Over the last decade, the Bates Club network has undergone an evolution in structure and offerings. Rather than revolving around an annual meeting and dinner, a typical Bates Club today offers a range of annual events geared to a diverse alumni constituency. Rather than a hierarchical club structure, most clubs today are run by a steering committee, ensuring greater member input and continuity of programming. Scott Steinberg ’86, director of alumni relations, discussed this evolution during a recent conversation with the magazine.Q: In the past, what was the typical Bates Club event? An annual meeting? A dinner?
A: For many years, it was the annual dinner, which was structured to the point that the date would appear a full year ahead, on the annual College calendar distributed to alumni. It was that way for many years. Spouses came, it was a dress-up affair — it was from an era that entertainment meant hiring a sitter and going out for dinner at a restaurant.
Q: When did it become apparent that the annual meeting-dinner structure, with dates set a year ahead, was not meeting the needs of alumni?
A: Over the years, as people became more and more busy and venues more and more difficult to obtain, we would have a situation where we would be approaching an annual meeting, but for the club leadership, the date — chosen a year in advance — might no longer work. So sometimes, the date printed on the invitation would actually differ from the date on the College calendar.
Q: Was there a sociological sense, too, that one big, annual event for an entire alumni constituency in one area wasn’t working anymore?
A: Yes, particularly for some of our larger clubs — Boston, Hartford, New York, D.C., and Cumberland County — we now try to encourage club leaders to sponsor a number of different events each year, recognizing that a single event will not attract the entire membership, either because of the type of event or the date. So in the larger cities, like Boston, the clubs try to structure six to twelve events per year, ranging from formal to informal, from educative and cultural to purely social, and ranging in price and time of week or weekend. Some are geared to families, and some to younger, single alumni.
Q: You read a lot about how traditionally singles-only, no-children entertainment venues — even Las Vegas — are trying to appeal more to families now. The idea is that you’ve got to appeal to families, because parents won’t leave kids home anymore. Do you get that sense too?
A: On a broader level, we get the sense that people’s free time is often more limited, and therefore, family events can be very popular. For example, one of the most popular club events each year is the skating party which Bates hosts on campus, to which local alumni, Bates parents, and families are invited. Last year, we drew more than 150 people.
On another level, we have to be more flexible in terms of training Bates club leaders. For years, we have asked alumni to return to campus for volunteer training. We do continue a campus volunteer workshop during Back to Bates weekend, but we’ve also started doing training sessions — the Annual Fund and admissions does this also — off campus. The Alumni Office staff does more travel to cities to meet with alumni rather than expecting them to come here. We’re trying to recognize the time constraints of travel for our alumni, as well as the financial constraints.
Q: For years, college clubs have been very hierarchical, with the club presidency a coveted, important spot. Bates is going away from the hierarchical club structure. Why?
A: For a couple of reasons: With a single president, for example, the activity of the club will ebb and flow with the activity of the lead officer. The officer has his or her own time constraints. We’ve gone to a less-hierarchical structure with a steering committee, comprised of several people. The committee appoints one liaison to the Alumni Office as their spokesperson.
The steering committee has a couple of advantages. The volunteers can distribute the work amongst themselves, making it easier for them. A committee also has the advantage of having greater continuity. If one of the members steps down, it doesn’t automatically mean the club will have a lapse in activity, which is often the case when a president steps down. The other steering committee members pick up the slack and continue on.
Q: Say I’m a young alumnus or alumna in New York City and I work in an art gallery and I see an opportunity to have a Bates Club event there. How easy is it for me — or any alum — to organize an event, even though I’m not on this committee?
A: A Bates Club is analogous to the Bates Outing Club, in that everyone is a member. You need only to live or work within the geographic area (and make sure the College has your address, so you can receive club mailings). I would say to any alum reading this piece, that if they have an idea for any event, whether or not they’re on the club steering committee, they can always call the Alumni Office — (207) 786-6127, e-mail email@example.com — to make that suggestion, either directly to me or for us to forward to a member of the steering committee in their area. A list of Bates Clubs and contacts is available on the Bates Web site.
In addition, members of the Class of 1996 receive a young-alumni directory, Life after Bates, which lists the Bates Club leaders.
Q: Do you have an inkling of some of the events this year?
A: They will fall into broad categories: social events like happy hours and holiday parties; athletic events involving Bates teams in action or a pro sport (the New York City Club got forty tickets to the U.S. Open); cultural events, like museum tours and symphony and theater performances. One thing we’re trying to do this year is to get College personalities on the road. President Harward will be making a number of trips, as he usually does.
Q: When the president visits a club, are there opportunities for alumni to ask him about the College?
A: Absolutely. That’s part of the president’s style. During a talk or presentation about the College, he typically allows ample time for a question-and-answer session, whether he’s there as the featured speaker or he’s accompanying a student group. He’s very candid and specific when answering questions from alumni and parents.
Q: And you have other goals for the coming year?
A: We hope to increase the number of faculty who visit clubs. Last spring, Professor of Economics Anne Williams visited the Boston Club in the spring and led a tour of the Museum of Our National Heritage, which was very well received. We also like to sponsor students on the road — last year the Bates Orchestra appeared at the Kennedy Center, and a smaller group of students performed Oleana in Chicago and in Washington, D.C.
Q: How do you see the club structure evolving over the next several years?
A: As the alumni body continues to grows in number and geographic diversity, I see more clubs — we had events two places we’ve never had before, Arizona and Wisconsin, and this year we hope to have an event in North Carolina. We’ve gone from fifty events two years ago to sixty-six this past year. This year, we hope to do ninety events, which would almost double our activity level in two years.
I think that Bates is asking alumni for more — financial support, especially — so it’s only fair that we be prepared to give more in terms of events and other services and opportunities.
As the size and overall geographic diversity of the alumni constituency increases, the club network may become the single best way for alumni to connect and reconnect with the College.
Q: Do you do many events with Bowdoin and Colby?
A: When we organize an event where there might not be a “critical mass” of Bates alumni, we try to organize events with another college, whether it be with our Maine neighbors or others. Another example might be a focused event that might have a focused, though strong, appeal. We teamed with Bowdoin and Colby this fall, for example, for an event at Bowdoin’s Breckinridge Public Affairs Center. Each institution sent a political science professor to discuss the November elections.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the clubs?
A: Alumni in a given area should really feel that the club belongs to them. When I moved to New York City after graduation, I had a sense that the club was a closed circle, but that wasn’t the case. It took me a while to realize that I could take part in club activities and make suggestions for events. Just like Bates student organizations, the Bates Clubs are open to all alumni for participation or suggestions.
If alumni have any questions about the Bates Club network or possible Bates activities in their area, they can contact the Office of Alumni Relations, Bates College, 2 Andrews Road, Lewiston, Maine 04240. Our phone is (207) 786-6127, fax is (207) 786-8242, and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.