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Continued progress to evolve an inclusive, service-focused Alumni Council

August 15, 2023

SFU and its Alumni Association Society Board of Directors have been in discussion for many years about the evolution of the Association. As early as 1981, alumni raised concerns about the model, notably the fact that 98 percent of SFU’s alumni community were not eligible to participate in alumni association activities due to the fact that the Association was incorporated as a legally separate Society with an ‘opt in’ requirement. In 2017, discussions to understand the challenges and opportunities began in earnest.

Two separate consulting firms analyzed the structure and effectiveness of the Alumni Association model, and offered recommendations. Concurrently, the Alumni Relations Office engaged a separate consultancy firm to conduct a comprehensive alumni survey, to understand what the entire alumni community was seeking from the university in terms of support, programming and engagement.

The SFU Alumni Association Society Board of Directors lead the most recent society consultation process from 2021-2023, by hiring The Discovery Group, an external agency that specializes in helping non-profits across the globe achieve their vision and elevate community impact. This was a thoughtful, careful and engaged process. You can read this report in its entirety here.

We knew going into the dialogue and review process that it was time to evolve our model. We had heard consistent feedback over the years, and the dialogue process confirmed key themes:

  • As a membership-based organization, SFU’s former Alumni Association Society was unique in that it required SFU graduates to opt in to become members, which resulted in less than two percent of SFU’s alumni population taking part in the society, and an even smaller percentage participating in the election of directors.
  • The Alumni Association was seen as exclusionary, because only a small group participated in its activities and others did not feel welcome.
  • SFU was one of the only North American universities that had a ‘general election’ for its Alumni Association board of directors. Due to the fact that less than 2% of the alumni were voting members, it meant that a very small number of alumni controlled the process, which resulted in a lack of diverse representation on the board of directors, leaving many to feel excluded.
  • The Alumni Association board was inwardly focused when it came to representation in elections, governance and internal organization, meaning most of their time was spent on these matters rather than serving and engaging with alumni.

Recommendations from consultants included transferring fiduciary responsibility to SFU to ensure focus on alumni relations activities; moving to an appointed council; implementing a skills matrix; and ensuring direct relationship between alumni and the institution.

The opportunity to move to a new model was clear and had strong support. The key benefits endorsed by alumni in the new model include:

  • All SFU alumni automatically become members of SFU’s alumni association.
  • Alumni Council members are appointed based on skillset, expertise, and lived experience, ensuring inclusive representation of SFU’s alumni base.
  • All revenues from SFU affinity partnerships are routed to SFU directly. These are legally binding contracts where all funds must be allocated toward alumni engagement activities. 

SFU’s Alumni Association Board of Directors worked with the University to ensure that SFU alumni needs are prioritized in the new model. The SFU Alumni Association Society Board of Directors was supported by independent legal counsel, Michael, Evrensel & Pawar LLP, and on February 15, 2023, members of SFU’s Alumni Association Society voted overwhelmingly in favour of the transition and to voluntarily dissolve the association as a legally separate entity. The minutes from the Extraordinary General Meeting can be found here. Following that vote, SFU’s Alumni Association Board of Directors and the University worked in collaboration to voluntarily transition the previous SFU Alumni Association from a legally separate society to an inclusive Alumni Association with an appointed Alumni Council.  

It is important to note that this evolution is still in progress. What has been critical to me, and to SFU, throughout the process is centring the role of alumni in the new model and focusing on the impact alumni will experience through the new association.

As a first step in establishing the Alumni Council, all Directors of the Alumni Association Society Board were invited to form the inaugural Alumni Council. That council will collaborate on the process for appointing new members. That process will include an open call to all SFU alumni. Additionally, all university policies as they relate to SFU’s Alumni Association and the dissolved Alumni Association Society Board of Directors are actively being reviewed to align with policy so they can be updated to reflect this evolution.

Alumni play a role in university governance, which continues without change. SFU’s Alumni Association through the Alumni Council will continue to work with the Province of British Columbia in the appointments of the Board of Governors Alumni-in-Council members, as the Province appoints these positions to the Board. The new Alumni Council will also be involved in the appointments of SFU’s President and Chancellor, continuing to follow existing policy.

It has been a long journey and there is much work ahead of us. I am grateful for the support and engagement of our alumni as we build on the legacy of the Alumni Association Society. It is my privilege to support the new Alumni Council as we work together to ensure all alumni are fairly represented and have increased opportunities to engage with SFU.