Strategic Goal 5: Development and Alumni Engagement

Continue to strengthen and grow The Graduate School’s connections with its community of alumni and supporters


Maintaining a strong financial support package is crucial to The Graduate School’s ability to compete for the best students. This requires the school to continue strengthening its development and alumni-engagement efforts in order to increase its financial resources.

A more engaged alumni base would yield other benefits as well, such as increased alumni participation in the school’s professional development programs. A stronger connection with Graduate School alumni would also contribute to several of the university’s strategic goals, such as bolstering intellectual communities for students and fostering a global network of learning and research.

The Graduate School has a goal of raising $20 million in the university’s Duke Forward campaign, which was launched publicly in September 2012 and will end in June 2017. TGS surpassed its campaign goal nine months before the end of the campaign. This was a significant accomplishment for the school because, as is often the case at universities around the country, graduate education traditionally has not been a high-visibility area for giving at Duke. In fact, Duke Forward marks the first time that The Graduate School was presented as its own entity in a fundraising campaign.

The Graduate School has taken some steps in recent years to ramp up its development and alumni-engagement operation. In 2010, the school established a Board of Visitors. In 2013, it added a senior public affairs officer to oversee communications efforts. In 2015, it hired a full-time assistant director of development, the first gift officer at Duke dedicated wholly to The Graduate School. Also in late 2015, the Duke Alumni Association created and filled the position of senior director of graduate and professional school alumni affairs, a role that has worked closely with The Graduate School on alumni engagement, such as events during its 90th anniversary celebration in 2016.

These new resources, coupled with the final push of the Duke Forward campaign, present the school with opportunities to forge closer bonds with its alumni and supporters, as well as cultivate current students as future alumni with stronger connections to the school.

Objective 5.1: Improve information on alumni and friends

The Graduate School has approximately 24,500 active alumni. Of those, about 55 percent have a valid email address on file in Duke’s alumni database. That percentage must improve as an initial step toward better alumni engagement. The other strategic objectives outlined in this section start with the school being able to communicate with its alumni more effectively, and that will not happen unless we know how to contact them. Additionally, the school needs to have better career outcomes information about its alumni for reporting and assessment purposes.


A. Participate in the rollout and marketing of the new Duke Alumni Network, particularly through non-email communication, as a means to locate graduate alumni and encourage them to reconnect with Duke.

B. Encourage graduating students to set up their email or to leave a valid email address on file.

C. Develop a system to gather contact and first-destination career information from students when they graduate and periodically thereafter.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Inclusion of The Graduate School in rollout and marketing of Duke Alumni Network, particularly in non-email communication

B. Percentage of records in the alumni database that have at least a valid email address

C. The development of mechanisms to remain in permanent contact with graduating students

D. Implementation of system to gather graduating students’ contact and first-destination career information

Objective 5.2: Increase school and departmental engagement with alumni and students

Unlike undergraduate and professional students, The Graduate School’s students are embedded in departments distributed throughout the university rather than within The Graduate School itself. This means that the students’ affiliation with the school is often secondary to their affiliation with the department in which they are embedded. The Graduate School should work to help facilitate stronger alumni engagement through the departments. At the same time, the school also needs to increase the level of awareness among its current students and alumni of their affiliation with the school, as well as the benefits and resources that accompany that connection.


A. Explore how to organize the school’s various alumni-relations and development efforts into a cohesive program to maximize their effectiveness.

B. Develop a more robust marketing plan for the Annual Fund, alumni engagement efforts, and school events.

C. Use the school’s 90th anniversary celebration efforts to gauge what level of alumni engagement efforts the school can realistically support.

D. Explore ways to increase alumni engagement around the school’s professional development events.

E. Explore ways to use the new Duke Alumni Network to facilitate engagement among alumni and students.

F. Develop engagement activities aimed at young alumni.

G. Establish regular communication to students at strategic points in their Duke careers, such as welcome emails to new students or congratulations letters to new graduates.

H. Create regular communication pieces aimed at alumni.

I. Conduct regular surveys to gauge student and alumni awareness of the school’s events, programming, and resources.

J. Track and record alumni involvement in the Duke Alumni and Development Database.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Development of marketing plan for the Annual Fund, alumni engagement efforts, and school events

B. A review of the 90th anniversary efforts to identify which components may be sustainable

C. Development of alumni-focused communication pieces

D. Development of communication to students at specific points in their Duke careers

E. A plan on how the school might use the Duke Alumni Network for alumni and student engagement

F. Development of engagement efforts aimed at young alumni

G. Creation of communication pieces for students at various stages of their careers

H. Development of regular communication pieces for alumni

I. Results from student and alumni surveys about their awareness of the school’s events, programming, and resources

J. Analytics on alumni involvement

Objective 5.3: Double the Annual Fund

The school’s Annual Fund supports a number of resources and efforts that are critical to the school’s mission, such as financial support, professional development opportunities, and mentoring support among Ph.D. and master’s students. In addition, supporters of the Annual Fund are often the best prospects for volunteers and part of the pipeline for major gift support.

Although The Graduate School has the second largest alumni base among Duke’s 10 schools, it has the lowest Annual Fund goal. The Graduate School’s Annual Fund goal for fiscal year 2015-16 was $240,000, and 6.7 percent of Graduate School alumni currently contribute to the fund. The school is aiming to increase its Annual Fund goal to $500,000 and have 3,000 donors by fiscal year 2020-21. In addition, the school aims to carry forth the momentum generated by the Duke Forward campaign and increase the number of leadership donors to 120 (up from approximately 70 as of 2017) by the end of fiscal year 2021.


A. Identify and retain leadership-level donors (gifts of $1,000 or more), in part by activating development officers across Duke to make sure that Graduate School alumni are being solicited specifically for the school’s Annual Fund.

B. Through Annual Fund outreach, identify individuals who are interested in engaging with TGS more broadly so as to increase the school’s cohort of volunteers and supporters

C. Cultivate a strong tradition of giving among our recent alumni, thereby producing a pipeline of volunteers and supporters for the future

Key Performance Indicators

A. Annual Fund goal and results

B. Increased participation in Annual Fund giving

Objective 5.4: Expand the pool for major gifts

Historically, philanthropic support of graduate education has not been a high priority at Duke or at similar universities nationwide. Increased pressure on both internal and external funding of graduate students has brought more widespread emphasis on developing programs to successfully fundraise for graduate education. A recent commitment of personnel and resources by The Graduate School, Duke University Development, and the Duke Alumni Association is putting Duke in a position to be a leader in the area of graduate fundraising. The goal of this investment is to identify new and existing Duke donors who would be interested in supporting graduate education at the major gifts level ($100,000) and to build a deeper and broader prospect pipeline over time.


A. Leverage resources across The Graduate School, University Development, and the Duke Alumni Association to engage alumni and friends in order to establish a new and growing baseline of donors

B. Provide resources to colleagues to help them effectively communicate The Graduate School’s funding priorities and identify individuals with a potential interest in supporting graduate education

C. Increase opportunities for one-on-one engagement within The Graduate School for volunteers and donors

D. Work with development colleagues to prioritize or elevate fellowship giving so that it is a more consistent and widespread priority across all schools

E. Continue to increase staff to support development efforts

Key Performance Indicators

A. Number and amount of major gifts brought in annually

B. Number of major gift donors to The Graduate School

C. Growing cadre of key volunteers involved with The Graduate School, graduate programs, and students

D. Size of staff supporting The Graduate School’s development efforts


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