Alumni Relations Council

The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan formed the Alumni Relations Council (ARC) in 2016 for the University community to share transformative alumni engagement ideas, research, and strategies.

ARC offers a forum for networking, learning, and collaboration with peers and national experts on diverse alumni engagement topics. It is our goal that ARC members walk away with the skills needed to enhance alumni connections within units and across the University.

Quarterly Alumni Relations Council events bring national experts and University thought leaders together to share the latest thinking on high-impact strategies, while smaller working meetings facilitate workshopping ideas with peers. The opportunity to connect with both industry leaders and peers is just one of the reasons you’ll never want to miss an ARC offering. To find out more about our upcoming meeting, contact Ayanna McConnell ( to be added to our email list. We look forward to having you.

Upcoming: The Principles of Change Leadership with Patrick Doyle, former CEO of Domino’s

Friday, Sept. 21, 2018
11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Alumni Center Founders Room (200 Fletcher St)

with a Domino’s Pizza Bar lunch 

Patrick Doyle has served as president and CEO of Domino’s since March 2010, an appointment that came after nearly 13 years with the company. In January 2018, he announced his plans to depart Domino’s in July 2018 after eight years of guiding Domino’s to industry-elite levels of sales performance, earnings growth, shareholder return and franchisee profitability.

During his tenure as CEO:

• Global retail sales more than doubled, to over $12.3 billion in 2017

• Domino’s doubled its market share and became the #1 pizza company in the world, based on global retail sales

• Domino’s returned $3.4 billion to shareholders

• Domino’s saw its share price increase more than 2,100%

• Average profit per store for franchise owners grew from $49,000/year to more than $136,000/year

• Domestic average per-store weekly sales volume increased from $12,000 to more than $21,000

• Digital sales increased to 65% of total sales

• Domino’s international store count increased more than 130%, adding more than 5,000 new stores to the system

Doyle earned his MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, after completing his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Michigan. Doyle serves on the board of directors for Best Buy Co., Inc. He is the past chairman of Business Leaders for Michigan, and has served on the board of G&K Services, Inc.

He currently resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife, Techy. The Doyles have two grown daughters.

Alumni Relations Resources

Academic Impressions Webinars

Academic Impressions (AI) serves higher education professionals by providing educational products and services that help institutions tackle key, strategic challenges.

The upcoming webcasts below are free thanks to U-M’s Academic Impressions membership.

Educational Advisory Board Research

The Educational Advisory Board helps today’s education leaders solve their biggest problems.

U-M staff can access the Education Advisory Board’s digital offerings on advancement and alumni engagement thanks to support from the Office of University Development.

  • Advancement Forum – The Advancement Forum provides advancement leaders with best-practice research and analytics to retain top fundraising talent, engage alumni, and increase philanthropic revenue.
  • Alumni Volunteerism and Leadership Resource Center – This resource center is a repository of implementation guidance and insights from our 2015 research initiative, The New Rules of Engagement. It is focused on the activation of millennial and Generation X segments: those elusive mid-career alumni who will constitute tomorrow’s key donor and leader pipeline. See The New Rules of Engagement infographic for five strategies for building the next generation of alumni leaders and volunteers.

Additional EAB resources are available to U-M staff who create a profile via U-M’s membership, or in the Alumni Relations Council folder in Box at U-M.

Previous Sessions

Did you miss an Alumni Relations Council event? Or are you curious about the type of information we provide? You can download a PDF of any of the files from our meetings.

May 2018: Expanding Alumni Engagement Through Online Communities

What We Learned

Heather McNair, VP of Engagement Technology for Higher Logic, shared industry trends on leveraging technology to maximize engagement and informed attendees on how online platforms can be a catalyst for creating and sustaining alumni connections. Steve Burns, Director for Global Engagement, walked through an online demo of the new Online Communities & Online Directory platform. The session concluded with a panel discussion on lessons from the Online Communities Pilot launch, which took place winter semester with the U of M Club of Washington, D.C., MLaw Entrepreneurs, U of M Club of Chicago, and Alumni Association Club Leaders. We’re excited to share that Online Communities will launch for all Michigan alumni in late summer 2018.

Visit for more information about Online Communities.

See the ARC May Session Slide Deck

March 2018: Is Alumni Engagement an Art? Or a Science?

