’s possible when government, business and higher education collaborate with the end in mind. Construction investments of $1.5 billion will bring scientific laboratories, advanced equipment, new classrooms and housing; another $137 million in operating funds will hire hundreds of faculty and expand the student body in STEM fields – in response to the bioscience, engineering, digital media and technology jobs that are revitalizing the state’s economy. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sponsored the bill, which was endorsed by more than 100 businesses and received overwhelming bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

It’s reasonable for lawmakers and politicians to hold public institutions to tenets that guide private enterprise – a commitment to innovation, market-driven outcomes and effective and efficient operations. The good news is that there are signs of change, but a surer path toward reform would be the collaboration of politicians, university executives, business and community leaders and philanthropists to develop a new “master plan” for public higher education. Through their leadership they would demonstrate commitment to real results and restore their constituents’ confidence in the value of one of the nation’s greatest assets – attainable higher education.

By RJ Valentino, President, and Janis Johnson, Senior Partner

It’s unquestionable that few industries in the United States have achieved global leadership as consistently as and effectively as our higher education system, the cornerstone of our economic prosperity and a vital part of the American dream. Yet during the last few years, we’ve heard much about change in higher education, from disruptive change to resourced-centered management to program allocations based on ROI, and the message is clear and consistent: universities are not changing enough fast enough.

Since the financial meltdown in 2008 when boards were invited into leadership and, in some cases, management roles to rescue their institutions from financial disasters, boards have wielded increasing influence around business models, margins and pacing. Until recently, much of this activity has been informed by experts like Richard Chait and formed around best practices. Yet many university presidents have been signaling that “enough is enough” and it’s time to rebalance the engagement.

As is often the case in business, the most aggressive moves have some of the most lucrative payoffs and position a system to act on change relatively quickly. In publicly traded institutions 90 days is a lifetime in defining the heroes and those who fall from grace, often with sizable parachutes. This practice among business-minded university boards has put a sharper lens on the question of balance. Acknowledging that universities benefit from business and operating models that incorporate solid business thinking, the debates center on this question – just how far can for-profit thinking, practices and behaviors extend into and survive in universities built on the traditions of shared governance, tenure and reverence for process?


Earlier this summer, the tumult at the University of Virginia put this issue in the headlines and in an instant, UVA became a bellwether of the tensions arising in many institutions wrestling with the complex issues of leadership and governance and the more difficult challenges of change in a shared     governance system. Impatient over the pace and degree of change, a small group within the Board of Visitors engineered President Teresa Sullivan’s resignation without full and substantive board discussion or vote. Although best practice suggests a gradual evolution of fiduciary, strategic and generative engagements between institutional administrative leadership and boards, this self-appointed group took this incendiary step in a style more familiar in for-profit boardrooms.

There is no question that it’s a new day and a new world in higher education. The threats have not been eliminated, the solutions needed are more “disruptive” and the timelines more urgent. The issues of market differentiation, financial liquidity, rising debt and the costs of innovations in entrenched learning environments are driving this impatience. Yet it’s vital that leadership teams and boards work together, and not in open warfare, to determine the best outcomes for their institutions and the right balance for their relationships.

As we’ve seen at UVA and elsewhere, the leadership-board tensions become distractions that remove the focus on the job at hand. The challenge that lies before boards is to learn more about and fully grasp the core business of education, to understand what’s relevant against the broader needs of society and, with this knowledge, to exercise their roles in asking the tough questions and in assuring that institutional change is bold and aggressive, not mild and incremental.

Just as boards need to understand the educational models, as they would in assessing any business venture or investment, it’s critical that university administrators and members of the academy become better informed about the realities of their fading business and educational models and embrace their roles as leaders and pioneers in developing new paradigms. The beauty of such board-university leader relationships is the tension that emanates from constructive, but tough, conversations in which the content and questions are rich and the outcomes transformative. Ultimately success lies in conducting the business of education in an environment of shared governance honoring these rules of engagement and in the best interest of the institution.


Education beyond high school creates the bridge to a higher quality of life – bringing graduates greater opportunities for jobs and careers, personal satisfaction, impact on their communities and ability to give back to their universities. For society and the nation, the collective yields are economic growth and sustenance.

Students and families are seeking a college education that is affordable, efficiently delivered and directed toward careers of the future. National and state leaders are setting targets for increased U.S. competitiveness as measured by level of education and workforce capabilities. Yet investment in U.S. education is decreasing as states – severely constrained by lower tax revenues and other economic pressures – have cut back support for public higher education to 25-year lows and private universities rely more heavily on endowment, tuition and investment income. As new reports substantiate unsustainable financial models for many institutions, Moody’s recently noted that financial pressures are “making it difficult for colleges and universities to grow revenue and are intensifying the focus on governance, operating efficiency and revenue diversity.” Bain and Company in its recent article, “The Financially Sustainable University,” says that one-third of colleges and universities have financial statements that are significantly weaker than they were several years ago due to higher education inflation and soaring administrative costs and as debt and interest rates outpace their instruction- related expenses.3

Multiple forces with substantial consequences for university planning are reshaping the relationships between governing boards and university leadership teams. Chief among them:

