Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Alumni with strong corporate ties make a perfect match for engagement

By David Schwartz
Published: September 17th, 2019

Alumni just naturally have a tendency to be supportive of their Alma Maters, and those who have attained significant wealth often express that support through philanthropy. When such individuals either own a corporation or have high-level executive positions, it can represent a perfect inroad for strengthening the university’s ties with that corporation and potentially lead to stronger engagement activity. And, as industry engagement executives have found, that connection can lead either way; while it might seem more likely that personal philanthropy would lead to corporate engagement, corporate activity can sometimes precede personal philanthropy. The key in either case, they agree, is to keep those “pitches” distinct from each other, as the motivations for personal and corporate support can be quite different.

“I find as I talk with different university corporate engagement or relationship departments that they can emphasize different aspects of partnerships,” says Stacy M. Stanford, director of corporate and foundation relations for the University of Georgia. “Our team identifies itself as part of a team of corporate and foundation relations; we are separate, but in the same department, so the bigger focus falls under UGA development and alumni relations. Specifically, on our side, our goal is finding meaningful connections to corporations — most of the time directly through alumni. And the more prominent the role in the company held by the alumnus, the quicker the relationship evolves.”

There are many companies, she continues, that have a UGA alum serving as CEO, and if they are based in Georgia they get extra focus and attention. “We work closely with colleagues across alumni and development to identify corporations that could have a meaningful connection to the university and where there may be a high net worth supporter in the organization who may already be supporting the university,” says Stanford.

“We develop specific plans in terms of how to approach these companies,” adds David A. Broecker, chief innovation and collaboration officer with Purdue Research Foundation. “It is not just by happenstance; there really is a deliberate focus.”

“If you look at [our structure], there are two primary departments that engage corporations — my office, on the enterprise level, where we try to maximized interactions and relationships, and we also have our development team that works primarily with alumni. But they work in tandem with our team when it comes to the corporate entity when [the alumnus is active] on the philanthropy side,” says Jack Ellenberg, associate vice president in the Office of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives at Clemson University.

“We respond to core competencies that Clemson has that are either unique to us or that separate us or are in demand from the corporate partners, and we try to align them,” he continues. “Identifying an individual at a higher level in the corporation with a connection to the university is absolutely critical. We actively search out whether we have those individuals in the corporation, and we look for that. We’ve found that when we are looking for someone at a company who has contact with the university, an alum is our first choice. Second would be those with relatives or children. Having that knowledge of the university goes a long, long way in strengthening that connection.”

An in-depth article on tapping into alumni ties for corporate engagement appears in the September issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, CLICK HERE.

Save $100 on a subscription to University-Industry Engagement Advisor. CLICK HERE for details.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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