practitioner perspective

Sallie Sistare

Denison University


Protopia’s Ryan Catherwood interviews Sallie Sistare Executive Director of Alumni & Family Engagement at Denison University where she supports 40,000+ Denisonians across the globe. 

Ryan: What are your key priorities as we begin the Fall Semester?

Sallie: As we embark on the Fall Semester, we have identified five significant priorities within our strategic plan at Denison University that will guide us for the next three years. One central focus is our emphasis on fostering a strong sense of community, aligning with Denison’s core values of building meaningful relationships. We are dedicated to ensuring that Denison remains relevant and deeply rooted in the experiences of our graduates. This commitment extends to providing resources during transitional periods, particularly for recent graduates seeking to define their paths.

Another vital priority is expanding and strengthening our alumni engagement. We are exploring diverse avenues such as in-person events, virtual gatherings, and online interactions to connect with our alumni, regardless of their location or profession. The intention behind this effort is to establish a robust professional network that can facilitate meaningful connections between alumni and current students, thereby creating opportunities for internships and other valuable interactions.

Ryan: What challenges hinder alumni and donor engagement at Denison?

Sallie: Several challenges stand as barriers to effective engagement with alumni and donors at Denison. Notably, constraints in terms of time, available resources, and geographical disparities are commonly cited issues faced by alumni offices across the country. The need to engage with a wide array of individuals and circumstances, combined with the limitations of available resources and time, poses a significant challenge in creating comprehensive engagement strategies.

Ryan: What trends have you observed regarding alumni preferences for engagement at Denison?

Sallie: In the post-COVID era, we have noticed a strong interest among our alumni in participating in in-person engagement opportunities, both within their local communities and on campus. Additionally, the digital realm holds appeal, as it enables alumni to engage virtually, thereby accommodating different life stages and preferences. Our approach recognizes this diversity and strives to offer a mix of engagement avenues that cater to various preferences and life situations.

Ryan: How do you evaluate the outcomes of your efforts, including CASE engagement metrics and ROI?

Sallie: Our assessment strategy involves employing the CASE Alumni Engagement Metrics (AEM) as a foundation. However, we also try to delve deeper by exploring correlations between event attendance and subsequent contributions or volunteer participation. By examining how the four CASE modes interrelate, we gain insights into their potential synergies. Our focus is on measuring participation rates and fostering growth. With our 200th anniversary approaching, we aim to achieve a participation rate of 50%, reflecting our commitment to meaningful engagement.

Ryan: It must be rewarding to collaborate with Denison’s alumni.

Sallie: Working with Denison’s alumni community is indeed fulfilling. The energy and passion they bring to our engagement initiatives create a vibrant atmosphere, allowing us to mutually contribute to Denison’s ongoing success.

Ryan: How does Protopia align with your strategic plans?

Sallie: Protopia seamlessly integrates with our strategic plans and objectives. This technology not only reduces our involvement but also enables alumni and students to access valuable insights and expertise effortlessly. Protopia facilitates the exchange of information by allowing alumni experts to answer inquiries, fostering a dynamic chain of communication. This tool significantly enhances our sense of community, surpassing what we could achieve manually. Moreover, Protopia allows us to reach alumni who may not engage through other means, further expanding our impact.

Furthermore, Protopia bridges the gap with alumni who might have otherwise remained disconnected, allowing them to contribute their expertise and support to students and fellow alumni. Our experience with Protopia has been transformative, and we anticipate further integration into classrooms and a robust marketing campaign to amplify its impact.

Ryan: How have you found the response to Ask A Denisonian powered by Protopia?

Sallie: The response to Ask A Denisonian, powered by Protopia, has been exceptionally positive. We have been delighted with the outcomes thus far. We are enthusiastic about expanding the use of Protopia to educational settings and launching a robust marketing campaign to generate even greater engagement. The platform exemplifies the spirit of mutual assistance and collaboration that defines Denison University, aligning perfectly with our mission to foster a community where individuals uplift and support one another.


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