  • Changing demographics and the cost of higher education versus the perceived value. It’s no longer good enough to suggest that an institution is “mission driven, yet influenced by the ” It will be important to make a definitive stand.
  • Increasing tuition dependency, with net tuition revenue unlikely to return given economic Boards will be looking for thoughtful, but aggressive multi-year enrollment plans that provide contingency plans to ensure predictable, multi-year revenue streams.
  • Growing competition for students – applications rise, yields fall; for-profits win on flexibility, not Developing a differentiated position and brand in an increasingly competitive market is essential to sustainability and success.
  • Scrutiny of program subsidies and decisions about internal resource allocations. Such discussions often focus on academic quality and faculty productivity and performance.
  • Continued concerns about administrative efficiency. Chief budget officers control 20 percent of the costs while the academy controls 80 percent, which also fuels the growing drumbeat on faculty
  • The unfunded mandate of hybrid education. What are the real costs and benefits of increased technology and online programs


Higher education’s long tradition of shared governance among boards, administrators and faculty in university decision making was comprehensively articulated in the “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in the mid-1960s. This position paper stands on the principle that the welfare of the institution must be at the forefront, and interdependence through constant communication and shared responsibilities results in an “increased capacity to solve educational problems.”4

Yet most trustees and faculty learn about shared governance “on the job,” according to an AGB survey of more than 335 independent and 80 public colleges and universities.5 As tensions among boards, faculty and presidents mount, solutions recommended by the AGB include improved faculty and trustee orientation to each other’s responsibilities for governance, familiarity by all groups with the institution’s practices and policies for governance, more higher education expertise on boards and the president as the “nexus of communication.”

The “governance as leadership” model posited by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan And Barbara E. Taylor underscores the new style of “generative thinking” in which boards, along with executives, frame problems and make sense of ambiguous situations to shape strategies, plans and decisions. Such an approach governs at the boundary, requires new types of talent on the board, demands that trustees explore multiple and sometimes conflicting views and focuses on the values of the past and the demands of the future.6 Not at anytime during their discussions and writings about this model do they suggest sustained public battles between the board and their institutions as the means to accelerating the development of new solutions.

Our experience is that value-centric and mission-centric comprehensive planning that also responds to market forces is not only possible but increasingly proven in the “disruptive” thinking now pervasive in higher education today. Governing boards will be crucial to guiding these changed futures. For example, in June, in response to legislative and administrative mandates focusing on the quality of the state’s workforce, the University of Tennessee System Administration, led by its new president, Dr. Joe  DiPietro, completed a strategic planning process in which the board was involved at strategic points throughout the process. Joining hundreds of the university’s stakeholders, from faculty and students to alumni and local communities, the plan defined how the university system will leverage its comprehensive portfolio to enhance Tennessee’s economy through the quality of its educated workforce and citizens.


The unilateral action of the UVA board leadership in the President Sullivan case was a case study on the damage that occurs when this balance gets off track. The cracks in the UVA community’s trust likely will be evident much longer than the explosion itself. At a two-day retreat in August, the Board of Visitors began to reframe the narrative by engaging in forward-looking discussions about its structure, governance and strategic leadership. While President Sullivan did shape the new member orientation about the university’s core values, academic organization and current challenges, the spotlight will remain on Virginia as the board and university leadership address the critical issues ahead.

Higher education in the U.S. is in trouble and requires boldness and imagination, not sidestepping tough decisions nor a reaction of duck-and-cover. The faltering economy and the challenges around the globe demand comprehensive solutions from our colleges and universities, not distracting pot shots. Now that tough issues are publicly on the table, navigating through the governance tensions in an environment of healthy creative conflict could transform our institutions positively in ways still unimagined because boards – bringing crisp business thinking – and university leadership teams – schooled around the mission – have much to learn from each other.

To do so, however, the desired governance model should engage university boards and leadership in determining the accelerated process and timing for their own institutions and how best to cultivate and bring along their many constituencies on this path forward. Successfully partnering in shared governance will drive the development and implementation of actionable, bold innovations and address head-on the issues of cost while positioning institutions for their targets for student success.

This approach honors the engagement of faculty leadership and the faculty community in informed dialogue around the curriculum, program integration and the realities of the “business.” It paves the way for the critical decisions cited by Bain – developing a clear strategy focused on the core, reducing administrative costs, freeing up capital in non-core assets and investing strategically in innovative models.7 And, importantly, it facilitates difficult conversations about diversified revenue generation and cost management, especially in a tuition-driven model.

Despite the rocky terrain of recent years, the potential for the new story for postsecondary education revolves around a balanced partnership of the core business owners – the university leadership and the board – not one commanding the other. Although some tension is inevitable, and desired, the ongoing benefits of the endgame are alignment and support in the best interests of the institution – and a return to the tough discussions required to develop a sustainable, compelling case for higher education.

