CAA 2027 Strategic Plan

CAA 2027: A Five-Year Strategic Plan

Ratified by the CAA Board of Directors
Thursday, September 29, 2022


The CAA 2027 five-year plan marks the third strategic effort since its founding in 2005. Due to the start of the pandemic in 2020, the CAA combined the last two years of its current plan as the roadmap no longer aligned effectively with the world, Columbia, and the CAA’s changing reality. This resulted in the formation of the CAA 2027 Task Force to analyze what the changing landscape of alumni engagement should be over the next five years. The CAA 2027 Strategic Plan is the reflection of the Task Force report (ADDENDUM A), feedback from internal and external stakeholders, and the collaborative thinking of the CAA Board and its Committees in an ongoing partnership with the administration.

The CAA Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) took all the resources mentioned above and refined a new vision: Where every Columbian can build, belong and go beyond and a mission statement: To cultivate a global community of Columbia alums, students, faculty, and staff to explore interests, exchange ideas, and take actions that enrich one another, the University, and the world. Partnering with the CAA Marketing Committee, the SPC affirmed a purpose statement (the GPS for the vision and mission): Deepening connections, volunteerism, giving, and inclusivity for every Columbian, everywhere.

The SPC also reviewed and enhanced the four overarching themes:

● Strengthen the value exchange between the CAA and the individual Columbian, enhancing Columbia's mission through volunteerism and philanthropy while energizing and enriching the lives of alumni through targeted programs, communications, and networking opportunities (Value Exchange)
● Recognize the engagement journey and its role in strengthening ties to the Columbia community: awaken → explore → act→ advocate (Engagement Journey)
● Create a sense of belonging in all we do to create the most welcoming and respectful community possible while introducing inclusive traditions and a renewed sense of pride in the Columbia brand (Belonging)
● Connect with the alumni community, fostering lifelong engagement (Students)

Along with seven Task Force-identified Strategic Imperatives, the SPC created a framework to build out a
new five-year strategic plan (referred to as the Plan).

Among the lessons learned during the pandemic, none was more cogent to how both the Task Force and the SPC thought and went about strategic planning than creating a transparent, inclusive, and nimble plan. The CAA Board, University Alumni Relations staff along with School-based colleagues, and the SPC will all work collaboratively to plan, implement, and evaluate all aspects of the Plan. The SPC will review progress with the University Alumni Relations staff on an ongoing basis. Using this as a guiding principle, the Plan identifies short-term wins (success in 12-18 months) as markers of progress and articulates what excellence should look like in 2027. This approach does not rely on exacting tactical steps and artificial timelines, but rather a construct offering room for creativity and the ability to adapt to new technologies and priorities as they develop. Finally, the Plan views the engagement journey (ADDENDUM B) through a lens that quantifies success through outcomes and accepts that journeys will be very varied yet still contribute to individual and collective excellence.


Seven strategic imperatives serve as calls to action in the areas marking the need to demonstrate progress in order to achieve excellence. All have a rationale for inclusion in the Plan, fall into either target segments or operational initiatives and align with all four themes.

Target Segments

Achieve an enduring and active pool of volunteers. Rationale: A self-sustaining pipeline across all demographics leads to strong, consistent volunteer leadership that represents alumni and the entire Columbia community.

● Introduce volunteerism at Columbia—opportunities and benefits for volunteers—through multiple information channels
● Foster feelings of both being valued and the value of giving back by developing recent alumni opportunities, both School-based and University-wide
● Identify graduating student leaders to integrate into global clubs, shared interest groups, and committees thus instilling the importance of volunteerism by partnering with the Schools and the Office of University Life
● Create more virtual volunteer opportunities to engage alumni, students, faculty, and staff outside areas of critical mass as well as those more comfortable volunteering without personal contact
● Cultivate volunteer life stage journeys utilizing a time and talent management approach
● Investigate a platform to replace VolunteerColumbia that is more robust, native to Salesforce and offers recruitment, recognition (peer-to-peer, formal awards, etc.), and retention modules

Short-term Achievements:
1. Design and implement an integrated new board member orientation for the CAA Board,
School-based Alumni Associations, and other volunteer groups
2. Develop a programmatic calendar to connect current and former members of the CAA Board
3. Identify student leaders to transition as volunteers for shared interest groups by working closely
with Student Affairs offices and the Office of University Life


Through alumni leadership modeling, build students’ awareness of the value of being
engaged with Columbia and its community throughout their lives.
Rationale: Students whose interest in the Columbia community is nurtured will become alumni who are
more inclined to engage through attending, volunteering, donating, and advocating.

