DGT Alumni Association implements its 2014 - 2018 Strategic Plan: A Progress Report

By Gil Gerald

In January 2014, after a year-long effort involving monthly strategic planning sessions, meetings and conversations with Pratt Administrators and students, a survey of students and of alumni of Delta Gamma Theta and Tau Delta Phi-Tau Sigma, and a day-long retreat, the association, now renamed the DGT Alumni Association, adopted a five-year strategic plan. This Plan has eight goals among four core strategies, and four goals categorized as organizational and administrative. This report, developed in October, 2015, at the beginning of the fourth quarter of the second year of the Plan, is intended to provide an interim review of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. Hopefully, this report will stimulate reflection, and consideration and adoption of changes, as may be needed, to keep an ambitious undertaking on track.

The four core DGT Alumni Association strategies are:

  1. Design, develop and implement a program of semester-long fellowships, with learning opportunities for undergraduate students to curate art and manage and promote a gallery and its exhibits;
  2. In collaboration with Pratt Institute, obtain multi-year grants to resource a residence component for participants in Pratt's Visiting Scholars Program and (to) support an Artist/Designer in Residence Program of the Association;
  3. Invest in our capacity to house and support our educational and philanthropic programs through capital improvements to the property at 272 Clinton Ave.; and
  4. Dramatically increase the number and active involvement of our members.

The first strategy addressed the need and desire to continue a fellowship, begun in 1898, in a new and very different external environment requiring a bold and different approach to engaging students in a leadership a development opportunity coupled with the life-long social and professional networking benefits that have been offered since our beginnings in the late nineteenth century. Graduates of the semester-long fellowships would under this strategy, on an honorific basis, be eligible for election and induction as DGT members.  The second strategy offers the opportunity to move the use of the House to be in line, or closer in line with the Mission of the association. In non-profit parlance, renting to the general public is an unrelated income generating activity.  As the second strategy is being fleshed out in the implementation of the Plan, the House will continue to serve as a residence for students, although the number will be scaled back to two, from among those inducted honorifically as DGT members.

The third strategy addresses the reality that the House, built in 1879, is in a historic district, and also in need of major restoration and renovation work to continue to function as our home. The fourth strategy responds to a vision for fully realizing our potential for strengthening and continuing the strong bonds that were created among many living alumni, over a period dating back to the mid-1950s.  The full progress report can be viewed online in the 'Buzz' blog by active, dues-paying members who have consequent member login privileges. In summary, the Plan anticipated the achievement of two key milestones in 2014, and five in 2015.

2014

  • Strengthen corporate structure and governance, and increase alumni involvement -- This milestone was fully achieved, although such a process is and should be continuous. Through legal counsel provided by Perlman+Perlman, DGT Alumni Association gained an in-depth understanding of its corporate structure options in pursuing its mission and the Strategic Plan under IRS Section 501 Law and New York State non-profit law. The Tau Delta Phi - Delta Gamma Theta Alumni Association, established in 1973, had its articles of incorporation were amended to reflect a new name, DGT Alumni Association, Inc. The Association remains incorporated as a New York State non-profit, however, not one with a tax-exempt status under IRS Section 501 law. As such it has a desired for less-restrictive ability to function as a non-profit serving as a social organization for a defined group as opposed to being a charity dedicating its resources for the public benefit. DGT Alumni Association files income tax returns using the IRS 1120 form and equivalent state form. Tax filings for the years 2011 through 2014, in line with advice of counsel, have been handled by the accounting firm of Sattler and Company

The DGT Foundation was incorporated in New York, and successfully applied for and received its letter of determination, from the IRS, as being a tax exempt, Section 501 (c)(3) organization. The Foundation uses the IRS 990 form, and files annual reports with the NY State Department of Law (Attorney General). The DGT Foundation is a membership organization with one member, the DGT Alumni Association, Inc.  The Board of Directors of the Foundation are elected by DGT Alumni Association, and changes to its bylaws cannot be made without the consent of its sole member, the DGT Alumni Association, Inc. 

DGT Alumni Association amended its bylaws to provide for a Board of Directors of five to provide for governance under a less burdensome and more realistic schedule of quarterly membership meetings as opposed to monthly meetings. DGT Alumni Association, Inc. now has a comprehensive set of Internal Controls, adopted by the membership that are updated annually. From a financial standpoint, DGT Alumni Association, Inc. pursued a loan modification process throughout 2014, and concluded it successfully in 2015 with the interest rate lowered from 12% to 5%. In late 2014, the first annual budget was developed, for 2015, and in 2015, the Association set aside a six-months operating reserve of $20,000 which is sufficient in its amount to pay mortgage, taxes and insurance for that length of time should there be an unanticipated emergency or other issue affecting income or cash flow.

