The string of cocktail parties and sporting events at the Yale Clubs of Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk and Wilton had stopped attracting alumni three years ago, and the clubs had dwindled to the point of disappearance. So Edward Greenberg ’59 and other local alumni established the Yale Club of Lower Fairfield County in 2007 and set on a project to give the Yale Club a new face by participating in the Alumni Day of Service.
The Yale Alumni Day of Service, piloted in 2008 and institutionalized at Yale Clubs across the world last year, focuses on activities contributing to local communities. The event, which will take place on May 15 this year, also serves as a catalyst for increased participation in Yale Clubs following a shift away from purely social events.
“It gave us a little different image,” Greenberg said. “We were a lot more than a club that was just going to run social events for our amusement. We were going to do serious work.”
David Sanchez GRD ’84, chairman of the day of service and president of the Yale Club of South Florida, said 40 percent of those who attended the day of service last year had never attended a Yale alumni event before. But since the day of service, he said, there has been a roughly 30 percent increase in his club’s participation.
Much of the increase in participation comes from younger alumni who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, Sanchez said.
Nory Babbitt, director for club and association relations at the Association of Yale Alumni, said younger alumni are drawn to the day of service because they are busy people with little free time, and they want their free time to matter. She said the family-friendly nature of the day of service, and its time, on a Saturday morning, means young alumni don’t have to spend money on a baby-sitter. Before, the evening events that Yale Clubs hosted made it difficult for young alumni with children to attend.
The Yale Clubs have been looking for ways to reach out to more alums and energize their programs. University President Richard Levin said the alumni day of service has been an enormously successful innovation in the University’s attempts to engage alumni.
And while the day of service is officially only one day, Sanchez said the sustainable nature of the service projects has made service a routine aspect of Yale Clubs. This has also helped maintain the increase in participation in the club beyond a single day.
But beyond the numbers, Greenberg said it is the impact that the Yale Clubs are having on their communities that is the true measure of success.
“We’re not really that numbers-oriented in terms of judging the success of the things we do,” Greenberg said. “We’re more focused on the impact in the community. I really think the days of counting numbers are over.”
He added that many of the service events his club offers, including sponsoring a luncheon during Christmastime at a local retirement home, don’t require high turnout to be successful.
Sanchez and four other club presidents interviewed all said while service had been on their agenda before the day of service, the event gave the club a boost in participation.