By RJ Valentino

September 2012






  1. Alumni association advocacy programs harness alumni support for the university’s federal and state legislative Alumni lend value to these efforts by making the university more visible to elected officials in their districts and by informed communication with elected officials about issues that impact the university and its budget. It is a common practice for alumni association staff to collaborate with their university government relations offices, which typically report to the university president or senior leadership in external relations. In the most active programs, the alumni associations build upon the email and letter activity from the government relations office, participate in state capital visits and educate public officials through annual forums to increase the “octane” of their efforts.
  2. Alumni associations are partnering with university government relations offices to ensure that the messages and activities of volunteer advocates are consistent with their institution’s overall policy Links on both government relations and alumni association websites cross-reference each other so that advocates can navigate effectively to get the information they need.
  3. High-profile annual presentations for alumni advocates feature university presidents, governors and other leaders within the university and federal or state These events often take place in prestigious buildings on campus, in the state capital and in Washington, D.C. Engaging well- known individuals and using venues with symbolic value help make the events more publicity friendly and create a sense of momentum and shared purpose. Alumni advocates are also encouraged to host legislators in their own communities and to spread the word locally among friends, families and service organizations about the university’s benefits to their state.
  4. Other annual forums featuring university faculty in academic buildings or research centers allow the university to mine its own resources and demonstrate them to alumni and public Showcasing faculty expertise and the utility of a new building or research center simultaneously justify the state’s expenditures and educate alumni advocates to strengthen their case on behalf of the university.
  5. In the most energetic programs, alumni association and government relations websites are information-rich. Providing data about the number and quality of contacts by alumni advocates also builds a sense of momentum and success. Reports, e-newsletter archives, photos, volunteer sign-up forms and archives of photos featuring key administrators with legislators indicate an energetic advocacy program. In election years links to candidates’ campaign websites and details of their positions on key education issues provide volunteers with helpful shortcuts to use in their advocacy role. For example, in one program, the association’s board of directors interviewed two gubernatorial candidates and posted the Q&A results on the association’s website, representing a special level of engagement.

It’s budget season, and educated alumni from public universities around the U.S. are letting their state legislators know what they think. The theme is pervasive – regional and national economic progress and the United States’ competitive global position are directly dependent on an educated workforce. In this 2011 legislative session, alumni whose lives and careers have benefitted from an education in their state’s public institutions are sounding the alarm with greater force.

While alumni advocates have been a part of the scene in state capitals for more than a century, this year the stakes are much higher:

  • The New York State legislature on March 30 cut an estimated $289 million from the operating budget of the State University of New York (SUNY) system – reaching a total of $1.4 billion in reductions to the state’s public colleges and universities over the past four
  • Some of Penn State’s 24 campuses may be closed if Tom Corbett’s proposed 50 percent cut in the system’s appropriation stands. An action alert to the 30,000 alumni and other members of the Penn State Grassroots Network asked members to “Help Penn State Help Pennsylvania.”
  • In late March the president of the Texas Exes, the University of Texas Ex-Students Association, emailed 206,000 alumni supporters, urging them to protest the UT Board of Regents’ assessment that much academic research lacks value and that some tenured faculty members could be replaced with lower-cost
  • In California, hundreds of administrators, teachers, students, and alumni converged on the State Capitol for the annual “Advocacy ” Gov. Jerry Brown already has signed bills reducing funding for the University of California and the California State University systems by $500 million each, and the community college system by $400 million. More reductions are threatened to close the state’s budget gap – at a time when the universities are already educating significantly more students than a decade ago with substantially less funding.

Enrollment at public colleges and universities has nearly doubled since 1985, growing from 7.2 million to 11.6 million in 2010. Support by state and local governments to public and independent institutions of higher education had nearly tripled to $88.9 billion in 2008, and then the recession changed everything. By FY2010, state and local educational appropriations fell to a 25-year low in inflation-adjusted terms, and the FY2012 trends are not promising. As demands grow for other services (such as health care) and as tax revenues decline, the signs are clear that higher education budgets will not benefit from future state support at the levels they have enjoyed in the past.

Numerous studies over the past several years, including the Spellings Commission report in 2008, have documented two important trends – a growing skills gap as a more experienced Baby Boomer generation retires, and the accelerated demand for postsecondary education for the fastest-growing jobs in the knowledge economy. On a global scale, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland and Norway educate a greater percentage of their youth than the United States does, and the younger generation in the U.S. is less well-educated than those aged 45 to 54. In December, the international Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development concluded in its report of three-year trends that the U.S. has fallen from top of the class to average and warned of U.S. economic fallout.

California is a case in point. An innovator in higher education in the 1960s and 1970s, California now provides less than half the state support per student than it did 20 years ago; in fact, the state spends more on its penal system than its public universities. In the face of diminishing support, current trends show that by 2025 the California economy will require one million more college graduates than the state will be able to produce, according to California’s Public Policy Institute.

A Tradition of Advocacy

The role of institutional advocacy dates back to the founding of alumni associations as postsecondary education made great leaps forward at the end of the 19th century and public and land-grant universities gained increasing shares of their state budgets to fuel American progress. Alumni associations motivated grateful and passionate loyalists to advance the interests of their institutions and the quality of life around them. Some of these activities were narrowly focused – such as funding or land for a new football stadium – while a growing contingent of alumni activists joined in to advance broader institutional interests.

Typically the government relations professionals working in university central administration or public affairs offices have managed lobbying activities for their institutions. Reporting directly to the institutional leadership and representing their institutions’ policy and budget interests, these staff can be expected to maintain a fairly tight rein on managing issues and messaging.

Traditionally the troops have been called in (faculty, staff, students, community, and alumni constituencies) for an annual show of force for “advocacy day” in state capitals or for specific timely issues. However, the impacts of reduced funding for higher education on society, the workforce and global competitiveness have become so widespread that institutions are increasingly harnessing the energy of their most loyal advocates – their tens of thousands of alumni. Recognizing the value of their degrees on their careers and personal lives, these graduates want not only to protect the value of their degrees but to ensure similar economic advantages for their children and their communities.

Advocacy as a Strategic Priority

Many universities today exhibit growing appreciation for the value of a strong partnership between the government relations and public affairs offices and alumni associations. At the University of Tennessee, the University of Minnesota, and Pennsylvania State University, for example, alumni advocacy is a priority of multi-year strategic plans that engage generations of alumni in their universities in segmented ways.