DGT Alumni Association's 2014 - 2018 Strategic Plan contemplates doubling the number of active, dues paying members annually to reach 200 in 2018.  This has essentially happened. In January 2013, seven individuals, the minimum required under the bylaws, gathered to formally begin the planning and Plan implementation process now underway. In 2014 the number grew to 14, and in the third quarter of 2015, not quite the end of Year 2, the number stood at 31. Achieving 60, in 2016, 120 in 2017, and 200 in 2018 should be feasible if the rate of increase remains steady.

In 2014 a number of activities contributed to the increased involvement.  DGT Vice President Tom Fiorella developed a spread sheet to capture contact information and data about alumni based on research work in collaboration with the Pratt Institute Office of Alumni Affairs and Annual Giving, as well as researching various existing old lists and documents that were found in the House or were in the hands of individual members. Since that time, as a footnote, it should be stated, DGT is using a professional, cloud based, program to maintain and grow the data base containing information about alumni.  The data base, as of this writing includes more than 245 individual names, with verified email addresses for 91 alumni, and verified US mail addresses for an additional 50 for whom we do not have an email address.  The number of names in the database doubled between 2014 and 2015.  The work of building this database is tedious, however it is progressing and is immensely helped as members share information about who their cohorts in the organization were when they joined, or during the years in which they were active. Recently, in a member living in Northern Virginia, has volunteered to put time into the project, and because the program is cloud based, he is able to do so from his remote location.

Also, to increase involvement of Alumni, the Association began employing web-conferencing to provide for remote participation in meetings and to make it easier for the Board and for committees and task force work-groups to meet without having to do so in in a physical location. A set of workgroups were formed in 2014 to carry out a number of program refinement and planning tasks called for being completed in the first year of the Strategic Plan.  This included fleshing out the vision for an active and vibrant alumni program.

Complete conceptual program planning, budgeting and a Master Plan for the Property -- Work groups of alumni successfully completed their assignment to come up with functional needs that were to be considered and reflected in an architectural program plan to form the basis for design and construction plans for restoration and renovation work at 272 Clinton Ave. These workgroups met via web-conference, and over the course of several months produced concept program plans and listings of associated functional needs for the Gallery House Fellowship Program, the proposed residency programs, and for a program of Alumni activities. This last workgroup focused most heavily on developing a Communications Plan, which has since begun to be implemented, with the development of a new web-site, a quarterly e-letter, and the use of social networking sites.  One of the workgroups was specifically tasked to synthesize the information from the other work groups into an architectural program plan. In addition this group undertook and completed an architectural survey and a developed a set of base plan drawings, using CAD.

In the Fall of 2014, on Alumni Day, DGT Alumni Association unveiled an architectural schematic design plan. The plan calls for developing the property as a four unit residential building, with the top three floors each housing a floor-through unit available to rentto the pubiic at market rates, or as one or more units used leased to Pratt Institute for use as residencies for the Visiting Scholars Program, or funded by grant-making organizations to provide Artist/Designers in Residencies. The cellar, ground floor, and main floor is to serve as the fourth unit, housing two undergraduate DGT members, and providing areas in the cellar, backyard and Chapter Room floor for alumni gatherings at the House, and private exhibits of the Gallery House Program.

Restoration and preservation of the property and its 19th century character will be emphasized for the exterior of the building, as required by law, and for the main, Chapter room floor and the stair case.  A more relaxed, 'renovation' approach is to be reflected for the remainder of interior spaces. Manuel Castedo, an alumnus, and Principal of M. Castedo Architects was, at the time of the writing of this report, in the process of developing a cost estimate for the project, on a pro bono basis, based on the work performed by the work groups. Hence, the cost information is pending before additional planning and budgeting can proceed.  Clearly, the Strategic Plan was overly ambitious in calling for completion of this planning phase in 2014.

2015

Obtain financing and other capital funds for renovation (and restoration) work -- A cost estimate for the restoration and renovation project is pending, as of the date of this report in October 2015. Following the receipt of this report the feasibility of a capital campaign, including how much can be raised through such an effort, must be determined before the need for any financing is quantified. The feasibility of a capital campaign, as well as the need for any financing, will be explored in the remaining months of 2015 and in early 2016.

Begin and complete initial property renovation (and restoration) phases -- To date, work on the property, beyond routine maintenance and repair, has been limited to late summer and early fall refurbishing work on the main floor, involving an investment of $25,000 for painting, repairs, and carpeting of the rooms and hall on the main floor, as well as repairs in the rear patio area to provide for safety and functionality for the start of the Gallery House Program, and for the staging of a private exhibit organized by the Gallery House Fellowship Program at the end of the 2015 Fall Semester. A part of this work involved performing badly needed repairs due to a serious leak in the roof over the kitchen. A clearer understanding of property renovation and restoration phases, costs and timeline will likely emerge in the first half of 2016.

