AYA reveals new plan to unite alumni

The Association of Yale Alumni will unveil a plan next month to help graduates connect through common interests — from Russian chorus to badminton — rather than the more traditional class year or residential college.

AYA Executive Director Mark Dollhopf ’77 said because an increasing number of former students are networking through shared interest groups, his association is endorsing a strategy shift that will mean more funding and personnel dedicated to strengthening such interest-based connections.

In the past two decades, the number of shared interest groups has shot up among alumni of colleges across the country, Dollhopf said. But since these groups are almost entirely run by volunteers, participants often find it difficult to manage the necessary administrative tasks.

“The AYA has watched this trend occur, but we haven’t been able to support it directly,” he said. “Our job now is to support these groups and make sure they coordinate with each other, not compete.”

The AYA plans to hire five additional staff members who will help the shared interest groups and other alumni groups with marketing, communications and planning reunions, Dollhopf said. And in some cases, the AYA may also assist groups in forming executive boards, he said.

The plan — which has been endorsed by the AYA board of governors and the offices of the University — will be presented to the nearly 400 AYA delegates when they gather in New Haven from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16.

Alumni can join shared interest groups based on their identities: black or female Yalies; undergraduate activities, such as the Yale Political Union or a cappella groups; or occupations and hobbies such as law or swimming.

David Schlussel ’80, who established the Yale Alumni Real Estate Association in 2005, said his group will welcome the AYA’s support. Many shared interest groups need the same kinds of assistance, he said, whether it is advice on accepting contributions, setting up a Web site or dealing with mailing lists.

“The AYA is taking excellent steps in the right direction,” Schlussel said. “No matter what type of group it is, there are certainly similar things that all these groups will need.”

The real estate association, which currently has 250 active members in the New York area, hopes to spread the idea of a Yale real estate group to other regions, Schlussel said — but first, volunteers must be willing to make the hefty time commitment.

The AYA’s 35-page strategic plan also explores ways to more directly support the Yale Clubs in seven main metropolitan areas — New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Connecticut and Boston, Dollhopf said.

Yale Club of Chicago President John Biek ’84 said AYA assistance might save his club thousands of dollars in administrative services, though the specific ways in which the AYA will help the Yale Clubs have not yet been released.

The Chicago club, which has about 500 active members, doles out around $18,000 every year to Alumni Services, a for-profit company that helps alumni groups advertise events and deal with administrative paperwork, Biek said.

The final part of the three-part strategic plan involves improving information technology support for alumni groups, including Web site and e-mail assistance, Dollhopf said.

Almost 4,000 Yale alumni serve as volunteers on an advisory board connected to the University.

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