Functioning optimally, such partnerships acknowledge the access delivered by alumni relations to a phalanx of people to support the messages, materials and action plans that the institutional public affairs specialists produce. Like political and fundraising campaigns, these activities require alignment and internal collaboration, focus on issues that matter, and message consistency. Advocacy is a sophisticated process, operating with high-tech tools such as websites and mobile phones for updates, alerts, a pool of resources, and targeted outreach.

Through strategic and sophisticated relationship-building with opinion leaders – many of whom have degrees from the same institutions – alumni have become an essential component of the “grasstops” and “grassroots” advocacy networks that play both watchdog and educational roles in budget decisions and strengthen town-gown relationships for new projects, such as hospitals, residence halls, and athletic facilities.

The results are measurable. Alumni have become critical to an institution’s ability to raise its visibility in every county and corner of a state. They also use their connections in civic clubs, local schools, and the business community to reinforce the economic benefits of university research and tech transfer on local economies, not to mention the value proposition of a postsecondary education to career advancement and workforce quality.

Making a Difference

The Penn State Alumni Association launched the Penn State Grassroots Network in 2002, one of the largest efforts among U.S. universities. Penn State has more than 513,000 living alumni and currently 96,000 students, and its Grassroots Network counts nearly 40,000 today. Although this year presents another steep climb, the alumni network has a strong track record. In 2006, its activities helped increase the university’s appropriation from the state to its highest level in five years. And in 2008, it worked successful to help raise Pennsylvania’s appropriation even higher than the governor’s proposal – at a time when overall growth in state spending was the lowest since 2003.

In Minnesota, higher education institutions face a significant financial hit in bills approved in March 2011 by the state legislature – a 19 percent cut for the University of Minnesota and a 13 percent reduction for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. One way the University of Minnesota Alumni Association is addressing this reality is by telling the story of “the U’s” impact on the economy and quality of life across the state. Taking an educational tack, the association has posted on its website the university’s latest economic development report with data that show, for example, that the U of M creates $8.6 billion in total economic impact in Minnesota annually and its graduates account for 1 in every 43 jobs in the state.

Equally persuasive is the role that U of M alumni play in the state’s and nation’s economies. The university’s graduates have formed 10,000 companies in Minnesota and another 9,000 across the nation; they employ 500,000 people in Minnesota and another 600,000 nationally. These businesses generate $100 billion in annual revenues in Minnesota and another $130 billion nationally.

In Tennessee, a key focus for the University of Tennessee Alumni Association’s new strategic plan is to realize strong advocacy for the UT system of higher education through an influential legislative relations program. Association leaders are mapping out a five-year implementation plan that concentrates on greater internal alignment within the university around legislative activities and communications, more targeted alumni engagement on key issues and, within the association, enhanced budget resources for legislative advocacy matched with defined outcomes and metrics – essentially a business plan for alumni advocacy.

Tough Trends but Strong Voices

Although relationships between public universities and their state governments are complex, alumni voices do count. Successful alumni personify the impact of postsecondary education on individuals, families, businesses and communities – and their informed awareness-building serves to sharpen the message. Alumni provide a continuous collective presence and keep the conversation going with focus and purpose.

In many cases, though, the advantages of generating alumni engagement have yet to be fully explored. For example, despite momentum toward the power of “one” in the 10-institution University of California system, advocacy efforts are largely decentralized on each campus, and the University of California-Berkeley appears to be the only institution with a strong advocacy presence attached to its alumni association.

Yet even in this tumultuous state budget cycle, there are occasional pleasant surprises. One of the most dramatic shifts has occurred in Virginia, where state support to the flagship University of Virginia has been steadily dropping in recent decades – from about 26 percent in 1990 to about 7 percent last year. In January, new Gov. Robert F. McDonnell delighted constituents by pledging to restore some recent recession-based cutbacks and provide institutions with predictable state support in the future. Gov.McDonnell’s goal was economic – he pledged to increase the number of Virginians with college degrees by 100,000 during the next 15 years, and, in particular, the number who earn degrees in science and technology. In announcing his plan in January, Gov. McDonnell pointed out that education returns more tax revenue to the state than it costs. Since 2000, enrollment in Virginia’s colleges has grown by more than 31 percent, while the state’s per-student contribution to higher education has shrunk by about half, according to a report that Gov. McDonnell commissioned last year.

From state to state, issues and statistics vary, but one common thread connects alumni advocates. Whether the cause is universal health care, relief for Japan or the value of an education, the most successful advocates are well-informed, united around a shared purpose and coordinated in their efforts to achieve maximum impact. While a university’s administration may set the policies, it is the alumni association that has access to the people. And as the growth in these networks demonstrates, many alumni want to serve their institutions by helping shape public opinion in civic clubs, schools, neighborhoods and businesses across the state.

By Janis Johnson, Senior Partner


1 “State Higher Education Finance FY2010,” by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO)

2 “The Path to Prosperity: A Policy of Investment,” by Dan Hurley, Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, May 2007

3 The Global Ripple by the Center for Global Leadership, December 8, 2010

4 “Viewpoints: Don’t Take a Meat Ax to Higher Education,” by Hans Johnson, Merced Sun-Star, March 22, 2011

5 Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Minnesota, 2011

6 “Virginia Governor’s Proposed Covenant With Colleges Defies Other States’ Cuts,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 27, 2011

Final Report of Findings, November, 2010

Conducted by The Napa Group and PEG, LTD


As university and alumni association funding resources become tighter and continue to change, one of the front-burner questions today is: “What is the best funding model for our alumni relations activities?” Traditional options includes dues, service fees, university or foundation funding, annual  fund support, student fees, affinity relationships and more. The reality is that strategically driven practices and funding models are more important than ever.

