Vice President for Alumni Affairs
Executive Director of the Auburn Alumni Association
Gretchen VanValkenburg graduated from the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business in 1986 with a degree in management. After beginning her career in the non-profit sector, she served almost 20 years in development and alumni relations at the University of West Florida, eventually becoming the Executive Director for the Office of Development and Alumni Engagement. She recently returned to Auburn as Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Executive Director of the Auburn Alumni Association. A native of Montevallo, Alabama, VanValkenburg and her husband, Craig, are glad to be back on the Plains. They have a daughter, Heidi, who lives in Los Angeles and looks forward to visiting Auburn.
1. How did you get into alumni affairs and the development side of higher education?
I actually started working in Auburn University's Office of Development as a student employee 30 years ago. My first semester here I worked part time doing data entry for gifts in the development office in the basement of Foy Hall. I never had aspirations of working at a university, but after I got my management degree, I started working for non-profit organizations like the American Heart Association, where I ran the statewide Jump Rope for Heart program, American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society, where I focused on advocacy, special events and fundraising. When my daughter was young, I wanted to travel less so I started working in alumni affairs at the University of West Florida and stayed for 17 years.
2. What brought you to Auburn?
I was perfectly happy living on the Gulf Coast and had no intention of moving, but when your alma mater calls and recruits you, you get very excited. I was just so flattered and honored they would consider me. My husband is an Auburn graduate as well, and for both of us to be here is really magical and fun. Everyone has rolled out the welcome mat, and it's been a really smooth transition.
3. How has your management education helped you in your professional settings?
It provided a good business foundation even though I went into the non-profit sector. Non-profits have a reputation of being volunteer driven, but over the course of my career, I've seen them become more business-minded. My management degree has helped me make business decisions in terms of strategic planning, leadership and management of personnel, and understanding budget matters. Also, having that business background gives you a lot of credibility when working with other business leaders. Even though my degree is in management, I really enjoyed marketing and use it in promoting and assessing programs and services.
4. What is your vision going forward for the Auburn Alumni Association?
One thing we've been doing since I began my position here is reviewing our strategic plan. I would rather focus on three to five overarching goals instead of doing 20 little ones. My goal is, at the end of this planning cycle, to have a sound strategy that represents all of our stakeholders' voices. First, we need to set the table for our constituents so they feel comfortable coming into the Alumni Center and contacting our office. We need to provide the best customer service and direct them to the right programs or opportunities. Second, we're working on strategic, consistent messaging and communication. We have to look at the people who are excited, involved and engaged, and ask what messages are working and what they need to be. Third, at the end of the day, we want more members and alumni giving. In order to do that, we have to integrate and closely coordinate with the Office of Development. We need to identify and strengthen partnerships across campus. I'm a huge believer in collaboration. We're not competing; we're all here to support Auburn University.
5. What business principles do you draw on daily?
Alumni Affairs is a business; we have goals and budgets. Even though we are a non-profit, we are accountable to our board; we get audited. We are abiding by strong accounting principles every day. We use marketing for how we promote memberships and how we steward those members. Our strategic planning exercise is a big business principle, because you have to have a strong plan that's current, fluid and relevant. We have to operate as a business, or we won't be relevant or successful in supporting the university as a whole.
Last Updated: Aug. 3, 2015