If the names on buildings from Bass Library to Harkness Tower are any indication, Yale alumni have long supported their alma mater with donations.
But Mark Dollhopf ’77, executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni, said this tendency to give back to one’s university is a foreign concept in other countries. In an attempt to improve the AYA’s reputation internationally and lend expertise to other universities, 65 alumni, along with their family and friends, traveled to Turkey for two weeks to help universities there improve their alumni relations.
In 2008, the AYA introduced YaleGALE, the Global Alumni Leadership Exchange, which has since worked in Australia and Japan to teach the ways of the AYA.
Katherine Edersheim ’87, the chair of the YaleGALE committee, said Turkey’s engaging, youthful population made it attractive to the Office of International Affairs, with whom the committee collaborates when deciding where to go.
Resit Ergener ’74, a professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul, said that for the many Turkish universities that originally began as government-owned institutions, university administrations could turn to the state, rather than alumni, to generate funds.
Ergener said Yale’s visit was well-timed for Turkey because demand for higher education in the country has increased, and state funding no longer provides enough support. Now, universities are seeking assistance from alternative sources, including alumni.
Edersheim said YaleGALE demonstrates to foreign institutions ways the AYA encourages Yale’s own alumni to support their universities. YaleGALE’s proposals include hosting reunions and organizing groups of alumni with shared interests — ideas AYA already uses at home.
But the idea is not totally new to some universities in Turkey. Elvan Zihnioglu, head of fundraising at Bogazici University, which YaleGALE visited in July, said her school already has a successful alumni association and is knowledgeable on effective ways to fundraise.
“Bogazici, as a state university of 145 years, is very much aware of local and global ways of establishing more effective ways of reach[ing] its alumni,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Zihnioglu added that Bogazici University has a thriving, 25-year-old alumni association with more than 14,000 members. Still, she said her organization was able to use Yale’s “well-managed grassroots” system as an example. She said donations in Turkey tend to be corporate rather than individual gifts.
Both Susie Krenz, former chair of the AYA Board of Governers, and Edersheim said establishing this personal connection to one’s university, which in turn encourages an alumnus to donate, does not occur overnight.
“You can’t instill passion [for one’s university],” Edersheim said. “You have to find it and build on it.”
Part of AYA’s goal was to increase its international stature, and the trips have already helped to achieve this, Krenz said.
In both Japan and Turkey, the alumni representatives made the front page of local newspapers, Krenz said.
“YaleGALE trips have functioned as great ambassadors for Yale,” Krenz said. “They have given a personal feel to the Yale name and [done] nothing but make Yale look good.”
Linda Lorimer, University vice president and secretary, also said the program offers not only AYA, but Yale in general an opportunity to network with leading universities from around the world.
Edersheim said Yale is the first American university to have this type of program. Next summer, YaleGALE will travel to China.