On March 9, Jennifer Cunningham, a nationally recognized expert in alumni engagement metrics (and an Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations at Lehigh University), delivered an Alumni Relations Council talk titled, “Is Alumni Engagement an Art? Or a science?”

“What we do is an art, but we also need to apply some science to it,” Cunningham told the crowd gathered at the Alumni Center on Friday morning. “ … Alumni engagement metrics don’t tell us what to do. Metrics guide our decisions and actions so we can be more effective.”


Cunningham emphasized quality interactions with alumni over planning more and more events, noting that while it’s easy to get caught up in the latter, alumni attendees are more likely to engage in a sustained way when they feel they’ve been heard.

One way to achieve this is by using short, simple net promoter surveys that consist of just two questions: “Based on your experience, how likely are you to recommend this to another alumna/us?” using a 0-10 scale from very unlikely to extremely likely, and “Why did you answer that way?”

Cunningham explained that the open-ended question allows alumni to cut to the chase and tell you precisely what they thought could be better, or what they loved about a program. “What you can learn from these two questions is fascinating, and it provides a great opportunity to follow up and call people and say, ‘Hey, I’m wondering what you thought about this.’ … Instead of someone becoming more and more unhappy, this allows us to ask ourselves, how can we turn it around and get them to come back? And if they’re happy, how do we get them to be an ambassador?”

Interestingly, Cunningham said that attendees who give an event a high score, and those who give it a low score, often offer nearly identical feedback on logistics or food. So what makes the difference? It’s the sense of being united with others. “People who got the group hug overlooked that stuff, because what was important is that they got to talk to each other,” said Cunningham. “ … It’s not about the chicken. It’s about the connections.”

Cunningham also talked about alumni relations methods that don’t work – relying too much on science, or too much on art; whining about colleagues who don’t get it; complaining about bad technology; complexity; and doing nothing – and the many benefits of upselling or cross-selling. By way of example, Cunningham showed a brief grocery list, followed by a photo of a full-to-bursting shopping cart.

“In one store, they put the bananas right by the cereal, making it really easy for you to buy something else,” said Cunningham. “And what do they do at McDonald’s? For forty cents, you can supersize your meal. … For us, when we get people to come to homecoming, we need to not only make them feel good when they’re here, … but we also need to actively go out there and supersize them. … While they’re here, why don’t we do everything we can to get them to come back for something else?”

Cristina Frendo, Director of Alumni Engagement at University of Michigan-Dearborn, thought Cunningham’s thoughts on cross-selling were among the talk’s most valuable takeaways.

“Because we’re so decentralized, cross-selling is what we do, and it’s not going away,” said Frendo. “We need to embrace that. … And the creation of the Alumni Relations Council helps us with cross-selling, giving us the opportunity to hear what Flint’s doing, and share what’s going on in Dearborn.”

Meanwhile, Beanie Zollweg, Manager for Student Engagement at the Alumni Association, was interested in Cunningham’s comments about how to transition students to be engaged alumni, and experienced an “ah-ha moment” while listening to Cunningham’s thoughts on short net promoter surveys. “If we don’t ask what they’re thinking about, we won’t know,” said Zollweg. “I really like the idea that if you keep it simple, they’ll tell us what we want to know.”

Finally, Brent Nickola, Alumni Relations Manager at University of Michigan-Flint, felt reassured by Cunningham’s talk. “We’re headed in the right direction, and we’re ahead of the game on some things,” he said. “It was heartening to see that some of the work we’re doing on our campus, in collaboration with everyone else, is in line with what a national expert came here to tell us.”

September 2017: Alumni Engagement in the Third Century

The Alumni Relations Council kicked off with a very provocative session, Alumni Engagement in the Third Century, in which three Michigan deans and the President of the Alumni Association challenged the 100+ U-M staff in attendance to reimagine the definitions of “alumni” and “engagement.”

Additional takeaways from the panel included:

  • Use an alumni-centric approach to learn how they define the University and the types of opportunities that are meaningful to them.
  • Give alumni entryways into the world of alumni engagement so that they can connect where they feel comfortable, and can access the many engagement opportunities in a coherent way.
  • Strengthen ties to future alumni (i.e. students) while they are on campus.

It was encouraging to hear the panelists express the value of alumni relations professionals and the role we have in transformative alumni engagement. We also welcomed many new faces to the ARC community and look forward to being a valuable network for you at Michigan.

