The first meeting of the Notre Dame Alumni Association took place on June 23, 1868, in the office of Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., the then-president of the still very young University of Notre Dame. A group of Notre Dame graduates attending Commencement had gathered to form a new organization: “the Associated Alumni of the University of Notre Dame.”
Those assembled chose officers — including “orator” and “poet” — and drafted a constitution. The second paragraph of that founding document proclaimed: “The object of the association is defined to be: To preserve and strengthen the common tie that binds us to each other and alma mater, by means of yearly reunions and by literary correspondence.”
As the NDAA celebrates 150 years of bringing the Notre Dame family together, it is taking a fresh look at itself while staying true to its early mission. Through its strategic planning process, appropriately titled “Re-Envisioning,” the association is creating new programming to connect alumni and friends and meet their evolving needs and interests. (Note that being an alumnus is not a requirement.)
In 2017, the association partnered with Huron Consulting to take an objective look at its work and organization, guided by feedback from the Notre Dame family. Re-Envisioning was the association’s first strategic review in more than a decade, and included interviews, focus groups and surveys with its more than 25,000 members.
As part of Re-Envisioning, the association updated the mission statement to clearly articulate its modern purpose and audience: “For our alumni, parents, and friends, we strengthen bonds to Notre Dame and each other; help them to thrive in faith, service, learning, and work; and inspire them to act as forces for good in their communities and the world.”
The new initiatives will enable alumni and friends to more easily connect with each other and the University, allow them to volunteer in a variety of ways and provide them with new resources for professional networking and lifelong learning.
The findings also emphasized the importance of digital outreach.During the planning work, the association benefited from the insights of a steering committee of University leaders that included John Affleck-Graves, executive vice president; Tom Burish, provost; Lou Nanni, vice president for University Relations; Rev. Austin Collins, C.S.C., the religious superior of Holy Cross priests and brothers at Notre Dame; John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters; David Bailey, vice president for the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research; Linda Costas, director of talent and engagement for Human Resources; Bob Cronin and Dick Nussbaum, former presidents of the Alumni Board; Dolly Duffy, executive director of the Alumni Association; and Bill Gangluff, senior marketing and communications director with the Alumni Association.
“We are blessed with some of the most vibrant and engaged alumni and friends of any university in the world,” Duffy said. “We don’t have to ignite their passion for Notre Dame as they are hungry for more from the University. They want us to unveil new ways to live out our mission.”
That is especially true with the University’s young alumni.
The Re-Envisioning survey data shows that young alumni are more interested in engaging with Notre Dame than almost any other demographic group, including other generations of alumni, parents and friends. They want to mentor and be mentored. They want to help in the classroom. They want to lead Notre Dame clubs and other organizations.
“This flies in the face of what we thought we were going to find and certainly is counter to what is thought about this generation and what is felt at many other institutions,” Duffy said. “Our challenge is to figure out how to engage them in ways that resonate and fit into their changing lives.”
“One of our greatest opportunities is to expand our use of digital technologies in everything we do,” Duffy said. “This will allow us to increase our reach to include those who may not be able to make it back onto campus with frequency but who are still dedicated members of the ND family. Our alumni want to be Notre Dame in their communities — to be Father Sorin’s forces for good if you will — and we have this unbelievable opportunity now to reach so much farther than we’ve reached before.”
The research also revealed a growing interest by alumni for the association to foster more connections professionally and to provide more opportunities for lifelong learning that take advantage of the extensive knowledge and expertise of University faculty and researchers.
“When our alumni leave Notre Dame, they don’t want to leave Notre Dame behind,” Duffy said. “They want Notre Dame to be a part of their lives wherever they are.”