Customer Spotlight with Bob Clark, Pepperdine University
Bob Clark, Executive Director of Alumni Affairs at Pepperdine University tells us how his institution weathered the storm of COVID-19, growing their community and intensifying relationships with their constituents. He also shares Pepperdine’s approach to DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) and the efforts made to make diversity a priority on their campus.
Your Role: How has your role/department been affected during this period and how have you adapted
Our department was fortunate because we were not required to furlough any staff. We did have to reduce our alumni engagement spending by 25%.
The challenge that we had to address was switching to working remotely as a close team. The university provided all the support that we needed to make this adjustment. In less than a month we were running efficiently. We were getting a little “Zoom meeting crazy” in the first two months, but we quickly learned how to use Slack and to communicate quickly for urgent matters and finding options other than Zoom.
My role was changing before COVID-19 because I was planning to retire by February 2021 or switch to working part-time. The favorite part of my role as the department leader is developing teamwork and being a role model to the next generation of university leaders. I have great staff whom I trust and respect to adapt and remain flexible during these uncertain times. They have been more creative beyond my farthest imagination in discovering and implementing new engagement strategies and programming. I’m feeling confident that my successor will share my trust in them and their passion to take Pepperdine’s alumni engagement strategies to the next level with his/her vision.
COVID-19 Support: What have you found your constituents needed most during this period and how were you able to support those needs?
I think that we and our constituents have struggled and still are with isolation, too much bad news, and the uncertainties of when life would return to normal. During these trying times, we all need family and community support. Our mission for many years has been to “build community” between alumni, students, faculty, staff, and undergraduate parents.
Three years ago we selected the Graduway platform because we saw the future of forming strong communities and alumni affinities depended upon digital technology. Today, we are fortunate to have a fully functional Graduway platform running. We called our platform PeppConnect, and it is the best solution that we have for continuing to build life-long relationships within our community.
Going Virtual: What were the biggest challenges you faced in shifting all your activities to virtual ones?
Fortunately, our university purchased a license for Zoom webinars for the purpose of classroom teaching. We found the Zoom webinar version best for conducting virtual events.
Our biggest challenge was switching from planning in-person events that we promoted six to eight weeks in advance of the event to promoting Zoom virtual events in less than half the time. The opportunities to collect and present virtual events content were all around us, but we had to react much faster to create and market the events.
Another challenge was collecting participant KPI data. We are required to report not just how many alumni attend our virtual events, but clearly identify each participation and record the data in our constituents database system. The registration process gives us both alumni counts and names, but the Zoom software gives us names and email addresses which don’t always match the registration information. It takes extra staff time and a modified backend data process to properly identify our participants.
DEI: What initiatives has your institution undertaken as a result of the ongoing discussion on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?
Our president immediately set up a Diversity Advisory Council who meets regularly to assess and respond to all the diversity issues that need to be appropriately addressed. The Council represents a cross-section of the Pepperdine community.
In addition, we are in the process of searching for and hiring a Chief Diversity officer who will report to the president’s office.