● Create, execute, and evaluate a segmented communication plan that entices and educates students on alumni networking and mentoring opportunities
● Conduct a welcoming and pride-building outreach about the larger University community and its University citizens at key milestones
● Develop purposeful programming for students to interact with alumni across the University, collaborating with the Office of University Life and all Schools
● Leverage global clubs and shared interest groups for individual and group connections with student groups
● Establish a leadership and skills development program designed to connect and build relationships with student and alumni leaders

Short-term Achievements:
1. Integrate the Student Leadership Advisory Council (SLAC), University Senate Student Affairs Committee (SAC), and CAA Scholars into CAA programs, committees, and meetings
2. Create annual touchpoints for student groups and corresponding CAA-shared interest groups
3. Launch CAA Alumni Speakers Bureau for in-person and virtual student events


Develop positive and lasting connections for the graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021, who ended their student experiences virtually, and the classes of 2024 and 2025, who began them virtually, as well as those whose Columbia experience was interrupted especially
2022 and 2023.

Rationale: To ensure their connection to campus, one another, and the alumni community going forward, the CAA needs to meaningfully and frequently engage these cohorts in ways that may be different from classes with more traditional experiences.

● Extend programs that build on The Columbia Way experience (the virtual program for graduating students) offering professional development, life skills, and social interactions as these graduates transition into early careers and families
● Create messaging around resilience and uniqueness as a means of countering the negative connotations of graduating/ending your Columbia career
● “Recover” these classes with early and “only for you” targeted programming to transition more towards a typical Columbia alumni experience (an emphasis on engagement and value exchange ahead of fundraising; addressing some of what was lost)
● Convene a task force of alumni from this cohort to formulate a series of engagement opportunities
● Add representation of these cohorts on the CAA Board, committees, task forces, clubs, and groups while encouraging Schools to do the same

Short-term Achievements:
1. Seed CAA Committees, clubs, and shared interest groups with representation from these cohorts
2. Offer current 2024 and 2025 students ample opportunities to interact with alumni and students from across the University
3. Implement The Columbia Way programming for graduating students to include both virtual and in-person activities

Operational Initiatives

Incorporate a sense of One Columbia (a marketing and community-building concept that every aspect of the University is part of the whole) into all programs, communications, and volunteer structures.

Rationale: Aligning the CAA, Schools, and groups in this way will create a broad base of mobilized University citizens, benefiting and impacting the greater University community including its alumni and students.

● Create a brand for all CAA programs, communications, and activities that can be utilized by
Schools and groups
● Establish tradition-building across the University and its campuses
● Strengthen CAA ambassadorship and representation at School-based programming, leadership
meetings, and communications
● Increase the CAA’s virtual and physical presence; highlighting the One Columbia message
● Enhance relationships with faculty across all Schools and make cross-disciplinary programming a
priority for CAA events and throughout global clubs and shared interest groups
● Utilize the recommendations of the CAA Task Force on Belonging to ensure a spirit of inclusion
and belonging
● Build a community of University and School-based volunteers that aligns efforts
● Reinforce and consistently articulate the value-add of partnerships for both the CAA and the
Schools as well as the importance of the duality of School and University citizenship
● Incorporate the University’s Fourth Purpose (advancing human welfare and confronting the great
challenges of our time) when planning impactful partnerships

Short-term Achievements:
1. Launch CAA brand refresh that reflects a One Columbia approach for all stakeholders and to
work across all stakeholders to utilize the sub-brands
2. Create Health Sciences/CUIMC (Columbia University Irving Medical Center)/Social Work annual
alumni-student networking events
3. Launch graduate/professional schools annual events so these students have an opportunity for
interdisciplinary interaction


Expand CAA’s reach to a larger and more diverse population of alumni, students, faculty, and staff, meeting them “where they are” regardless of geography, life stage, identity, or interests.

