Innovation by Association
The Russell Sage College Alumnae Association Contributes to Decade of Transformation at Sage
The Russell Sage College Alumnae Association (RSCAA) has been conducting the important work of promoting connections among alumnae and their alma mater for more than 87 years. During the past decade, however, the RSCAA has grown in sophistication and effectiveness in its support of the College’s admissions and fundraising goals, and in its outreach to current students.
“The Russell Sage College Alumnae Association is a part of the community of change-agents that have contributed to a culture of innovation at Sage in recent years,” said Sage President Jeanne Neff. “The Association’s commitment to the College, to fellow alumnae, and most of all, to today’s student experience is a wonderful example of the competence, confidence, and influence of the women educated here.”
“We see ourselves as partners with the people who have responsibility for running the institution,” said Mary Ann Oppenheimer ’67, president of the RSCAA. “We know that if the College is to thrive, it will change. Our role as alumnae is to support positive change within the context of our valued history and tradition.”
The RSCAA helps Sage maximize its student recruitment resources and offers alumnae a tangible volunteer role via the Alumnae Admission Program (AAP). While the program began in the ’80s, the RSCAA began working in earnest with the admissions office over the last 10 years (and the dramatic results led to the creation of a new award!).
Alumnae support admissions at RSC by telling college-bound young women they know personally about Russell Sage (Students referred by alumnae and children of alumnae are eligible for special scholarships.) They also answer questions at college fairs and present Student Sage awards to outstanding high school students in their communities.
“It was an alumna who encouraged my interest in Russell Sage, and I believe alumnae
are Russell Sage’s best sales tool,” said Sheri Scavone ’ 84, president of the RSCAA from 1999 through 2003. “In my outreach to alumnae, I emphasized that if just one percent of Sage graduates referred one applicant each, that would amount to 130 prospective students—and quite an impact for the College.” During Scavone’s tenure as president, alumnae referrals grew from 64 in 2002 to 96 in 2003 and the program continues to garner results. So far this spring, alumnae have referred 116 prospective students for admission in fall 2006 and that number continues to grow.
Making Friends and Raising Funds
Sage’s annual fund began through the efforts of the leaders of the RSCAA in 1944. As the College took over responsibility for fundraising in the ’70s, the RSCAA focused on making friends for the College among alumnae.
“For many years the Association kept an arm’s length from direct fundraising appeals,” said Oppenheimer. “It is now more widely accepted that fundraising and friend raising are part of the same goal. It is important to be honest about how much alumnae financial support means to the College and I have spoken and written candidly on the subject, in my communications with fellow alumnae.”
In 2004, the RSCAA under Oppenheimer’s leadership committed to increasing annual giving to Russell Sage by alumnae as a priority. That same year, alumnae raised more than $600,000 for the Sage Fund for Excellence in Education, the College’s annual fund. In 2005, RSC alumnae raised more than $1 million.
“Participation in annual giving matters on many levels,” said Oppenheimer. “It matters
to funding sources, which use alumnae participation in annual giving as a barometer
of an institution’s strength. It matters to the College’s continued ability to meet the myriad expenses crucial to sustaining a quality education. Most of all, annual giving to
Russell Sage reflects the understanding that money, given wisely, can do much good
toward building the kind of future we want for our daughters, their daughters, and
generations of capable women to come.”
Connecting with Current Students
Connecting with students before they leave makes for a seamless transition from student to alumna (and often, a more involved alumna). Russell Sage alumnae have been a visible presence on campus since 1944, when Alumnae House (now known as Fredericka Voorhaar Slingerland ’36 Alumnae House) was established on campus. “The Association wants students to have a positive experience at Sage, and to look forward to life after Sage,” said Barbara Spillinger ’52, RSCAA president from 1997 through 1999, of the Association’s emphasis on fostering student-alumnae connections.
While alumnae have always been frequent and welcome guests at student activities, lively programming with the specific intention of bringing students and alumnae
together has been held on a regular basis since 1996, when then-RSCAA President
Audrey McLaughlin Clary ’55 established the Student Outreach Committee.
Today’s RSCAA has built on this momentum. Over the past several months,
the Association has been working with Sage’s Director of Cultural Enrichment and
Diversity to create a network of minority alumnae to serve as a resource for current
students and recent graduates.
And Oppenheimer points out that each year at least two students serve as non-voting
members of the RSCAA’s board of directors. “It is wonderful to watch the students who
sit on our board mature in their understanding of what we are about. Several have
become members of the board after graduation,” she said.
Great Things to Come
The RSCAA—which is a separate 501(c)(3) organization from the College—boasts
14,000-plus women of influence as members. The Association holds its annual membership meeting at Reunion, and a 22-member board of directors meets three times a year.
“An important aspect of the Association is its commitment to nurturing volunteer leadership, and that includes mentoring and educational components for new Association board members, to build great ambassadors,” said Scavone. “And as the Association works with current students, we are able to educate students to become alumnae who think about giving back to Russell Sage.”
While the RSCAA has grown in its emphasis on admissions, fundraising and student outreach, it remains dedicated to building connections among Sage graduates. “As
demands increase on everyone’s time, alumnae want something ‘more’ out of social
events, whether it be professional networking, a family activity, or even a chance to get
some fresh air, physical activity, and support another good cause,” said Oppenheimer,
referring to groups of alumnae in Southern Connecticut and Rochester, N.Y. who have
participated in walks to raise funds for breast cancer research.
“Developing events, programs and services to appeal to the variety of generations,
professions, backgrounds and experiences represented in RSCAA membership is always a challenge,” said Scavone. “But it is also where the Sage experience brings people together.”
“Colleges have a completely new student population every four years. Faculty
and administration retire or move on, but alumnae are part of a college forever,” said
Oppenheimer. “Exactly how alumnae work to support Russell Sage will continue to
change, as new alumnae join our ranks every year.”
For information about the Alumnae Admission Program, call 1-888-VERY-SAGE or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about opportunities and benefits available to RSC alumnae, visit www.sage.edu/rsc/alumnae/index.php.