Alumni Strategic Plan for SUNY New Paltz

Members of the SUNY New Paltz Community:

I am pleased to share our new alumni strategic plan. A task force developed the plan, submitted it in July for review, and I approved it in full.  The plan includes task force findings, desired outcomes, and a matrix of action items to be phased in during the next five years, all designed to support the campus-wide strategic plan’s essential initiative of “Engaging alumni in the life of the College.”

Vice President David Eaton was chair of this task force, and Director of Alumni Relations Brenda Dow was vice chair.  The task force met weekly throughout the spring and early summer.  Among other efforts, they reviewed many documents including SUNY standards for alumni organizations, investigated best practices and visited other campuses, and conducted focus groups with alumni.  I am grateful to David and Brenda for their effective leadership of this work, and to the members of the task force and contributing alumni who have made it such a success.

During last year’s College strategic plan development, strengthening alumni relations emerged as a dominant theme among most-needed improvements at New Paltz.  Our day-long planning retreat in November 2012 was organized primarily around a series of exercises and discussions in nine small groups.  At the end of the day, each group was asked to identify 3-5 priorities.  All nine groups identified, in some form, improving alumni relations as a top priority.

Putting alumni engagement at the core of strategic planning is a new direction for the campus. Alumni relations as we’ve known it on this campus will change significantly during the next five years.  Our goal is to ensure that alumni relations and connections are a high-profile institutional objective, and all members of the college community are actively involved and aware of the individual role they play in promoting lifelong engagement of New Paltz graduates in the life of the college.

One of the first action items will be the creation of an alumni advisory board, with members appointed by me upon recommendation by the Director of Alumni Relations, who will direct the work of this board.  We need a strong volunteer advisory group to provide recommendations to our alumni director on how best to address institutional priorities outlined in the plan.  The alumni office needs the participation of active alumni volunteers committed to promoting the continued success of the college by harnessing the collective power of New Paltz’s global network of loyal alumni.  The alumni advisory board will be organized to conform with SUNY system standards and expectations for alumni support organizations.

Among the desired outcomes is that all alumni are apprised of the college’s renewed determination to embrace its graduates in meaningful ways, and that a sense of school pride and lifelong engagement are effectively fostered among students throughout their educational careers, to successfully transition them from active and engaged students to loyal and involved alumni.

The task force’s findings and recommendations have already been used by the Office of Alumni Relations to create a new alumni Facebook page ( launched on July 23 and to enhance the scheduling, programming, communications and campus outreach for the all-alumni Reunion being held Sept. 20-22.

During this first year of the plan, Brenda Dow will collaborate  with various campus offices, departments, alumni, and students to develop approaches to improve  alumni communications and to identify and track alumni volunteers to ensure they are matched with meaningful opportunities and the information and guidance they need to help address institutional objectives. Steps will also be taken to improve professional development and career-related services to address alumni needs and interests.

Alumni programming for 2013-14 will focus on educating the campus community and all graduates about the approved alumni strategic plan and what they may anticipate during the next five years for enhanced alumni engagement. “The new Alumni Strategic Plan: What’s in it for You” is a 45-minute presentation being offered at Reunion on Saturday, Sept. 21 as part of that educational process (details at

To access the alumni strategic plan, go to To provide input to the Office of Alumni Relations regarding the alumni strategic plan, complete the online form at the bottom of the web page.


Donald P. Christian

New Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Appointed

Members of the SUNY New Paltz Community:

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Erica Marks as the College’s new vice president for development and alumni relations after a competitive national search. She will assume her new role on November 1.

Currently the interim vice president of development and alumni relations at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) in Brooklyn, N.Y., Erica brings to New Paltz 28 years of fundraising experience, primarily in the arts, at a variety of nonprofit organizations, including two private universities. At NYU-Poly, she provides strategic leadership to a team of development and alumni relations professionals in the areas of major giving, corporate and foundation relations, alumni relations, donor relations and stewardship. She strategically manages the highest level donor prospects and collaborates regularly with the president, provost, trustees, faculty, and staff at both NYU and NYU-Poly.

Erica’s diversity of experiences in fund-raising for the arts and for science and technology is a perfect fit for New Paltz and our future. I am excited to have such an accomplished, personable, and dedicated professional joining our senior leadership team and taking the helm to build a different profile of philanthropic and alumni-relations successes at New Paltz.