Develop Program Plans -- The conceptual program plans developed by the initial work groups in 2014 evolved further to enable the commencement of the Gallery House Fellowship Program and the implementation of the Communications Plan. With respect to the Gallery House Fellowship Program, Jon Levy and Gil Gerald met with the Vice President for Student Affairs, and with staff within the Pratt Center for Career and Professional Development to refine and coordinate outreach   and marketing of the program to students. The outreach and application process employs Pratt Institute's online system of communication with students as well as our developing web tools, including online submission of applications to participate in the program. A more detailed training plan, for use by the program was completed, and the Association contributed $1,500 to the DGT Foundation in 2014, and committed another $7,500 in mid 2015 to begin the program.   Members of the Association have provided additional gifts to support the program. 

In terms of the Alumni Program and its related Communications Plan, the Board as a whole took on the responsibility of working with a consultant, Chas Martin, an alumnus based in Portland, OR, to develop a brand, a logo, a new web-site, and a new e-letter template. Concurrent with the writing of this report, a survey of active and inactive members and other stakeholders is being implemented to gain insights about the experience of using the website.  This will hopefully help improve our communication tools over time. 

Work on the residencies was, and continues to be, envisioned to resume in the later years of the Strategic Plan. Current challenges include keeping the envisioned partnership with Pratt Institute alive and growing even more in a collaborative direction.  A reconciliation is needed to address a strong interest that Pratt Institute has expressed, though its President, Dr. Schutte, in purchasing the 272 Clinton Ave., and DGT Alumni Association's interest in not selling the property. Dr. Schutte has expressed an interest in using the property for the very purpose of providing residential space for the Visiting Scholars Program. However he has communicated Pratt's preference for doing so as the owners of the property as opposed to being a tenant. The cultivation of the relationship between Pratt and DGT is not only important but a priority. However, the Board as of necessity is an all volunteer group. Calls and meetings with Pratt are periodically needed, especially in light of turnover. Since initial meetings with Pratt Administrators in 2013, there has been turn-over in key staff, including a change in Provost, and a change in the Director of Alumni Affairs and Annual Giving. These individuals, no longer serving in those two capacities, and the Vice President for Student Affairs were consulted in the development of the Strategic Plan and have been very supportive in its development and implementation once adopted.

Apply for and obtain grants and other gifts for programs -- An initial grants research scan has been performed using the Foundation Directory Online, and a few letters of inquiry have been sent out to grant-making entities, based on the stated application deadlines for the organizations that were identified as prospects. This process is only now beginning as the goals, objectives and work plan of the Gallery House Program recently became more clearly defined.  An Engraved Brick Campaign was authorized by the membership in early 2015, and solicitation is beginning now that DGT Alumni Association has basic communication tools for reaching and engaging members.  The response has been very encouraging. A previously dormant spirit of generosity is evident in the fact that dues make up 17% of non-rent income, yet larger gifts from members make up 83% non-rent income to date for 2015. Members are responding to the opportunity to offer generous support beyond the payment of dues.

Implement the undergraduate Fellowships and Gallery House Program -- So here is the good, or best good news: The Gallery House Fellowships Program began October 5, 2015.  Two undergraduate students, among four who applied, were accepted into the program and our now engaged as 2015 Fellows.  They will each receive a $2,250 grant upon completion of their semester-long project, involving an estimated 40 hours of effort. The champion and its most impassioned advocate has been Jon Levy, and he deserves credit for his tireless efforts for 'imagineering' a new pathway to continuing a fellowship in a manner that is relevant to the size, make-up and culture of today's Pratt student body. We morn for the past a little, as happened when the Model A replaced the horse and buggy. However, we secure the future.

2016 - 2018

The key milestones envisioned in the Plan, from the present and forward through 2018, are:

  • Complete the milestones or portions thereof that were not finished as planned in 2014 or 2015, as listed above
  • Begin and complete intermediary property renovation (and restoration) phases
  • Implement residential services for the Visiting Scholars Program
  • Induction of first new associate (undergraduate) members
  • Begin and complete final property renovation (and restoration) phases
  • Implement the Artist/Designer in Residence Program
  • Perform all program activities, and evaluate and update the Strategic Plan
  • Induction of our first new Alumni Association members recently graduating from Pratt

Active members with member login privileges may review the complete report in the 'Buzz' blog after you login.