UF aims to build loyalty with young alums


University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley addresses a crowd of about 200 young alumni Wednesday evening at the Social in the Swamp held by the UF Alumni Association in the Touchdown Terrace.

JARRETT BAKER/SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 11:36 p.m.
They're not so young anymore, call Gainesville home and proudly support their alma mater.
And until recently, University of Florida's alumni association virtually ignored them - or rather overlooked them.
The organization that throws parties all over the country for alums had a treasure trove of former students who had graduated in the past 10 years at their doorstep.
"We realized there was an untapped market in Gainesville," said Michelle Lovell, the associate director of membership and marketing for the alumni association. "We didn't do a good job reaching out to them."
On Wednesday, the group laid out a spread worthy of UF's most prestigious visitors at the Touchdown Terrace in the north end of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and invited Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to headline the event.
Nearly 300 young UF alums - most under 30 - turned out to sip chilled wine, nibble beef-skewers and chat with former classmates and friends.
Alumni events like this one aim to build spirit and loyalty.
Officials reject the notion that the alumni cocktail party is a way to cultivate future donors.
"We do an alumni program to benefit the university," said Paul Robell, UF's vice president for development. "Does it impact fund-raising? Maybe. If we were only interested in the money, there are easier ways to get the money."
Even so, President Bernie Machen has pledged to move UF into the top 10 among public universities in the country. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked UF as the 16th best public university for the second year in a row.
One of the elements U.S. News uses in determining which university gets placed in what spot is alumni giving.
Only about 19 percent of UF alumni are donors - lower than the University of Virginia's 28 percent, the second highest ranked public university in the country, according to U.S. News.
The percentage of alumni donors to the country's top private institutions - Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - is above 44 percent. Princeton alums are the most generous. More than 67 percent of graduates give back to the Ivy League school.
It should be noted however that alumni giving at the No. 1 public university, the University of California-Berkeley, is about 18 percent. Worse still is the allegiance of graduates at the University of California-Los Angeles. Fewer than 13 percent of the Bruins donate to the institution.
Money was far from the minds of the scores of loyal Gators rubbing elbows with Foley and each other Wednesday night.
Michelle Knott, a 1999 UF graduate and a member of the 1998 national championship soccer team, said the event was the first alumni function she had attended.
Joined by her husband, Brandon Knott, who earned his pharmacy degree in 2002, Michelle chatted about how the event rekindles those fond feelings.
"It keeps us in tune with what's going on and our Gator spirit alive," she said.
During the summer, the head alumni cheerleader was UF football coach Urban Meyer. He addressed record alumni crowds at what's known as "Gator Gatherings." Not everyone who wanted to get in could.
"We've had to cut them (attendees) off in some cases," Robell said.
On Wednesday, Foley filled the role.
He told the group that the constant negativity during former head football coach Ron Zook's tenure was unhealthy.
"The last several years I didn't speak. I didn't get invited a lot," Foley said.
But, he said, the excitement's been building with the debut of Meyer at his first game against Wyoming.
"It's like Christmas and on Saturday at 6 p.m. we all get to open our presents."
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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