Rationale: Offering meaningful opportunities to alumni across population segments increases the likelihood of deeper and more impactful engagement which will enrich their lives and benefit society.

● Leverage Columbia’s unique expertise for all programs and topics that create opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere
● Focus on life stages and transitions and how the CAA and alumni can be mutually supportive during all times
● Expand virtual opportunities and implement programs with more compelling components for people when participating virtually
● Integrate technology into events to continue the momentum of virtual events and enhance hybrid programs·

Short-term Achievements:
1. Refine and disseminate strategies, protocols and platforms for truly meaningful events and programs
2. Implement virtual and hybrid Leader Experience training, leadership webinars, and podcasts to complement Columbia Alumni Leaders Experience
3. Seed The Low Down (CAA’s podcast platform) with volunteer-led and produced content


Empower staff and alumni volunteers to customize outreach to segments of the alumni and student community. Rationale: With a higher level of targeted outreach and programming, the CAA can offer the best-in-class opportunities that alumni, students, and other stakeholders expect from an institution of our caliber.

● Explore and utilize new technologies that allow for customization of communications (frequency, channels, content), event and program preferences (content, timing, in-person/hybrid/virtual), and volunteering (ease, frequency, time commitment, level of experience/expertise)
● Utilize user-friendly platforms and technologies to empower staff and senior volunteers to customize their communications, programs, and volunteer activities to specific audiences
● Develop suites of strategies and tactics for engaging individuals at various points on their engagement journeys and across life stages as we compete with a person’s lifestyle for their attention and time
● Explore the use of customization and targeting specific populations outside the higher education rubric

Short-term Achievements:
1. Audit website metrics and email activity to establish alumni interest in offerings, programs, and volunteer opportunities
2. Review event attendance data to establish areas of interest tied to individual attendees
3. Test including short surveys to alumni through Alumni Voices, and within communications, like the CAA Newsletter, to gauge awareness, engagement, and motivations

DIGITAL EXPERIENCE (Curation, profiles, and communities):

Create a full experience of hospitality (enter-enjoy-exit), alumni digital profiles (how you identify yourself virtually), and spaces where alumni can develop communities within online and social media platforms that exhibit Columbia values and excellence.

Rationale: The CAA needs to be innovative in establishing virtual environments that attract and connect
across generations of Columbians using technology in varied ways as life is built dually in the virtual and
physical world.

● Implement protocols to effectively develop and curate content and programming that resonates
in both virtual and hybrid settings
● Create guidelines for an inclusive and welcoming environment with hosts and connecters in the
digital space and make this information available to Schools, clubs, and groups
● Determine how to increase the impact of the virtual experience with segments of the population
that have multiple engagement priorities, e.g. shared interest groups
● Refine and differentiate between organic communities and those cultivated by staff or senior
● Work with the Schools to maximize all aspects of an individual’s digital experience
● Be deliberate in the curation of content in ways that lead to action

Short-term Achievements:
1. Collaborate with Digital Marketing Initiatives to learn more about how higher education is using
the Metaverse
2. Audit digital experiences across Schools
3. Solicit alumni feedback on the Online Alumni Community to identify opportunities


Qualitative Excellence: 
At the outset of the Plan, the emphasis focuses on the implementation of innovation that leads to “irreversible” or sustained engagement of larger percentages of alumni and students. Furthermore, achieving excellence in a variety of strategic imperatives requires enhancing opportunities to engage for the broader Columbia community.

1. Establish an annual Columbia community event that unites all Schools, campuses, and
2. Provide broader access for the Columbia community to identity-, industry-, and interest-based
3. Host alumni-student networking programs on all four campuses
4. Launch a volunteer drive for University-wide and School-based roles
5. Identify and utilize cadres of faculty and staff for inclusion in CAA leadership programs and task

Quantitative Excellence:
An overwhelming consensus is that the most reliable way to measure success is by extrapolating conclusions from available data points. Quantitative measurements accounted for benchmarking progress in recent strategic plans. However, several factors including changes to privacy laws, a full-scale database conversion, and a recognition that not all quantitative measures of success at the outset of this
plan will remain relevant in 2027, the SPC has outlined a series of “analytics in principle” for benchmarking success. We believe this ultimately provides more salient and nimble metrics to gauge excellence in 2027.