A strategic planning project by The Napa Group for the University of Tennessee Alumni Association and a subsequent research project by PEG, Ltd., with Oakland University prompted this survey of 20 public and private institutions. In the process, we also gathered data on several trends that are impacting alumni relations programming priorities, association structuring, communications, and mission and vision. The question about the best funding model is not being considered in isolation – in fact, a number of associations have initiated and/or completed comprehensive strategic planning projects in recent years to tackle these interrelated questions and position themselves for growth and stability for the future.

During March-June 2010, we interviewed heads of alumni associations or alumni relations offices at 20 institutions: Penn State, Lehigh, Georgetown, Duke, Oregon State, Tennessee (UTAA), Ohio State, UCLA, University of Virginia (UVA), Mills College, North Dakota State University (NDSU), University of Illnois, Chico State, George Washington University (GWU), University of Central Florida (RIT), Oakland University, University of Missouri, University of Kentucky and University of Florida.


  • The traditional independence of alumni associations at many universities is changing. While many continue as dues-paying organizations and hold their 501c3 status, they also are strategically creating alignment with institutional leadership, development, and other parts of the advancement operation to increase the broader goal – alumni “engagement” with their institutions. “Interdependence” rather than traditional “independence” is a common theme. Silos are breaking down for the good of the whole.
  • The causes for these changes are many, including two key trends: (1) dues often no longer cover the costs of delivering effective alumni relations and (2) support from university budgets, though increasingly important to delivering alumni programs, is in some cases declining or holding steady at the same time that the alumni population is growing. Further, other traditional income sources, such as affinity partnerships (corporate credit card programs) are also disappearing, and alumni associations are taking a new look at more varied sources of income.
  • Perhaps most significantly, this is driving alumni relations offices toward a more strategic focus on priority-setting based on (1) creating and articulating value, (2) positioning for relevancy, and (3) ensuring ROI as defined by the interests of alumni in each institution.
  • As a result, associations are adopting a more sophisticated market-driven focus to( 1) understand what alumni need and want in their relationship with alma mater and (2) connect alumni programming more closely to institutional priorities.
  • There is no “one size fits all” for alumni programming or funding. Yet alumni offices are setting priorities and delivering services to their broad constituencies through a smart blend of high- tech and high-touch activities. In the process, they are considering opportunities for innovation as well as traditional activities they must “stop doing.”
  • Metrics matter. Alumni relations is increasingly being defined as part of the “engagement funnel,” the entry point in a lifecycle of activities (beginning with students) and ideally converting engagement to giving.
  • The umbrella theme that unites all these activities is “the case for investment” – sustainable funding for alumni relations. The common denominator for success is a thorough understanding at the university level of the importance of the role of alumni relations and the ability of the alumni relations organization to make itself relevant not only to the colleges and other parts of the university but also to the rest of the advancement team and the broader alumni body.
  • A good example of how developing the “case for investment” has paid off is the University of Tennessee Alumni Association, which undertook a year-long strategic planning project in 2009-2010. Key wins of this comprehensive project include: greater alignment and role definition between the central association and decentralized campus alumni offices; new investments in technology at the system level for the benefit of all to enhance databases for segmented alumni audiences and affinity groups and eventually eliminate “shadow” databases; a new senior-level position for alumni and development communications and enriched collaboration with the central university Public and Government Relations office; and new short- term funding from the university administration along with a plan for achieving long-term institutional support.


Current funding mechanisms:

  • Primarily membership dues (annual and lifetime): Missouri, Oakland, University of Florida, Penn State,Ohio State
  • Fees-for-services rendered: NDSU
  • Primarily or solely institutionally funded/in transition: Mills, Lehigh, RIT, GWU
  • Foundation-funded: UCF (in transition), UTAA (in transition)
  • Alumni gifts: Illinois
  • Primarily blended sources: Georgetown, Duke, Oregon State, UCLA, UVA, Chico State, Kentucky
  • Dues-paying alumni association are relying less on dues to fund their activities. Certain associations have taken steps recently to change their funding models. The most recent example is the University of Illinois Alumni Association. In addition, UCF is moving from a successful dues-pay model to funding by the UCF Foundation for mutual benefit – to minimize direct competition with fundraising, become more inclusive with the rest of the university, expand foundation outreach to the entire alumni base, and increase focus on building affinity and engagement with all alumni.
  • Other associations express the concern that emphasis on dues undervalues engagement and that alumni are confused about the differences between dues and giving as part of their association or institutional support.
  • Certain well-established public institutions with robust alumni associations focus on engaging all alumni and conduct this outreach at the same time that they have strong success with a membership-dues structure – including Penn State, Oregon State, Missouri, Kentucky and the University of Virginia (UVA). They believe this approach provides more stability, autonomy, and leverage. While retaining its independent status, for example, the UVA Alumni Association collaborates with central development’s Office of Engagement in several areas for mutual benefit, including regularly updating contact reports.
  • A wide range of funding sources support alumni relations, depending on the institutional history, culture, and structure – primarily dues, institutional support, affinity programs, donations/gifts, events, and conference center income.
  • Percentages of institutional funding for alumni relations continue to vary widely. At Mills College, the alumni relations office is funded 100% by the central administration; at Lehigh, the association (no dues) receives about 85% of its revenues from the university (with events and affinity programs supplying the rest); at Chico State, university support is 50%; at Oregon State, a dues association, university funding is less than 20%.
  • Several alumni associations have built endowments from membership dues, especially lifetime memberships, and rely on that income for operating expenses. Increasingly they are adding dedicated fundraisers to their own operations to build their own revenue-generating programs that are different from those in the development office (such as association-funded student scholarships or overall endowment growth for various programs and needs). Others say they are considering short-term or one-time endowment campaigns to build a firm funding base for services in demand.
  • Because of reductions in funding, participants at alumni and parent events are increasingly being asked to pay nominal fees.

