Higher education

University of Iowa looks to merge foundation with alumni association

Harreld: 'While we have a clear vision, there is much work to do'

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld speaks with Alex Taylor of the University of Iowa and Woofables Bakery at the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet at the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on Thursday, February 16, 2017.
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld speaks with Alex Taylor of the University of Iowa and Woofables Bakery at the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet at the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on Thursday, February 16, 2017.

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is merging its long-independent fundraising foundation and alumni association into one “new, unified organization” in hopes of leveraging the strengths and expertise of both for “more meaningful alumni engagement and increased philanthropic support.”

“Because of their overlapping missions and aspirations, a unified, comprehensive organization will allow us to better serve the university for decades to come,” UI President Bruce Harreld wrote in a message from his office Monday.

The merger — essentially — could dissolve the traditional model of an independent UI Foundation and UI Alumni Association and bring them together under a new identity — although details have not been ironed out, according to Harreld’s message.

“While we have a clear vision, there is much work to do,” Harreld wrote.

UI Foundation President and CEO Lynette Marshall is to lead the new organization, and Harreld has asked the foundation and association boards to “address unification in the coming months.”

Harreld said he’s proposing unification based on findings and recommendations from a committee of foundation and association leaders he formed in the fall. That group — through meetings with campus stakeholders — was charged with exploring ways the organizations could “more closely align to deliver world-class awareness, engagement and support” for UI.

Although Harreld released few details Monday of what the merger might mean, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the committee’s report highlighted a handful of benefits of a “new advancement model.”

Those potential benefits include:

— Eliminating the “dues-paying” membership model that serves just a portion of the alumni base.

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— Increasing alumni engagement, including at the academic level with individual colleges.

— Offering more volunteer service opportunities for alumni.

— Creating a “life-cycle approach” that honors individual relationships with Iowa.

“This is not about saving money, but about working more collaboratively and better serving alumni,” Beck said in an email.

Some alumni upon hearing the news raised questions and concerns over the impact. Beck responded to speculation about job cuts by saying, “The university is committed to ensuring employees of both organizations have employment opportunities.”

UI Foundation spokeswoman Dana Larson directed questions about the potential impact to Beck. UI Alumni Association President Jeff Kueter said Harreld “has asked for the creation of a new, unified, seamless alumni relations and development organization.”

“What structure and form that organization takes is our challenge moving ahead,” he said.

Harreld in his message said the idea follows best practices in the country in its aim to improve efficiency and best fulfill organizational missions and values.

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“Thank you for your support and patience as we work through the details of the new structure, which is a proven approach at many of our peer institutions,” Harreld said in his campus message.

Consider the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, which in 2014 combined its foundation and alumni associations. The impetus for that union involved the growing demand for private philanthropy in an environment of shrinking state support for public higher education, said Mike Knetter, president and CEO of the UW Foundation.

In the Wisconsin review of their two organizations, Knetter said, they found 90 percent overlap in the audience and what they were trying to do with the audience.

“Whether you are asking someone to volunteer to be an advocate or to make a gift, it’s all part of the same kind of thing,” he said. “You are asking for support.”

In fact, Knetter said, the two groups were making their appeals and connections in “mostly the same ways.”

“And it just seemed like, why are we both out there separately engaging this overlapping audience with similar requests?” he said. “It’s just confusing at the end of the day for alumni. And, if you put the interests of alumni first, I think it makes complete sense.”

Knetter said the merger has improved efficiency and brought in “a lot” more donations.

“Not only do we not regret this, we’re really happy that we made the move that we did,” he said.

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The UI Foundation, organized in 1956 as a nonprofit fundraising arm for the institution, is governed by a volunteer board of directors that elects its officers and appoints staff members. It serves as a channel for private contributions benefiting all areas of the university — from student scholarships and research, to health care and facility upgrades.

The foundation recently capped its largest-ever fundraising campaign by surpassing its $1.7 billion goal with a nearly $2 billion total.

The UI Alumni Association aims to “bring together alumni and students, sustain the Iowa spirit, and enrich the university community — both on campus and around the world.” It also is a nonprofit enterprise with more than 40,000 members.

The association’s articles of incorporation state its powers are granted through the section of Iowa Code dealing with nonprofits. According to the code, dissolution requires approval from the director board and the members, “by two-thirds of the votes cast or a majority of the voting power, whichever is less.”

Cathy Zaharis, director of professional and employer development in the Tippie College of Business, was on the UI committee that looked into a new foundation-association model and said the group focused on improving the university’s outreach and alumni engagement.

“When you have a large organization like this, things tend to get siloed,” Zaharis said. “How do you step back and make it a more integrated process?”

She also had few details of what a merger might look like and require — in terms of process. But, Zaharis said, the idea is to take a more “holistic approach.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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