ARC meeting topics for 2017-18 will include alumni engagement metrics, online alumni communities, and innovations in alumni volunteer boards. As we finalize event dates, I invite you to complete this short survey to share your thoughts on what topics you would like to see the ARC community explore further.

Read more about the distinguished panelists.

Scott DeRue, Dean, Ross School of Business

With a background in private equity, management consulting, and academia, Scott DeRue, the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, is a widely published thought leader in business education and action-based learning, as well as an award-winning researcher and instructor. He believes that business is the most powerful force for economic and social impact — and it is the responsibility of Michigan Ross to develop the next generation of business leaders.

DeRue joined Michigan Ross in 2007, taking on multiple leadership roles over time. Prior to his deanship, DeRue served as the associate dean for Executive Education, professor of management, director of the Sanger Leadership Center, and faculty director of the Emerging Leaders Program. He also led the creation and launch of Alumni Advantage, a new initiative connecting Ross alumni to the school and university. Offerings include free tuition for executive education programming, access to livestreamed school events, and the opportunity to attend #ROSSTALKS, a series of global events where faculty present TED-style talks on hot-button business topics.

Prior to joining Ross, DeRue worked at the Monitor Group (now Monitor Deloitte). He received his PhD in management from Michigan State University and his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Andrew Martin, Dean, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Andrew D. Martin is the dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. He is also a professor of political science and statistics, and he is proud to be both an educator and a student advocate.

As dean, he leads the largest academic unit at U-M. In addition to overseeing its daily work, he has led significant new initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and for scholarships and internships. He has also driven the creation of the new LSA Opportunity Hub.

As a researcher, Andrew’s expertise lies in the study of judicial decision-making, particularly with regard to the U.S. Supreme Court. He is the co-creator of the Martin-Quinn Scores, which measure the ideology of Supreme Court justices and are routinely cited by academics and leading news outlets alike. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to serving as dean, Andrew teaches courses in judicial decision-making and political methodology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He earned his B.A. in mathematics and government from the College of William & Mary and his Ph.D. in political science from Washington University in St. Louis.

Steve Grafton, President & CEO, Alumni Association

Steve Grafton is in his 23rd year as President and CEO of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. In this role, he ensures that the Association continually provides greater opportunities for engagement to Michigan alumni to involve them in greater levels of support for their University.

Beyond his responsibilities at the Alumni Association, Grafton has been actively involved throughout the University community, serving as a longstanding member of the Dean’s Council Development Subcommittee and for 10 years was chair of the Advisory Council for the University’s Museum of Natural History. He also served as a member of the board of the Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning and in 2015 was a member of the Provost’s Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. In 2016, he served on the University Bicentennial Alumni Awards Committee.

Grafton is a charter member and past President of the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE). He also served on the board of trustees of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and chaired CASE’s Commission on Alumni Relations. He has been a district director and faculty member for numerous CASE conferences, an author of articles on alumni relations, and an editor of the “Handbook of Institutional Advancement.”

Before coming to Michigan, Grafton was executive director of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association. He also served as legislative director for U.S. Sen. John Stennis, D-MS. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public policy and administration, both from Mississippi State University. He and his wife Carol have two sons, who are both graduates of the University of Michigan.

The event was moderated by Ralph Johnson, MBA’92, Chair of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and Ombud for the Americas region, McKinsey & Company.

Ralph Johnson, MBA’92

Ombud for the Americas region at the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company. Ralph is the former chair of the University’s annual fund campaign, and also a former chair of the Ross School of Business’ Alumni Board of Governors.

June 2017: New Rules – Strategic Next Steps

Participants reviewed The New Rules of Engagement and brainstormed how to turn new alumni engagement ideas into strategic action.

May 2017: New Rules of Engagement

November 2016: Deeper Dive into Data for Alumni Relations

Meeting Recap

Professor Melville led participants in activities designed to provide a “deeper dive” into learning how data and metrics can support and amplify alumni relations. Attendees received a complimentary copy of Data Driven Nonprofits.

September 2016: How Data Can Optimize Alumni Engagement

Meeting Recap

Ross alum Peter Faricy, ’95, shared his Amazon insight at the September meeting to help attendees understand how data can optimize customer (or alumni) engagement. Professor Nigel Melville shed light on how AR teams can become more data-informed organizations. The School of Information previewed a Bicentennial App that will launch in January 2017.

April 2016: Storytelling and Creating Joy in Alumni Relations