Meet Vince Nelson
Vince Nelson may keep a collection of stuffed bulldogs and other Drake University paraphernalia in his office, but the CEO of the UI Alumni Association insists he is all Hawkeye. A strong allegiance to his alma mater in Des Moines notwithstanding, he has been working to engage Iowa’s alumni since 1988, taking the helm of the UI Alumni Association in 1997. Today he oversees a $3.6 million annual budget, as well as the many programs and services the association offers to more than 50,000 members.
Nelson recently spoke with Parent Times about how the organization cultivates relationships with alumni—before they even graduate.
First of all, what is the alumni association?
Our organization was formed, very simply, as Alumni Records 145 years ago, when the university decided, “We should keep track of our graduates, and then we should communicate with them.” A newsletter developed. Next came reunions—getting the classes together on campus to renew experiences and to reunite. The next thing was to pass the hat—so, private giving and development work. That’s how things started. It was a way to formalize that connection. We’ve been membership-based since 1948. We offer regular communications, such as the Iowa Alumni Magazine, and organize a variety of events and other programming.
So what does an alumni association have to do with current students?
We wanted to engage our students while they were still on campus, so we started S.T.A.T., or Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow. Students who join get a T-shirt and about $250 worth of discounts and benefits that can be used throughout the year. Last year we had some 3,300 student members.
What are the benefits of joining S.T.A.T.?
Members enjoy a number of opportunities that are available only to them—from seminars on careers and social networking to free-food events at places like Mesa Pizza or Buffalo Wild Wings. We also have a student leadership organization called S.T.A.T. Ambassadors, which is comprised of 75 to 80 students who have applied for membership. This group is responsible for a number of civic programs, such as the Nearly Naked Mile, a charitable project in which students donate clothing to the Johnson County United Action for Youth, and an annual dodgeball tournament at Kinnick Stadium that last year raised $3,000 for the UI Children’s Hospital. They also assist us with reunion and awards programs. It’s great experience for their résumés.
We view our alumni as a tremendous resource for the institution, not just in terms of financial support, but also in volunteering, in connecting, and in serving the university as advocates, ambassadors, and fans. They are the only constituency that never leaves the university—everybody else does.
You’ve been at Iowa for nearly 25 years. What has changed in the alumni world?
Engaging new membership is tougher. I think 20 years ago, alumni thought, “Yeah, I should join.” Today’s graduate is looking for value, as well they should—they’re coming out of college with greater amounts of debt. We need to show how and why it’s important for them stay engaged. With so many people competing for their dollar, they have to make choices just like all of us do.
Another area that has changed is career connections and networking. We have IOWA Clubs across the country, and these continue to grow. They offer UI graduates a personal connection with other alumni in their area through a variety events, many of them social in nature.
Once a Hawkeye…always a Hawkeye!
The UI Alumni Association makes it easy for Iowa graduates to connect with the university as well as with other alumni in their area. To learn more about the membership-based association and its benefits, visit www.iowalum.com.