As the vice president for development and alumni relations at SUNY New Paltz, Erica will serve on the College’s senior leadership team. She will lead all fund-raising activities, including campaigns, annual giving, corporate and foundation giving, and planned gifts. She will also oversee alumni relations, development services, special events, and the SUNY New Paltz Foundation business office, and serve as executive director of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation.

Additionally, Erica will have broad authority to shape and build a stronger development program in the annual fund, individual giving, and in corporate and foundation fundraising. She will manage the directors and central development office and work closely with the President’s Office, Foundation Board directors, deans, faculty and others to expand alumni engagement and increase philanthropic giving to the College, two major goals of the College’s new strategic plan. She will also carry a portfolio of leadership and principal gift prospects.

I am grateful to the members of the search committee for their careful and dedicated stewardship of this search process, and especially to Shelly Wright for her leadership as committee chair. Thanks also to the many faculty, staff, administrators, Foundation Board Directors, and others who met with the candidates and provided feedback on their qualifications. Each of the finalist candidates was impressed with the quality and dedication of the people they met and the wonderful direction the College is taking. Thanks to everyone for such a great community effort.

Here is a synopsis of Erica’s work experience, accomplishments, and her credentials:

Since 2010, Erica has been instrumental in the successful turn-around of NYU-Poly’s fundraising efforts, growing private giving from $4 million to $7 million in three years. She rebuilt an alumni relations organization after years of low engagement. Alumni participation rose from 6% in FY10 to 9% in FY12. She also crafted a short-term comprehensive campaign. She has led the successful integration of Polytechnic’s development and alumni relations staff and alumni and donor data bases with those at New York University to support the pending transformation of Polytechnic into the new NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering (effective January 2014). She has worked closely with the Board of Trustees and two NYU-Poly presidents to set goals and priorities, coaching leadership to effectively cultivate and solicit major donors. She has led the major gifts team to identify a robust donor pipeline that grew from fewer than 50 to more than 1,000 prospects and $7 million in gifts and pledges.

Prior to working at NYU-Poly, Erica was director of development and external affairs at The Boys’ Club of New York. In a 17-month period, she raised $2.2 million in new gifts, including nine six-figure gifts. She has also been the associate director of development at the New York City Opera (2007-2008) and associate director of Merce Cunningham Dance Company (2005-2006).

From 1998 to 2005, she served as director of development at the School of the Arts at Columbia University in New York, N.Y. While there she transformed a dormant school-based fundraising program into a vibrant and productive operation while simultaneously participating in university-wide fundraising activities and maintaining a portfolio of 200 active prospects capable of gifts ranging from $250,000 to $100 million. She designed the strategy for a $50 million capital campaign for the School; created naming opportunities and identified prospects to support creation of a new facility for the School that included theatres, a gallery, classrooms and studio space. She is credited with helping to change the school’s culture by involving donors in key activities, such as MFA exhibition sponsorships. She grew the number of endowments by 14, including two new endowed professorships.

From 1993 to 1998, Erica was manager of major gifts (1993-1994) and director of development (1994-1998) at The Actors Fund, a national, nonprofit human services organization founded in 1882 that serves over 13,000 performing arts and entertainment professionals across the country. She elevated fundraising and visibility to a then all-time high, raising $6.3 million in 1997. She developed and led a $10 million special campaign and raised $2 million in the first year.

From 1991 to 1993, she was associate director of development at Arena Stage, a national center for the production, presentation, development and study of American theater. Early in her fund-raising career she was associate director of development at the American Field Service, a non-profit international exchange organization for students and adults that operates in more than 50 countries, and organizes and supports intercultural learning experiences.

Erica earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Maharishi University of Management, in Fairfield, Iowa, and a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from New York University. She has Certificat D’Etudes Supérieures de la Langue Française from La Sorbonne, in Paris, France.She grew up in Athens, Ohio, where her father was a professor at Ohio University. She is married to artist Dan George and has one step daughter and granddaughter.

Please join me in welcoming Erica. Her work will help us better connect private fund-raising with building the margin of excellence our students deserve, through the kinds of programs that characterize a top-tier public university.

Donald P. Christian