 Organizational Structure and Integration

  • Alumni associations typically fit in one of three categories with respect to their organization and relationship to the university – dependent, interdependent, or independent. These structures are shifting as funding resources become more critical and as associations are rebranding themselves and reevaluating their mission, vision, and value proposition for the 21st century.
  • Historically independent associations, such as Ohio State this year, are becoming more interdependent with their institutions, to strengthen their collaboration with alumni and the university, to leverage their value with the rest of the institution and its priorities, and to develop more sustainable support for their activities through additional institutional resources.
  • At the same time, associations are reevaluating the mission and outcome of alumni relations. At Missouri, for example, the association’s mission statement focuses on “time and talent” – “Support alumni in giving time and talent to the university.” At George Washington University, the mission also encompasses “treasure” – “Encourage alumni, gather the voice of alumni, cultivate philanthropy.”
  • Increasingly alumni relations and development are viewed as part of the same relationship- building spectrum, not as disconnected activities. Once deliberately separate, there is a greater appreciation of each other’s contributions to the whole and respect for the activities. In fact, the traditional terms “friendraiser” and “fundraiser” are thought to be outdated terms but the concept of not confusing alumni relations as strictly a fundraising function is recognized as very important.
  • How advancement offices distinguish the function varies. At Lehigh, the alumni program is focused on engagement – recruiting and building – and annual fund discovery. At UCLA, at the other end of the continuum, major gift fundraisers also make sure that donors join the alumni association, if they are not members, as part of the lifetime value of these relationships. At Penn State, there is a high correlation between association membership and giving to the university – in 2008-09, alumni contributed one-third of the total gifts to the university and of that group, 36% were members of the alumni association. In these examples, association membership is purposeful – alumni are cultivated as part of an overall collaborative strategy with development and as one of the first steps in   ongoing affinity to the institution itself. This has caused these organizations to align their activities for greater collaboration and interdependence. Studies at Oregon State have shown that dues- payers make more gifts to the institution and the average amount of their gifts is higher.
  • At many institutions, the alumni association or alumni relations and development report to the same person – for example at UCLA, Penn State, GWU, UTAA, Lehigh, Mills, and Missouri. This is seen as an opportunity to leverage a lifecycle of relationships and, ultimately, financial support to the institution.
  • Restructuring advancement offices is leading to broader collaboration among development, communications, and alumni relations and is accompanied by access to more sustained funding for alumni associations. Sometimes this is not structural but rather built on strong internal relationships, such as at Oregon State.


  • Many universities are bringing alumni relations and the annual fund together into one functional area.  Both activities are focused on messaging to the middle and entry level audiences on the development pyramid. Annual fund programs are becoming integrated into alumni relations and/or alumni associations at some public and private institutions, including Missouri, Lehigh, Georgetown, and Mills College. In part this is seen as the front end of the engagement curve that eventually leads to higher levels of giving in partnership with the development office, which typically concentrates on major gifts.
  • Career networking, both for alumni and students, frequently leads the list of programs with an increasingly higher priority for alumni relations, given the state of the economy, the job market, and the mutual benefits of alumni networking and mentoring. Other top program priorities: recognizing and sharing successes of distinguished alumni through awards and other spotlights, regional events, social networking, athletics-related activities, community service, and student programming.
  • Student programming is gaining ground as a strategic opportunity – not only for “alumni in training” but also for early cultivation of lifetime relationships, including giving. Ohio State calls it “investing in the future.” At UVA, for example, students receive association membership and benefits free while they are students, and then are given another seven years upon graduation to complete paying their $450 lifetime membership in the association. This early focus has helped the association grow to 54,000 lifetime members (for a onetime fee of $450) versus its 4000 annual members who pay $35 a year.


  • As alumni associations conduct self-studies to benefit from governance best practices, there is  also a trend toward requiring donations by alumni board members – at any level (Georgetown) or at a minimum level ($1000 at Oregon State and $500 at UCF). Other associations strongly encourage but do not require giving (Chico State, Duke, Illinois, Lehigh Mills, Ohio State, NDSU, Kentucky, UVA).


  • Associations are becoming more data-driven in all respects, with an eye on measuring ROI, setting priorities, and proving the value of their mission, vision, and programming.
  • Objectives for alumni communications activities are undergoing changes as association mission, vision, strategy, and structure within the institution evolve, and the balance between print, electronic, and social media is also changing. While we did not dig deeply into this issue, the survey found an increasing trend toward segmenting alumni marketing messages along with these overall messaging priorities: awareness of the institution, its priorities, and its successes; awareness of the association and its benefits; ways to engage with the association and the university; career and business networking activities; association-only activities; and broadcast emails/newsletters for campus, regional, and chapter events.


