At Reunion Weekend 2019, alumni reconnected with friends and the school, took advantage of career and lifelong learning opportunities, and joined with classmates in generously supporting the school. This year, Reunion Weekend is May 1 to 3; registration is now open.
When Joni Fink Burstein ’89 graduated from the Yale School of Management, she planned to stay involved with the community she’d grown to love. “My classmates were the greatest group of people I’ve ever been around,” says Burstein, who lives outside Boston. “SOM was such a special place.”
But life intervened. Career and family demands filled the years. Burstein kept up with classmates, but she rarely returned to campus. “I kind of took a hiatus,” she says. Then her 25th reunion came around in 2014, and she decided to attend.
“It was my first time back in a long time,” she says. A lot had changed. New degree programs, larger classes, and most of all, the stunning Evans Hall campus. Burstein walked the glass hallways, keeping an eye out for old friends, trying to get her bearings in an unfamiliar place. Then she sat in on a panel discussion, and realized that she knew exactly where she was. Listening to a discussion of how Yale SOM can attract students who are passionate about serving society as well as business, “I got goosebumps,” Burstein recalls. “It was still the same school I had attended.”
Five years later, Burstein is serving as alumni co-secretary for the Class of 1989. She helped organize the class’s 2019 reunion, reaching out to classmates near and far, and encouraging them to attend. “I tell them SOM is still the place we all remember,” she says.
Burstein’s message helped bring some of the 800 alumni, and their guests, who attended Reunion Weekend in 2019. Yale SOM reunions have expanded greatly in recent years, growing larger and richer in offerings, according to Kavitha Bindra ’05, then assistant dean for alumni relations.
“The main focus is still engagement with the school and connecting with classmates,” Bindra says. “But it’s also a great chance to leverage some of the great resources we have here for alumni.”
Lectures from faculty members give alumni the chance to return to the classroom and learn about the cutting edge of research. New career development programs and workshops are offered for alumni at all stages of their careers.
But connections between alumni are still the heart of reunion, and 2019 saw dramatic growth of an initiative driven by alumni collaboration: reunion giving, which skyrocketed in 2019. “Our alumni really own reunion giving,” says Roe Fellows, assistant dean for development. “This is their campaign, and we really saw that this year.”
While pilot reunion giving efforts have been tested in previous years, 2019 was a breakthrough. Reunion classes this year gave more than $7.2 million in new gifts and pledges, nearly doubling the amount raised in 2018. The total included nearly 1,000 new gifts and pledges across the 2019 reunion classes, a 13% increase over 2018.
“Yale SOM alumni are an extraordinarily generous group,” says Joel Getz, senior associate dean for development and alumni relations. “While giving campaigns tied to reunion are a relatively new effort for us, 2019 made it clear that our alumni are behind it. Class co-chairs did an amazing job reaching out to their classmates and coordinating the campaign. This is their success and their way of giving back to the school.”
Generous matching challenges in 2019 by George Wyper ’84 and Michele Kang ’89 inspired their classmates to come on board. Wyper, a member of the Yale SOM Board of Advisors, pledged to donate $100,000 if this year’s reunion classes yielded new donors. They did.
“It’s important to give back to SOM,” says Wyper, co-chair of the alumni Class of 1984 reunion giving committee along with Deb Pederson ’84. “So many of us had such wonderful experiences here, and this year was a great opportunity to recognize [former] Dean Ted Snyder and acknowledge all he’s done for the school.”
Almost 78% of the Class of 1984 participated in the campaign, Wyper says. “My classmates came through in a way that we couldn’t have forecast.” Wyper credits the reunion committee he worked with and Julia Hsieh, deputy director of reunion giving. “Everybody rolled up their sleeves.”
Michele Kang ’89 made a $100,000 donation, and then offered a $100,000 matching gift if 50% of her classmates stepped up to the giving challenge. In the end, more than 65% of her class made gifts totaling more than $1 million.
The response encouraged Kang, who says that alumni participation is critical to a business school’s success.
“At the end of the day, what makes a difference to a school are the alumni,” Kang says. “We have to do our share. If we’re not successful and visible, and ‘out there,’ the school isn’t going to go anywhere. I’m very grateful that more than half our classmates participated. Alumni participation is so important, more so than just the amount raised.”
Organizers expect a big turnout for Reunion Weekend 2020, scheduled for May 1 to 3, which will give alumni the chance to connect with Yale SOM’s new dean, Kerwin K. Charles.
“We want to build a culture where you’re not just coming back, but you’re reflecting on your SOM education, how it helped you in your career, and how you can pay it forward,” Fellows says. “That’s what reunion is really all about.”
These articles originally appeared in the Yale SOM philanthropy report, Impact: Support for the Yale School of Management, 2018–2019.