[Updated 25 November, 2011 with link to "Networking" article from Toronto Globe and Mail.]
Alumni communities serve critical roles in many kinds of organizations – not only in schools, colleges or universities.
This article is the third in a series of short interviews with professionals from non-traditional alumni programs.
Profile: Krista Slade
Director of Advancement
The Rhodes Trust
Krista Slade oversees alumni, development, and communications supporting the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University in the UK. Krista joined the Trust in 2010, after three years as the first executive director of the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific office of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). With more than 20 years' experience in global advancement, she's worked in Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, her native Canada and now the UK. In 2010 she was honored with CASE's Crystal Apple award for outstanding teaching.
Alumni Futures: Krista, what is the Rhodes Trust, and how does institutional advancement fit with its mission?
Krista Slade: The Rhodes Trust administers the Rhodes Scholarships, established in 1903 from the estate of Cecil Rhodes, who had the vision to create the first international scholarship program. His generosity has educated more than 7,000 Rhodes Scholars to date. Alumni include Nobel Laureates, Olympians, government leaders, judges, teachers, and business people. Scholars come from all corners of the globe, and share exceptional intellect and a commitment to service. We have about 4,400 living Scholars in more than 70 countries.
[Rhodes was funded by a remarkably visionary act of philanthropy,
yet doesn't have a tradition of fundraising]
Our core mission is to operate the world's preeminent scholarship program, and ensure that we have the resources to do this in perpetuity. Our office is responsible for communicating our values, attracting the best scholarship applicants, and supporting our volunteer and fundraising infrastructure. Connecting the global Rhodes community and keeping them involved is the cornerstone of all we do.
AF: Your educational advancement background is extensive. Which aspects of your current work are most similar to traditional alumni and development, and in what ways are your current roles different?
KS: Rhodes was funded by a remarkably visionary act of philanthropy, yet it doesn't have a tradition of fundraising. So my role is all about building a sustainable, integrated development effort from scratch. This means establishing a database, understanding different countries' tax laws, hiring, writing – what you would find in any start-up operation. We have outstanding support from leadership and a great development board. We don't have a problem identifying prospective donors; the challenge is building the infrastructure to follow up on the opportunities. It's a nice problem to have.
AF: In the future, will Rhodes benefit from following traditional advancement models, or will you need to invent new ways of engaging your audience in order to succeed?
KS: Most of what we do follows practices used in other institutions. One aspect that differentiates Rhodes is the global and mobile nature of our alumni community. Fortunately, Scholars have an established tradition of keeping in touch with Rhodes House, dating back to the earliest days. We have a great opportunity to connect with our constituents at the grassroots level. The Warden of Rhodes House, our CEO, has met with more than half of the living Rhodes Scholars in the last two years – a remarkable, empowering feat. It also requires a huge amount of follow-up and responsiveness.
This broad consultation process is fundamental to future success, and has already created tangible outcomes. For example, we have started distributing the bios of our Scholars when they leave Oxford. This is the most-clicked item in our electronic communications. Interest in the current and future generations drives much of our philanthropy.
AF: What are you doing now that shows promise for future success? What additional resources will you need for the program to reach its full potential?
KS: Two Scholars from the class of 2009 approached me about starting a graduating class gift campaign. They secured 85% participation from the global class. The gifts were modest, but the enthusiastic response was heartening for our Trustees and alumni. Our message about why support matters is filtering out to all segments of our community. Creating this culture of asking and giving is a long-term project, but it will pay big dividends in coming years.
[Our CEO has met with more than half of the living Rhodes Scholars
in the last two years]
Another unique aspect of Rhodes is that we have a strong reputation in some markets (especially the U.S. and Canada), but are less well-known elsewhere, even in the U.K. Building a domestic donor base for the Scholarships is an area with strong potential.
The biggest operational challenge right now is recruiting and training staff members to deliver the support and infrastructure our volunteers need and deserve. We have the budget, but not the bodies. Watch this space!