1. Ensure the resonance between the sustainability of particular engagement activities and the rate
of velocity for engaging new members of the community
2. Understand any trends of how deepening engagement influences philanthropy
3. Track the trajectory of recognition of and affinity to the CAA brand
4. Monitor how constituents behave across platforms and tools
5. Correlate constituent attention span and viability of programmatic offerings


The CAA 2027 Five-Year Strategic Plan represents the third time the CAA has expanded its definition of its constituent community. In the inaugural plan, the alumni cohort provided the sole focus. By the time the SPC began mapping the second plan, there was a mutual consensus between alumni and student leaders that the value exchange between alumni and students was a catalyst for defining engagement.

This is embedded in the ethos of the CAA and this new plan specifically addresses students in its first strategic imperative, citing them in tandem with alumni throughout the entirety of the plan. However, this plan also acknowledges the broader fabric of the University community, including faculty, staff, donors, friends, and local neighbors, providing the most inclusive definition of the CAA’s community to date.

There is a clear and purposeful synergy to the interconnectedness of the four overarching themes, the seven strategic imperatives, and their short-term achievements. All of the imperatives contextualize the themes and each imperative’s success and rationale can only be achieved by full integration with the others. This alignment is an important guidepost, if and when, modifications may be made to strategies and tactics for achieving excellence in 2027.

The ultimate success of this strategic plan is predicated upon a set of basic tenets. First and foremost is the ongoing partnership and collaboration between the staff and volunteer leaders. Secondly, the lessons learned from the significant pivots and shifts in priorities required by the pandemic influenced both the development of the Plan and how we think about the creation and delivery of programs and
services. This requires new engagement strategies to serve constituents in a post-pandemic world and to grow a more inclusive community. We will continue to refine how to most effectively communicate with and activate our constituents as their priorities change, new technology and tools emerge, external pressures and events influence our world, and new data-driven insights shift our understanding of our audience, their needs, and behaviors.

Lastly, as with each previous CAA Strategic Plan, this is a roadmap for the CAA Board, University Alumni Relations along with School-based colleagues, and the SPC, and we recognize that new challenges may present new opportunities to chart change and embrace innovation during its five years.


Steps leading up from Unengaged to Aware to Interested to Engaged to Leading Lion
Levels of Engagement
Pathway Arrows leading from Awaken to Explore to Act to Advocate
Pathway to Engagement

This path captures the stages of progressively invested behavior as an individual journeys from awakening (becoming aware of the universe of alumni engagement opportunities available at the Columbia) to exploring (trying out opportunities to engage with Columbia, the CAA, and one another) to acting (by deepening engagement through volunteerism, giving, or more frequent attendance) to advocating (participating and encouraging others to do the same). 

Broadly, a correlation between the engagement paths and levels of engagement can be observed. 


As of August 23, 2022


President Lee C. Bollinger ’71LAW launches a sustained effort to transform and increase alumni
engagement into a partnership among volunteer leaders, staff, and all alums.


The University mobilizes alumni from all its Schools as part of planning and executing Columbia’s 250th
Anniversary celebration. It marks the first time that alumni of all Columbia Schools are offered a
sustained set of programs and communications, in-person, in print, and electronically. Columbia 250
commences with Homecoming 2003 and continues in events on campus in New York, online, and around
the world through Homecoming 2004.


The commitment of the President, the University Trustees, and other highly engaged alumni and
University leaders leads to the creation of the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA). Its purpose as stated
in the constitution is: The CAA is hereby established to provide an organization and to allow the
University’s worldwide alumni community to strengthen their bonds of fellowship; to sustain the
connection between them and the University; to act as a means through which they can contribute their
collective knowledge and perspective to the life of the University, and to develop from their ranks
effective and responsive leadership.

The first volunteer leaders training conference, CAA Assembly, is held in the fall to bring together
volunteers across the University and the first University-wide online alumni directory is created.


Columbia announces its fourth and largest campaign with a goal of $4 billion. The Columbia Campaign focuses on core academic and research areas. Significant and measurable improvement in alumni engagement is included as a top-line goal of the campaign for the first time.


