News from Alumni House

What really matters in alumni relations

Mark Dollhopf ’77 is executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni.

Information on the Association of Yale Alumni and its programs is available by calling (203) 432-2586, e-mailing, or visiting

On Saturday, May 15—our Yale Global Day of Service—thousands of alumni and their families and friends will participate in community service projects around the world on behalf of Yale. Twenty-four regional Day of Service volunteer directors and more than 100 local volunteer committee chairs are spending countless hours in developing meaningful service activities and fostering partnerships with nonprofit organizations.

I was recently asked by a colleague at another Ivy League school, “Why are you working so hard to get alumni involved volunteering for nonprofits other than Yale? Isn’t the role of an alumni association to get volunteers working for their school, not other nonprofits?” One of our alums, who serves as president of a regional Yale club, also commented that he already volunteers for local nonprofits and that using the club for promoting community service was not an appropriate use of club resources.

I disagree.

The real meaning of alumni relations, I believe, exists in fostering strong communities of leaders who wish to convey to this and future generations that giving back to society—whether to the institution or on behalf of the institution—is what really matters.

This year, as last year, in over 100 U.S. cities and 12 foreign countries—whether at a homeless shelter in Alabama, a food bank in Wisconsin, an orphanage in Istanbul, or a rural middle school near Beijing—the Yale Day of Service is an opportunity to convey to our alumni, and to local communities everywhere, that service to others is an important core value of Yale.

While this call to service is certainly not unique to elite institutions, it is unique to universities in America, where alumni stewardship—giving back to society—is a cherished tradition. One as old as our Republic. Yalies point to Nathan Hale ’73 (that’s 1773), who made known, “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.”

But I don’t believe that alumni associations have made the most of this cherished tradition. We’ve often been more worried about our wine-and-cheese receptions than the bread-and-butter necessities of those in need. By virtue of the education we received, we are alumni of great privilege, and we must hold ourselves accountable to society because of this privilege. These difficult and challenging economic times especially cry out for volunteer leadership, and our universities should be setting the example and leading the way—not just for students but for alumni as well.

University presidents will underscore this responsibility in countless graduation ceremonies this spring. To newly minted alumni President Levin has counseled, “We will not want to live with the consequences of an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, in this country and around the world. As you seize the opportunities created by new technology, you must also assume the heavy burden of citizenship and share in the responsibility to spread those opportunities to others, who are now deprived of them by accident of birth or geography.”

His counsel rings true not only for students, but for alumni as well, and our AYA must back him up in fostering a community that collectively assumes the “heavy burden of citizenship.” As an alumni family, we are in this together.

Education is a gift that must be received and passed on if it is to have meaning. The training of leaders has no consequence if they choose not to lead, not to set an example. Alumni associations have a newfound responsibility to inspire alumni to action and provide a model for alumni engagement—whether collectively through a Day of Service, or individually as volunteers in other nonprofit organizations.

At the AYA we are crossing a threshold in alumni relations—moving from an association that merely provides alumni service to one that also calls alumni to service.

In times of financial stress, people focus on what really matters, and while thousands of alumni will descend on New Haven and countless other college towns to reune this spring, thousands more will also come together in their local communities to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Giving to Yale ensures the education of the next generation; giving to the community—as Yale alumni leaders—ensures the survival of this generation.

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