Future Growth

The Future of the CAA

Since President Lee C. Bollinger’s arrival nearly 11 years ago, our University has experienced transformative and tremendous growth. There are now eight Global Centers spanning the world, a new campus being built in Manhattanville, an inspiringly successful Capital Campaign – and the CAA. The creation of the Columbia Alumni Association in 2004 coincided with the celebration of Columbia’s 250th anniversary and renewed the University’s dedication to engaging our alumni. Fast forward to today.

The CAA had a strong beginning for over half a decade. Built a responsive, energetic, and inclusive Board. Increased the ways to connect through clubs around the world, shared interest groups, signature events, and leadership gatherings. Generated opportunities for alumni of all ages to interact with students, faculty, alums across the University, and senior administrators. But many still wonder, what exactly is this University alumni organization?

That is where the CAA Strategic Plan enters the picture. An ongoing multi-year effort that started with a broad theme Task Force report, followed by a detailed strategic plan and consultation phase, the vision of the CAA has been discussed in a collaborative environment to ensure all areas will partner and benefit.

The CAA is the means by which Columbia can develop a new alumni culture that is uniquely Columbia. It represents complementary opportunities to increase the engagement of our alumni with their Schools and across this great University. It retains what makes our alumni community diverse and simultaneously celebrates the excellence of all of Columbia.

Brian Krisberg ‘81CC, ‘84LAW
Vice Chair, CAA
Co-Chair, CAA 2017

The CAA Strategic Plan


The CAA Strategic Plan reflects an ambitious effort to map out concrete steps toward better serving all alumni of Columbia University over the next five years (Fiscal Years 2014-2018). The Plan translates into action steps and leverages the vision set out in the June 2012 report by the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) 2017 Presidential Task Force and integrates the considerations and priorities of the strategic plans developed by partner units, specifically: CCAA, Communications and Marketing, Operations and New Heights. It is a plan that takes careful account of the University’s structure and relationships with its Schools. Within a University comprised of many Schools and units, striking the right balance between the whole and its parts is crucial. We look to foster a vibrant central University alumni effort, that brings together alumni across the Schools to collaborate, network, and share ideas and goals; and at the same time we look to cultivate and enhance School-based alumni efforts that celebrate and promote what makes each of Columbia’s Schools so distinctive.

Historically, Columbia’s relationship with its alumni community was decentralized, having been largely left to the individual Schools to maintain operations and interact with their own alumni and generate programming and support. There was no University Alumni Association literally or physically that recognized the affinity Columbian share with one another. Eight years ago (2005), the CAA was born to address that gap.

Implicit in this Strategic Plan and through the collaborative efforts with the Schools is the concept of defining alumni engagement. In the broadest terms, this refers to the ways in which alumni can interact with the Schools, the University, and with one another: volunteering, giving, and attending.  However, the tactics for increasing and enhancing the engagement experience involve broader reaching strategies than are usually considered as traditional alumni relations tenets.  Inherent to these efforts is the value-added synergies that will be created as the CAA, Schools, and individual alumni work toward these common goals. The nimbleness of this Plan, its organic implementation process, and the annual review, will provide Columbia with the impetus and ability to create engagement opportunities beyond the current bounds of alumni relations. Working with the Schools, volunteer leaders, and alumni, the next generation of alumni engagement at Columbia will be a model for peer institutions.

Key Issues

Throughout its three-phase strategic planning process, the Committee focused on key issues related to:

1. engaging alumni of all Schools through insight-driven programming and communication
2. clarifying roles and modes of collaboration of the CAA that would enhance School-based efforts
3. aligning the CAA Plan with Columbia College’s five-year plan for alumni relations

There are two framing visions to this Plan. The first is the “CAA as a Big Tent.” It envisions the CAA as a strong, unifying leadership organization designed to benefit all alumni and Schools by being a center of expertise for best practices and acting as a leader for University-wide programs. The second is the “CAA as Facilitator, Expert, and Leader,” often referred to as the CAA-School Paradigm.  It highlights the importance of clarifying how the CAA, the Schools, and alumni can collaborate to optimize alumni engagement and satisfaction on both School and University-wide levels.

CAA as a Big Tent

The focus is on clear overarching goals in five distinct areas:

1. Defined relationship to Schools
Defined relationship to Schools: The CAA should be an organization with a clear identity in relation to the Schools. To reach this goal, it will be necessary to develop clarity concerning the role of CAA regarding three categories of CAA-School partnerships: 1. CAA programs that contemplate School involvement; 2. School programs that include CAA involvement; and 3. Joint CAA-School programs. 

2. Best Practices
The CAA should be the source of best practices based on specific engagement opportunities. 

3. Volunteer Partnership and Development
As volunteer energy drives more CAA activity, the CAA staff and leaders should serve as the central resource for the Columbia volunteer network through cultivation, training and development, and support. 

4. Awareness of the CAA 
The CAA should be universally known among alumni and on campus as the hub of University-wide alumni engagement. 

5. Communication
The CAA is the primary hub of alumni communication across the University, recognizing the Schools’ autonomy and willingness to coordinate, in connecting Columbia alumni to the University, their Schools, and each other in more meaningful and less confusing ways. 

CAA as Facilitator, Expert, and Leader

Various partnerships already exist among the CAA, the Schools, and the alumni themselves. A main focus of the next five years, however, will be to more clearly delineate responsibilities between CAA and School-based alumni relations. Ideally both alumni and staff will have a greater understanding of their strengths and resources as alumni engagement opportunities and platforms evolve. These partnerships should work to foster mutually-beneficial relationships for all stakeholders, and be established on a case by case basis.  For example, the needs of the College may differ from those of Social Work and will be addressed accordingly; but partnerships may be able to identify and capitalize upon mutually beneficial synergies. Ideally, the College and the School of Social Work may also discover their own commonalities in given situations. The nature of CAA leadership and partnership can be categorized through the CAA-School Paradigm:

CAA as Facilitator.  The CAA provides the opportunities, resources, and platforms for alumni-driven initiatives and groups to incubate.  This would include but not be limited to providing financial and administrative resources, supporting alumni-instigated social media sites, and specialized/focused alumni groups and gatherings organized outside the CAA or School construct. Under the Facilitator role, the CAA would also provide support when appropriate for School-led initiatives.

CAA as Expert. The CAA supports and enhances School-based programming and initiatives through close collaboration and transfer of best practices, templates, and toolkits. The CAA will develop the capacity to tailor expertise to varied individual Schools based on their needs and the resources they have in hand. This category would include but not be limited to inter-School programs, continuing education activities, and various communication platforms.

CAA as Leader. The CAA leads planning and implementation efforts and provides staff and financial resources. This category would include but not be limited to University regional club programs, volunteer network/training, shared interest groups, market research, alumni benefits, Columbia Alumni Leaders Weekend, alumni directories, curating of academic content, and life-stage programs.