Having established the various funding mechanisms, we also asked the institutions to describe how they spent their revenues. Their responses indicate that their decision making is driven increasingly by (1) creating and articulating value, (2) positioning themselves for relevancy, and (3) ensuring ROI, although their spending priorities varied widely – from staff and operations to scholarships, reunions, communications and the magazine, travel and education, other events, student programming, and miscellaneous forms of outreach.

So we asked them to state their top two or three priorities or what they do best, which provided a clearer picture of how their funding mechanisms advanced their strategic direction. Again, there was wide variation but also some common themes among those who responded to this question:

Chico State: Communications, engagement, fundraising

Duke: Connect Duke alums with each other and Duke students with the institution, high-caliber and meaningful programming, engagement

Georgetown: Engaging more alumni, deepening relationship between alumni and alma mater, engaging alumni through specific and tailored programming

GWU: Strategic communications, career services, grassroots requests

Illinois: Lifecycle of affinity, advocacy, career services

Kentucky: Engagement, connection with each other, support for the university

Lehigh: Career networking, student/young alumni programming, traditional class-based reunions

Mills: Increasing engagement overall, including annual fund participation; more successful reunion programs; educating the students about the importance of giving back

Missouri: Student programs, communications, membership

NDSU: Strategic communication, student engagement, services (career and grassroots requests) Oakland: Lifelong connections, contribute to association and university brand awareness, new funding resources

Ohio State: Good value proposition for alumni, expand alumni engagement, voice of alumni to university

Oregon State: Communications, membership program, programs of increasing value and engagement with university and each other

Penn State: Membership growth that allows more programs and services, student and young alumni relationships

RIT: Helping development raise $50 million/year, staff retention for long-term relationship-building

Tennessee: Engagement, legislative advocacy, volunteer leadership for university

UCLA: Strategic marketing community, engagement, being seen as experts in alumni relations

UCF: Consistent communications, right messaging, increasing sponsorships and affinity programs

UVA: Engagement, high-value programs, volunteer training and support


“If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.” Tom Peters

While much uncertainty remains in the post-recession economy, one trend is clear. Many previous jobs will not exist again as companies resist returning to “what was” and, instead, invest in flexible staffing approaches to optimize productivity. They are augmenting core fulltime staff with special just-in-time expertise at lower costs and leveraging technology to limit staff expansion and optimize the historical productivity of the last 18 months.

Both for-profit and non-profit organizations are responding to the significant expansion in the “contingent workforce” – positions that can be quickly added or cut to meet fluctuations in business demands. And this group is larger than ever – as much as 30% of the workforce today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

This significant trend prizes individual talent – especially the proven, experienced professional who brings extensive expertise and a strong track record of delivering results. Of particular importance to employers will be the multi-skill capabilities of these experienced professionals. Future positions will require not only technical and analytical skills, but a blending of the softer capacities such as strategy development, people management and marketing. Those who have this range of capabilities will be the most attractive to employers.

New technologies are also smoothing the way for adaptive leadership styles and structural changes inherent in these shifting dynamics. Using “individual contributors” with industry-specific knowledge to fill skill gaps in critical areas allows organizations to bring in knowledge workers to move a project forward, mentor a talented younger employee, contribute fresh perspectives and engage collaboratively and efficiently without adding to fixed costs. Many companies have tremendous needs for workers with higher skills and credentials. Yet, because they are only recently leveling from a period of economic upheavals, many early innovators are just beginning to ramp up such new thinking and strategies. As a result, they lack the training programs to on-board these professionals most strategically and efficiently, and they are only beginning to manage the issues of an intergenerational workforce.

In our whitepaper, Rethinking Volunteerism as a Workforce Growth Strategy, we wrote about how demographic and economic changes are leading to greater reliance on volunteer talent for critical jobs once held by staff in nonprofit organizations. Now it’s time to build on a parallel development – the large inventory of professionals who can contribute valuable expertise in short-term positions and then move on to the next opportunity. The huge potential of this flexible workforce is a win-win for the individuals and the companies who employ them if approached thoughtfully and with the appropriate level of front-end management by both parties.

Baby Boomers Are Part of the Solution

More than 76 million Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, and many are beginning to retire. Their departure from fulltime jobs will create significant gaps in the workforce as they take their considerable talent, expertise in multiple areas and leadership with them. This group is not only the best-educated generation in recent history; it is larger than the two next generations that follow. At more than 40% of today’s workforce, Baby Boomers have been leaders in for-profit corporations and non-profit associations, and as they retire, they will collectively take decades of knowledge and deep experience with them. We noted in Rethinking Volunteerism that as many as 500 of the largest companies can expect to lose half of their senior management in the next few years.

Today’s Boomers view retirement as a chance to continue learning, contributing and staying productive. In fact, 70% of them want to include work in retirement as a way to do this, as well as help pay the bills, according to a May 2009 study by Age Wave and Harris Interactive. The study also predicted that more companies would introduce new policies and strategies to “recruit, retain, and engage talented, experienced, and knowledgeable older workers.”

Baby Boomers look at retirement differently from previous generations. Their ambition is to enter a dynamic new phase of life. For them, “encore careers,” flexible part-time work and/or volunteering will facilitate personal meaning, social impact, more control over their time and compensation. They are prime candidates for this newly flexible workforce, particularly if they are self-aware, flexible and can commit to the team’s success – and if the companies hiring them have strategies to ensure successful selection and on-boarding.

