AAMC Considering a Structural Change

By
October 14, 2004

An Alumnae/i Association task force on fundraising has published
a report prompting considerations of whether or not the
organization will remain financially independent from the
College.

The report concludes that AAMC fundraising is under-performing
and recommends changing the organization’s structure. The
findings provoked strong reactions from alumnae and questions about
the future of AAMC and its relationship with the College.

The in-depth study questions, “whether it would be more
efficient and effective for all fundraising activities to be
administered by the college,” and addresses the possibility
of changes in the college’s support of the association in
areas like health care, employee privileges and facility
maintenance.

The study began in March after several members of the Board of
Trustees approached then-AAMC president Karen May with concerns
about fundraising efficiency and set out to address a
“growing disconnect [between the AAMC and OIA] evidenced by a
perceived ‘us vs. them’ mentality and competition for
donors.”

The alumnae task force was appointed by the AAMC’s Board of
Governors to assess the issues. Members interviewed college
officials, people involved with fundraising at Mills and AAMC staff
to address the Trustees’ concerns including donor confusion
about the difference between the AAMC and the Office of
Institutional Advancement, the other Mills office devoted to
fundraising that runs out of President Holmgren’s office.

A separate body from the college, the AAMC raises funds from
alumnae donors and makes annual gifts to the college from the
Alumnae Annual Fund, the most recent being $875,000. The
College’s fundraising takes place at the OIA offices and
donations are usually higher because donors include corporations
and foundations, as well as individuals.

“It’s a very unusual fundraising structure, unique
in my experience in higher education,” Holmgren said.

The task force reviewed the study, commissioned by the college
to the consulting firm Marts & Lundy, which gathered recent
statistics on fundraising at “institutions that the College
administration considers to be similar to Mills and those that the
administration desires to emulate.”

The study reported that AAMC is not raising enough because
“in the last three years Mills’ alumnae giving
underperformed…in comparison to the other colleges
selected.” But the task force said they have “some
concerns about how the study was conducted and the interpretation
of some of those findings.”

Ann Brown, AAMC Executive Director and class of ‘68, said
many people involved are asking questions about the methodology and
conclusions of the Marts & Lundy report. One example, Brown
said, is that comparing donations at Mills to those at schools like
Mount Holyoke and Bryn Mawr is questionable because
“we’re in the Bay Area, which was hardest hit by the
downturn of the economy.”

The AAMC is committed to “exploring the areas in which the
AAMC is underperforming,” Brown said. She said there are
important reasons for the “underperformance” to be
considered. “It is well known that during a capital campaign
like the College’s Sesquicentennial Campaign, more large
donations and fewer small donations are made,” she said,

Anita Bowers, co-chair on the task force, offered her
perspective. “There are all kinds of reasons why people give
what they give or don’t give,” Bowers said. “We
in the West don’t have the habit of giving as much as Eastern
colleges. And when I think of the college loans that current
students will have to pay [after college], I think that will be
harder… But it’s about the habit of giving.”

Overall, the AAMC has expressed strong concern about the state
of fundraising. “We are always looking for ways to
improve,” Brown said.

The task force recommended that improvements be made in the
communication, coordination and relations between the AAMC and OIA.
They also recommended that the BOG officially commit to increasing
alumnae giving “either within the current fundraising
structure or by a new structural relationship with the
college.”

A letter from the AAMC to alumnae said, “The Board of
Governors is making the discussion of the report a high priority
over the next several months… and [will make] a decision before
the end of the year about which path the association should
take.”

The different options alluded to in the letter are whether to
continue with financial independence or be consolidated with
OIA.

“We would be able to improve the fundraising more as a
result of the consolidation,” Holmgren said. “We would
also enable the association to have a budget that focuses more on
services and interactions with alumnae. They would have more
resources to do that work.”

The possible structural change proposed has prompted alumnae to
speak out for and against it.

Jane Cudlip King, class of ‘42, said that for the college
to “take over the annual fund… would effectively end our
independence as we would no longer control our own financial
interests….At Mills we have been separate and independent since
our founding in the 1920’s, which has enabled us to have our
own voice in college affairs.”

Many alumnae are concerned that changing the AAMC’s
structure means losing their self-governance.

“We concede that at first glance it may seem logical to
join efforts,” wrote the Executive Committee of the Los
Angeles AAMC Branch, in a letter to the president and trustees,
“. . .but the future of any organization is determined by who
controls the money. Therefore, it is imperative to the future of
the AAMC – and the future of the College continuing as a
women’s college—to remain a fiscally independent
organization.”

In a letter dated Sept. 21, Holmgren and Vivian Stephenson,
Chair of the Board of Trustees wrote that they “support the
integration of the Alumnae Annual Fund into the operations of
[OIA].”

The same letter said they believe issues of facility maintenance
and health benefits for AAMC employees will be affected. Because
“the AAMC is legally a separate corporation from Mills
College,” their “reliance on the college for employee
benefits and facilities upkeep is not fully consistent with
independent status,” the letter said.

However, some alumnae are suggesting this is only a leveraging
tool.

In an e-mail to a feedback listserv set up by the college, Lucia
Stauffer Savage, class of ‘84, disagreed with Holmgren,
citing her experience as an attorney and general counsel for a
non-profit.

“Federal law has for more than 20 years stated that only
actual employees and beneficiaries can be on an employee benefit
plan—there is nothing new here,” Stauffer Savage said.
“Rather, I suspect that the college has used this
‘newly discovered’ rule as a new reason to convince, or
even coerce, the AAMC to acquiesce in the integration of OIA and
AAMC fundraising, in order to preserve some employee
benefits.”

Holmgren disagreed with Stauffer Savage’s view. “Her
interpretation is not accurate,” she said. “There is
also an issue of the health care providers… who are saying they
will only cover our employees, but alumnae association employees
are not our employees.”

The question of facilities maintenance at Reinhardt House has
worried some alumnae, but Brown said there was an agreement between
the College and the Association when it was first built, which she
hopes still stands. The August 1948 issue of the Mills Quarterly
reported on the construction, including, “The buildings and
grounds committee also agreed that the college should insure and
maintain the property… equal to the maintenance of other
college property and within the discretion of the buildings and
grounds committee.”

The AAMC Board of Governors has still not decided whether they
will end the association’s financial independence. They have
requested more information from the Board of Trustees on the
charges that might now be imposed on the association for employee
benefits and facilities maintenance.

Bowers said she is glad to have worked on the task force and
raise questions because, “in order for the alums to be
successful and improve fundraising, you have to ask questions like
that…I think what also came out of this is a realization
that we need to work together better.”


AAMC Considering a Structural Change was published on October 14, 2004 in News

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