“Groundbreaking” Work: Committee Reenvisions Alumni Engagement

“Groundbreaking” Work: Committee Reenvisions Alumni Engagement
  • Frame
Julie Dengler

As part of Ravenscroft’s broader strategic design work this year, staff in Institutional Advancement have partnered with alumni volunteers to craft goals and practices for the next five years.

As part of Ravenscroft’s broader strategic design work — which has culminated in a board-approved plan that will guide the institution’s growth and priorities for the next 10 years — staff in Institutional Advancement have partnered with a committee of alumni to craft goals and practices for alumni engagement over the next five years.

Connection, volunteerism and philanthropy are key components of their vision.

Director of Donor Relations Emily Espenshade, Alumni Engagement Officer Dan Ressner ’99 and Alumni Strategic Design Steering Committee chair Shawn Morrison ’94 talked to us about the project.

Strategic Redesign: Why Now?

Every 10 years, Ravenscroft leadership revisits the strategic plan that serves as the guide for all learning and activities on campus. Espenshade, Ressner and Associate Head of School for Philanthropy Phil Higginson decided to seize the opportunity to dig even more deeply into thinking about alumni relations and how to keep Ravens connected to the school and to one another once they graduate.

Espenshade explained that, nationally, institutions are evaluating whether they’re engaging alumni as effectively as they can. “We asked ourselves, ‘Are we using a model of alumni relations that’s outdated? How can we assess our approach?’” she said. “The conclusion was, ‘Let’s try to put a framework around it and measure it.’”

Ressner added that one of the realities of the current alumni model is that many people don’t rely on their alma mater to keep in touch with classmates these days, as social media such as Facebook and Instagram allow people to connect no matter where they are in the world. And in the same way, fundraising has become more technology-driven.

So, what connection should Ravenscroft have with alumni? How can the alumni relations program maximize that connection for both graduates and the school at large? These questions formed the basis of the committee’s work.

Graduating seniors of the Class of 2019 wear their class scarves, given to the newest alumni at the Alumni Association Welcome Dinner each May.

Charles Winston Sr. ’47 and his wife, Flo, seated at center, talk with grandchildren Charlie ’19 and Georgia ’22 at the 2018 Alumni Association Luncheon.

Committee’s Structure and Focus

The department set out to recruit Ravens alumni for this new group, with specific credentials in mind. They approached graduates who were motivated to volunteer; had professional experience in independent schools, development and/or communications; and had graduated within the last two decades, where the alumni base is the largest.

The result is a steering committee comprising 18 alumni from the classes of 1994 to 2016. When members were asked why they agreed to join this planning effort, their responses reflected a common theme of wanting to “give back” to the place and to the fellow students who played such a major role in the person each of them has become.

Serving across six working groups, steering committee members are exploring four areas of engagement, as identified by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. The four CASE areas for this committee are Communications, Events/Experiences, Philanthropy and Volunteerism. Specific to the Ravenscroft design are two additional areas of exploration: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Governance.

Working groups and the entire steering committee will continue collaborating over the next several months to solidify the goals that will become the new strategic design. Espenshade added that implementation of the design will begin in 2023, informing engagement for the subsequent four to five years.

Katie Pressel Gillespie ’95, Doug Schultz ’92, Liz Gibbons ’96 and Matt Cantando ’95 enjoy the 2020 Legacy Lunch with their Ravens.

Building An Alumni Community for All

With Morrison serving as chair of the committee, Ravenscroft staff have had an indispensable partner in launching this foundational work. Currently serving as a consultant with EAB, an educational advisory firm, Morrison has spent his career hiring, developing and managing talented teams and building cross-campus partnerships with staff and faculty leadership at the University of Richmond, Duke University and independent schools in Virginia.

The work the committee is doing now is very much attuned to the overall trends he sees in his work. From a macro level, Morrison said, the vision for Ravenscroft alumni engagement is to build a strong community that includes past, present and future students, their families and faculty. He makes a distinction between a personality-driven alumni model — which changes based on the volunteer in charge — and a community-driven model, which includes current students and their parents as well as alumni. He has recommended Ravenscroft make a shift to the latter model, whose offerings are more diverse and will meet people where they are in their journey from student to alum.

Ravenscroft soccer alumni pose with members of the varsity soccer team following their 2017 scrimmage, one of several longstanding traditions around athletics that bring graduates back to campus. 

One thing hasn’t changed, from his perspective: the importance of building community in both a physical sense and a more universal sense. Morrison, like several other committee members, talked about how much the physical campus of Ravenscroft “exemplified ‘home’ for me. … After [graduation], I’d come by to run the track or to visit former teachers. For me, Raleigh meant Ravenscroft, an unmovable community.”

As the committee continues its work, Ravenscroft alumni will have the opportunity to return to that “unmovable community” on Oct. 7-8, 2022, for the first Homecoming since 2019.

Above, alumni and their children and grandchildren who are also Ravens gather for a photo after the 2020 Legacy Lunch in Cox Court.


Alumni Association Welcomes the Class of 2022 (June 1, 2022)

Alumni Share Milestones from 2021 (March 14, 2022) Includes an update about Homecoming,
Oct. 7-8, 2022!

Alumni Career Fair Boosts Upperclassmen’s College and Career Awareness (Feb. 8, 2022)

“A Real Spirit of Excitement” Brought Early Alumni Back Together (April 15, 2021)

Annual Alumni Forum Brings Ravens Back to Campus (Jan. 22, 2020)


Committee leaders: (top row) Chair Shawn Morrison ’94, Working Group Chairs Ricky Bennett Jr. ’03, Josh Bosin ’98; (bottom row) Gretchen Presnell Hyde ’04, Kate Young Lee ’94, Scott Manning ’03. Not pictured: Katherine Cadwallader ’02.

Thank you to the Alumni Strategic Design Steering Committee
Shawn Morrison ’94, Chair Ricky Bennett Jr. ’03,
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group Chair
Josh Bosin ’98,
Governance Working Group Chair
Katherine Cadwallader ’02,
Communications Working Group Chair
Gretchen Presnell Hyde ’04,
Volunteerism Working Group Chair
Kate Young Lee ’94,
Events/Experiences Working Group Chair
Scott Manning ’03,
Philanthropy Working Group Chair
Mary Grady Bell ’14,
Ravenscroft Board of Trustees Liaison
Watts Winston ’10,
Alumni Council Liaison
Janie Smith Brooks ’98
Matt Cantando ’95 Anne Forsythe English ’98
Courtney Jamison Roane ’06 Sydnie Schwarz ’16
Neil Shrimanker ’06 Jennifer Madison Snook ’95
Jessie Hale Tesh ’05 Dewayne Washington II ’16