How George Mason's CASE Award-Winning Golden Quill Society Engages Young Alumni

George Mason University has what every school wants: young alumni who want to remain engaged.

But until 2011, GMU young alumni felt there was no easy way for them to give back to their community after graduation. That was the year George Mason created the Golden Quill Society, a young alumni leadership group that went on to win a CASE Circle of Excellence award in 2014.

Since then, the Golden Quill Society has created a pipeline for alumni leadership, volunteering, and giving, and helped the GMU Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations better understand the wants and needs of its young alumni community.

We asked George Mason's Associate Director of Alumni Relations, Adrienne Teague, to recap the presentation on the Golden Quill Society that she made at the CASE District 3 Conference in Nashville.

Why did George Mason decide to launch the Golden Quill Society? What were your goals?

Golden Quill Society

It’s really quite simple, there was a need and we wanted to fill it. One day a young alumna, who had been very involved as a Mason student, walked into our Associate Vice President’s office and talked about how she wished there was a way for her to continue her involvement right out of college. After being involved for so many years on campus, graduation was almost a letdown to her because she didn’t have a way to give back in a volunteer capacity. 

Our goal became to create a pipeline for engagement and leadership, so that no young alumnus/a feels disconnected from Mason after graduation. We want to give our graduates a meaningful way to connect back with their alma mater that we hope will prepare them for future leadership within the Alumni Association at a variety of levels and interests.

How has George Mason made the Golden Quill Society a success?

Our recruitment model focuses on a few key components: REALLY STRONG AFFINITY, leadership aptitude, demonstrated leadership while at Mason, and existing meaningful connections. By focusing on these key areas, we are able to really customize who we’re recruiting. If everyone came to the Golden Quill Society (GQS) with a minimum of just “really strong affinity,” we would still be able to capitalize on this so that we can provide them with the proper education and training to build strong and effective advocates and leaders for Mason Young Alumni.

In addition, we work very hard to mirror our student body in our makeup of GQS members. As the largest and most diverse university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we feel strongly that our alumni leadership team should be an accurate representation of our student body so that we are successfully preparing our outreach to meet the needs of every type of alumni.

In addition to strong and diverse recruitment strategies, we also have done extensive work to make sure that we are continually cultivating, educating, and nurturing our alumni leaders. This year, GQS has had three individual professional/leadership development presentations/seminars built into our business-meeting model. We know that not every graduate comes out of Mason with the same leadership exposure or opportunities. So, we want to take the time while our GQS members spend five years of service within our society to really cultivate the leaders that we will need in the future (for the Alumni Association as a whole).

Preparing them to be effective and purposeful leaders not only helps our alumni to be more engaged, but it really helps the Alumni Association ensure its future leadership pipeline will work to aid in growth and support of the University and our Mason alumni. 

What benefits does the Golden Quill Society offer George Mason and its alumni?

Our Mason Young Alumni constituency represents 20% of all Mason alumni—and that number continues to grow. As this constituency becomes the next group of prospects for volunteerism, advocacy, and giving, it is so important to work to engage them in ways that are meaningful and cost-effective (on both ends) immediately after graduation.

The Golden Quill Society is a small, but representative, portion of the larger Mason Young Alumni constituency; however, their advice and insight helps the Alumni Association to better engage with our young alumni and to ensure that we are meeting the needs of this unique constituency, and thus building a lifelong connection with our alumni immediately after graduation. We know as an industry how important it is to keep and connect with new grads in those first two years after graduation. And in our case, the Golden Quill Society helps us to solidify that connection by representing and advocating for the needs of their peers.

What can we learn from the GQS to improve our young alumni engagement and leadership development efforts elsewhere?

I’ve got a couple of tips that I provided as “Lessons Learned” in my CASE III conference presentation in Nashville this past February:

  1. Provide your young alumni with involvement opportunities! Don’t reinvent the wheel…every institution has initiatives that need support, so put those opportunities in front of your alumni (at every stage in the alumni life cycle).
  2. Follow basic principals of volunteer management: C.A.R.E.!
    Communicate—it’s a two-way street, and young alumni are busy building a life and career, so make sure to stay in touch with opportunities, news, and needs that your Alumni Association and school have going on.
    Align—focus on aligning your key leaders/volunteers with the mission and goals of your Alumni Association. Not every volunteer signs up for the same reason; and in some cases, not every volunteer likes the role that they’re signed up for. So make sure to have the right volunteers and leadership in place so that you can work together to achieve aligned goals.
    Recognize—a thank you goes a long way! By publicly and privately recognizing your volunteers and volunteer leaders, you not only are making someone feel appreciated, you are also building a relationship that allows you to call on that individual when you are really in need. When you want to make a change in the organization, start a new initiative, or just have eyes/ears on a newly formed committee, volunteers are more likely to meet these needs if their efforts (however big or small) are being recognized and truly appreciated.
    Expectations—whether you are a small shop or a large shop, each person is only one individual! Volunteers need to know from the start what’s expected of them, and they also need to know what’s expected from you and the Advancement Professionals they’ll be working with at your institution. Setting clear expectations from the start (and re-evaluating/communicating those annually) will ensure that you are able to grow at a reasonable and productive pace.
  3. Surveys provide great feedback, so make them work for you!—these are a great way to allow your alumni volunteers to tell you how they really feel things are going. And if you need to politely remind them of your expectations, you can always throw a question or two in there, such as “Of the four mandatory business meetings we held this year, how many did you participate in?” You’re able to respectfully remind them of a requirement, and also provide them an opportunity to self-reflect on their own level of commitment/participation.
  4. Enthusiasts need work…so give it to them!—we all have those over-eager volunteers who have a laundry list of things that we could all be doing differently. Well, here’s your opportunity to get around to your own laundry list of goals/dreams/wishes that you might not be able to fit into your daily workload. These volunteers have time, and they want to help, so help them help you help your institution. Worse case scenario: if they don’t finish the project, then you’re in no worse shape than if you hadn’t given them the task to begin with (because in reality, you weren’t going to be able to even “think” about that task until “things calm down around here!”).
  5. Continue developing your leaders! Provide your leaders with leadership development. It doesn’t matter if they’re young alumni, veteran alumni, or retired alumni—no one person knows everything about leadership! Give them the tools to become better leaders for themselves and for your institution. Rely on your faculty, staff and researchers to come and present (free of charge) to your volunteer leaders. The impact is immeasurable; and the reward grows every year they’re engaged with your institution!
  6. Be innovative; keep things fresh! Don’t be afraid to change things up, especially if it’s time. Each year, your student population is new—and their student experience is slightly different than the year before. So, keep your programs relevant—change when change can help you! For example, if you want to have a more representative approach to volunteers (i.e. your alumni population is more national than it is regional)—don’t be afraid to introduce a small change, like teleconferencing into your business/board meeting model to accommodate volunteers from across the nation. Small changes can have a huge impact in achieving your overarching goals!

Follow Adrienne Teague on Twitter.

Want to replicate GMU's success? These infographics on young alumni giving are a good place to start.