The Columbia Alumni Center, located at 622 West 113th, opens and is the first “official” home for alumni of the University.


After six years of rapid growth and significant gains, President Bollinger initiates a presidential task force to define the vision and mission of the CAA.


Trustees approve the Toward a Culture of Engagement and Collaboration task force report and signal the formation of the CAA Strategic Planning Committee to develop the CAA’s first five-year plan.


The Big Tent: A Five-Year Strategic Plan launches, focusing on these five overarching goals: the relationship between the CAA and the Schools, establishing the CAA as the repository of best practices, volunteerism and University citizenship, communications, and increased awareness of the CAA.


The annual Columbia Alumni Leaders Weekend tops 500 attendees for the first time.


The CAA celebrates ten years at the annual Columbia Alumni Leaders Weekend. Its founders: President Bollinger, Susan Feagin ’74GS, Trustees Bill Campbell ’62CC, ’64TC (Chair Emeritus) and Richard Witten ’75CC and CAA chairs Steve Case ’64CC, ’68LAW, James Harden ’78BUS, ’83PH, George Van Amson ’74CC, and Brian Krisberg ’81CC, ’84LAW were among those recognized for their vision and work to create the CAA legacy. A major rewrite of the CAA governance documents reflects the evolution of the CAA and its structure and accomplishments.


Trustees and the CAA Board established The Campbell Award, presented by the CAA to a graduating student at each School who shows exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit as exemplified by the late Bill Campbell.

A new campaign, The Columbia Commitment, launches with a goal of engaging 150k alums across the University as well as setting the most ambitious year-over-year goal of raising $5 billion in five years.


The second five-year strategic planning process gets underway with the convening of a CAA 2023 task force.


The second five-year strategic plan with a vision of Build. Belong. Bond. We are Columbia. We are the CAA. commences focusing on internal/external partnerships, targeted alumni experiences, creation of a value exchange between alumni and students, virtual engagement, and the elevation of volunteerism.


The CAA launches the Student Leadership Advisory Council (SLAC) to serve as the “student version” of the CAA Board. The group undertakes several initiatives focused on creating pathways from student life to engagement as alumni. Only five years after hitting the 500-attendee mark, Columbia Alumni Leaders Experience tops 1,000 registrants.


The CAA commissions Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award winner, Tom Kitt ’96CC, to write a new song, “Oh, Columbia,” as a gift for the Class of 2020 from the Columbia alumni community. It is performed virtually by Tony, Grammy, and Obie award winner Ben Platt, a member of the School of General Studies community.


The CAA addresses the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic by launching a strategic planning process a year earlier than originally planned. Its first fundraising initiative launches to respond to University calls for student support resulting in the creation of the CAA Scholars Program, and its first co-chairs are elected to reflect the hybrid approach to engagement, the sustained recognition of our global community, and closer alignment with the Columbia University Irving Medical Campus.


The Columbia Commitment campaign concludes with 159,886 engaged alums, exceeding its goal of 150K, and also raising $5.6 billion far exceeding the $5 billion fundraising goal.

A new vision, Where every Columbian can build, belong, and go beyond, launches the CAA’s third five-year strategic plan, CAA 2027. Along with this new vision comes an updated mission: To cultivate a global community of Columbia alums, students, faculty, and staff to explore interests, exchange ideas, and take actions that enrich one another, the University, and the world. A brand/logo refresh, the permeation of a sense of belonging throughout all aspects of the CAA experience, and the individual and collective engagement journeys through every Columbian's life are all tied to the CAA purpose statement: Deepening connections, volunteerism, giving, and inclusivity for every Columbian, everywhere.

CAA Chairs

2005 -2007 Stephen Case ’64CC, ’68LAW
2007-2011 James Harden ’78BUS, ’83PH
2011-2015 George Van Amson ’74CC
2015-2017 Brian Krisberg ’81CC, ’84LAW
2017-2019 Rita Pietropinto Kitt ’93CC, ’96SOA
2019-2021 Keith Goggin ’91JRN
2021-2023 Michelle Estilo Kaiser ’87CC, ’92PH, ’97VPS and Mary Kuo ’92CC