The Shape of Things to Come

Distributed networks, remote access and onsite project teams have reshaped the global workplace in the past two decades, facilitated to a large extent by the Internet, diverse software platforms, social media and mobile technologies. Such advances also allowed tech companies to keep leaner, more cost-effective core staff and flex up or down through project-based contracting. Today’s workers who contribute to a knowledge economy accentuate how professional know-how has become a measurable part of the supply chain.

The recession intensified the “war for talent” as organizations with agile human resources management attempted to maintain their competitive advantage and others considered doing business differently. About 52% of the respondents in a study of 175 U.S.-based companies worldwide said they are more concerned about attrition of critical-skill or top-performing employees as the economy recovers than they were before the downturn.

Non-profit organizations are also aware that they must respond to generational shifts, new technology tools, workforce changes and an evolving marketplace that calls for new approaches to leadership, structures and collaboration. “The sector is only as strong as its workforce,” noted a recent study sponsored by The James Irvine Foundation. “To attract and develop the leadership, ingenuity, and commitment needed to do this important work, nonprofits will need resources and information about recruitment, retention, mobilizing non-traditional workers, succession planning, and new models of shared leadership and management.” Smart investments in specialized talent in short-term or interim roles enable non-profit organizations to advance their mission while planning for longer-term service and financial stability.

Below are key characteristics of the workforce of the next decade:

  • There will be a continued and increased demand for top talent.
  • Firms will become adept at engaging talent around short-term needs.
  • Employees will expect flexible employment options, both short-term and long-term,
  • Workers will put themselves up for bid for specific jobs, hours, duration, minimum price, benefits and perks, and employers will contract with each worker for the job to be delivered.
  • “Agile” organizations will be the survivors.

Redefining and Repositioning Individual Value

Making the transition to this new workforce model is not a simple “plug and play.” It’s a big challenge for senior professionals to move from influential executive roles into consulting positions, collaborative teams and even line responsibilities, let alone the junior managers who often supervise them.

Here’s what we’ve found among our clients:
• Individual contributors bring specialized skills suited for particular areas of the business, but not necessarily the ability to articulate a broader vision of their capabilities or position themselves for strategic value to a specific team, company or nonprofit organization. This becomes more complicated as they move from position to position without the tools to navigate in different organizational cultures.
• Organizations typically lack the orientation and training programs necessary to integrate these professionals into the culture effectively and quickly. Not only that, but shorter-term thinking may prevent integrating or measuring their contributions beyond a given project for more permanent value.

When individuals with talent understand their own personalities and how to navigate among the diverse styles of co-workers, and when organizations recognize how to truly tap into and leverage their talents, the flexible workplace will become more productive, with measurable satisfaction and ROI.

Incorporating Individual Talent Effectively

For more than 25 years, The Napa Group has been counseling organizations and individuals on the change dynamics that implement timely strategies, leadership and growth. Today we firmly believe that these substantial workforce shifts call for new thinking and new behaviors. That means reshaping structures and systems to incorporate the considerable individual talent that will allow for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations to grow and flourish in the post-recession economy. Failure to do so will at best maintain the status quo while others are shaking up their internal dynamics with creative, often out-of-the-box approaches.

We assist our client organizations in assessing their current circumstances against the possibilities and in taking a more comprehensive approach – deciding where and how to invest, developing strategies for managing their talent and productivity, building collaboration and teamwork, supporting leadership growth and devising methods of ensuring mutual satisfaction. Today, this means developing an organization-wide vision that not only relies on a core full-time staff, but also encourages and supports the value of individual contributors and creating formal approaches to recruiting and managing contract talent. Some organizations already do this very well, but many do not invest in critical areas of success, such as helping line managers strategically integrate individual contributors into their units, teams and organizational culture.

For individuals, whether you are inside in an existing job or seeking new opportunities, positioning yourself as a successful contributor in this new workforce is not a path for the insecure. Through a combination of proven methodologies, our executive coaching program will direct you toward really knowing yourself – your capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and strategic value – as the first step to reframing your job skills, potential contributions and workplace savvy. This often requires a new awareness that, in reality, your success will depend on the success of the business outcomes; in other words, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Identifying and articulating your individual value proposition and how and where to leverage it will open many new doors, whether you interact with clients as an external consultant, work on onsite teams for the short term or engage with them virtually. These capabilities also will help you adapt your personal business marketing to various situations and move successfully from organization to organization.
The workforce is changing. It’s flexible, and the value of experienced individual talent ready and willing to reinvest skills to reinvigorate the economy is one of the brightest spots on the horizon.

By RJ Valentino

March 2010


“Retirement at the Tipping Point: The Year That Changed Everything,” by Age Wave, Conducted by Harris Interactive, May 2009. www.agewave.com

“Effect of the Economic Crisis on HR Programs,” Update: August 2009. www.watsonwyatt.com

“Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector,” by LaPiana Consulting and The James Irvine Foundation, November 2009. mwww.irvine.org

“The Flexible Workforce: A Secret Weapon in the War for Talent,” MSquared Insight Newsletter, 5th edition, 2009. www.msquared.com

“The New Economy: More Startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity,” by Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine, May 22, 2009.

“Top Predictions,” Workforce Management. http://www.workforce.com/section/09/feature/26/04/79/260481.html