30th Anniversary Of CAAE Part I: The Past

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To celebrate the 30th anniversary of CAAE’s founding in 1989, the Association’s Winter Institute held in Scottsdale, AZ, in February 2020 featured three special panel discussions moderated by founding member Steve Grafton, President & CEO of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. The first panel featured fellow founding member Doug Dibbert, President of the University of North Carolina General Alumni Association, and Amy Button Renz, President and CEO of Kansas State Alumni Association, member since 1994, who together, took a look back at the founding of CAAE. Additional recollections were gathered in a post-Institute telephone interview with CAAE founding President Robert G. (Bob) Forman, Steve Grafton’s predecessor at the University of Michigan Alumni Association.

The Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE) was formed following its Charter Business Meeting held July 8, 1989, on the eve of the Annual Assembly of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in Washington, D.C. 

The mission of CAAE was entered into the Articles of Organization following the Charter Meeting, as follows: “…to advocate and sustain the value of alumni association self-governance by providing the information, policies, programs, technology, and network necessary to enhance alumni administration, higher education, and professional development.”

The Foundation of CAAE

CAAE’s commitment to providing relevant education about best practices in alumni relations has remained since the days of the Big Ten Institute.

Steve Grafton CAAE Founding Member, President & CEO of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

“I suspect that those of us who played a role in the founding of CAAE might have differing views as to what our motivations were and how we collectively implemented them,” said Bob Forman. “But any history of CAAE must place an emphasis on the Big Ten Institute, as members (of the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the United States) were instrumental in building a community of alumni leaders. Initially, they chose to invite ten alumni directors from other self-governed, independent alumni organizations. Self-governance was a requirement.”

Leading up to the creation of CAAE, Doug Dibbert said he and other members of self-governing associations sensed a shift in CASE’s strategic vision, especially in relation to independent alumni organizations. At one Big Ten Institute, a CASE senior officer announced CASE’s intention to open its services to a variety of higher education alumni associations, including, but not limited to self-governed associations. “We realized that with maybe 80 alumni associations under its purview, CASE would have fewer resources, less attention and programming in service to the unique challenges that come to large, complex, self-governed alumni associations,” he said.

Joining in 1994, Amy Button Renz also underscored the significance of CAAE’s role relative to the alumni voice in higher education. “The group was also formed to strengthen the alumni voice,” she said. “I know our founders felt it was important that alumni have an independent voice and I don’t think we talk about the importance of the alumni voice like we used to. I’m glad we took the time this year to celebrate our Association’s founding and recall its origins, especially for our new members.” 

Steve Grafton echoed Amy’s appreciation: “CAAE’s commitment to providing relevant education about best practices in alumni relations has remained since the days of the Big Ten Institute,” he said. “Our focus on self-governance has changed, but we still promote the importance of the alumni voice, just with less emphasis on the governance structure.”

Then and Now

The world was a different place 30 years ago and the field of alumni relations has evolved as well. “While relationship-building is still vitally important in our work, an Alumni Relations CEO no longer has the luxury of just being a great ‘people person,’” added Steve. “The increasing roles of technology, marketing, management, campus politics, and more, have created the need for alumni executives to be adept at all elements of running a complex organization.” 

The gender balance in the profession has likewise evolved since 1989. “When I started,” said Amy, “there were very few women leading associations who were members of CAAE,” adding that her colleagues from those early days are still some of her best friends. “Ultimately, we need to be reminded that our voice should be heard and that the alumni association needs to be at the table when important decisions are being made at the university.”

“There is still, and will always be, value in protecting and promoting the voice of alumni in the life of an institution, and alumni will always want us to provide opportunities for them to support their alma mater,” said Steve, in closing.

Founding members of CAAE

President: Robert G. Forman (The University of Michigan)

Vice President: Douglas S. Dibbert (The University of North Carolina)

Secretary: Mary Ruth Snyder (Rutgers University)

Treasurer: Fred B. Williams (The University of Kansas)


Roy Vaughn (University of Texas)

William E. Stone (Stanford University

Jack Kinney (University of California – Santa Barbara)

G. E. (Buddy) Russell (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

Dan L. Heinlen (A Ohio State University)

James H. Melton (Florida State University

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