President and CEO of the Iowa State University Alumni Association

Jeff Johnson was named the president and chief executive officer of the Iowa State University Alumni Association in September 1999. Under his leadership, the Association has grown to be the second-largest dues-paying alumni association in the Big 12 Conference and in July of 2008, moved into the new $10.7 million privately funded 34,500-square-foot ISU Alumni Center. As president, Jeff is responsible for facilitating the Association’s mission of engaging the talents and resources of alumni, students, and friends in the life, work, and aspiration of Iowa State University.

The Association currently has more than 53,000 members and operates with a $4 million budget – self-generating 84% of that budget through its many programs and services. Jeff came to Iowa State from the University of Illinois Alumni Association at Urbana-Champaign. He previously worked in admissions, governmental relations, and alumni relations at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg (where he received his bachelor’s degree), and in alumni relations at the University of Kansas, Lawrence (where he received his master’s degree). Jeff now has more than 29 years of higher education experience. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education administration at Iowa State. Jeff was inducted into the Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame in October 2003, the highest honour the university bestows on its alumni.

Five Questions

1. What is your preferred way to start out a day at the office?

Responding to the needs of my staff, if they have any. This frees me up to focus on the things I want or need to get done that day. By adhering to this philosophy, I have less concern that my work may be hindering staff from addressing their needs. One could say that this is a parenting approach. Take care of the family first thus making it easy for one to get their things prioritized and addressed. This has really worked well for me.

2. You’ve worked in higher education for nearly 30 years. What are some significant changes that you have observed in that time?

Since I work in public rather than private higher education, the most dramatic changes are the very deep focuses, campus wide, on increased participation of the entire university family in fundraising, alumni relations, diversity (race and gender), STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, sponsored funding, and student recruitment. All of these areas used to be the work on a defined campus unit. It is now integrated in everyone’s work, directly and indirectly. As fewer state dollars are made available to higher education and fewer non-white students in the pipeline (or a greater number of red and brown students are in the pipeline), these critical areas of funding and foci have become very central to how higher education works, funds itself, meets its enrollment and employee numbers, and carries out its mission.

3. Do you find social media helpful when communicating with alumni?

Very helpful. It is a complementing set of mediums that we (my staff and I) now have at our fingertips to reach out to and communicate and engage with our constituents. In the past, our work was done using one-way, self-initiated communication mediums-print, phone, fax, and in-person. Today’s social mediums have clearly opened up the door for instant, two-way, integrated ways of communication. I also like the fact that these new technologies have deeply personalized our efforts-singing greetings cards, videos, photography, stories, etc. I feel we know our constituents better.

4. What advice would you give to first-time Advancement practitioners working in Alumni Relations?

Know what motivates you. Have a deep love and respect for the role faculty plays in helping students find and invest themselves in their passions. Be yourself. Never do anything for money. Be paid for doing what you love. Why? Because this is not a get-you-rich business. It’s a difference-making business. Welcome and embrace change. And finally, know your convictions.

5. What motivates your work in this sector?

Being the first in my family to go to college, I am a living example of what is possible as one further educates themselves. Therefore, I am a strong advocate for expanding life’s options for our world’s citizens through education. The more education a person pursues, the more options that individual provides for himself or herself and for their community, state, nation, and our world. Through my profession as the president and CEO of the Iowa State University Alumni Association, I have been given the opportunity to expand the role and value of volunteerism and philanthropy. I get a high out of seeing people come together to make a difference in the lives of others, especially generations they don’t even know yet.