The Catholic University of America


Change is a Good Thing

  Kyra Lyons

In early February, Krya Lyons, executive director of Alumni Relations, will be presenting at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District II 2015 Annual Conference. The theme for this year’s conference, which will be held Feb. 1 to 3 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., is “Monumental Shifts.”

Lyons’s presentation, titled “Change is a Good Thing! Effective Realignment of Your Advancement Program,” will explore how — through mission renewal, campus partnerships, and a supportive employee development initiative — Catholic University’s Alumni Relations and Development offices successfully merged over the course of the past five years to form what is now the Division of University Advancement and how the division partnered with CUA’s human resources office to ensure success.

Lyons’s presentation will cover the time period between March 2014 and today from the perspective of the alumni relations office. It will detail how University Advancement was able, with help from the Office of Human Resources, to build strong relationships throughout the division and to evaluate internal goals.

A detailed summary of her presentation is below.

Organizational Transition
In January 2012, the Alumni Relations and Development offices merged and, in March 2014, they formed a division composed of five departments: Alumni Relations; CUA Fund; Advancement Services; Individual Giving; and Foundations, Communications, and Stewardship. A vice president and an associate vice president for University Advancement have yet to be hired.

Throughout this organizational transition, the Division of University Advancement hired eight new staff members, started meeting monthly with the deans of each school, and began coaching sessions with the human resources office. In addition, Alumni Relations began to evaluate its goals within the division — namely, engaging alumni and raising philanthropic support — in order to begin building a tool that could measure alumni participation.

In this part of the presentation, Lyons describes one of Alumni Relations’ biggest transitional challenges. Although Alumni Relations had merged with Development in January 2012, there was still little collaboration between offices. The March 2014 reorganization, however, resulted in Alumni Relations beginning to work closely with colleagues across the division.

The Birkman Method
“Once we established our ideal organizational chart and decided how we wanted our new division to look, we contacted our partners in human resources to help us prepare,” Lyons explains. “We worked with HR to use a tool called the Birkman Method. It helped us to empower our divisional leadership and staff to better understand ourselves and each other.”

The Birkman Method is a personality, social perception, and occupational interest assessment. It measures behavioral strengths, motivations, and expectations as well as stress behavior and career profiles. Ivonne Ambrozkiewicz, former director of recruitment and development at Catholic University, is a certified Birkman consultant, and she helped the Alumni Relations and Development staff complete their individual assessments.

“The Birkman really does make you reflect on your behavior, specifically, how you are communicating and if you are being effective,” Lyons says. “This information has been very useful to all of us in both Development and Alumni Relations as we reestablish our relationships across campus as a new division.”

A Common Language
According to Ambrozkiewicz, the Birkman Method is an extremely robust personality assessment that can be applied across multiple disciplines including hiring, job fit, team building, leadership development, coaching, and career counseling. It is also very useful for conflict resolution as it provides a neutral common language to assist in mediation.

“The purpose of the tool is to strengthen, improve, or enhance working relationships, especially where there is a disconnect,” Ambrozkiewicz explains.

Cynthia Woolbright, president of the Woolbright Group, has been guiding University Advancement through its organizational transition. She believes Ambrozkiewicz’s ability to analyze organizations and individuals was a great asset.

“[Ambrozkiewicz] conducted interviews and assessments with our Advancement team through the Birkman, and now we are using the results and continuing the expansive implementation with our team,” says Woolbright, who will present alongside Lyons at the District II Annual Conference. “It helps remind people of what each person’s needs are so they can meet them in order to accomplish their professional goals and work cohesively.”

Alumni Relations Divisional Goals
The last part of Lyons’s presentation will cover Alumni Relations’ new alumni engagement tracking system.

“As part of the realignment of the Advancement division’s goals within the University’s strategic plan, it became obvious that we needed an engagement tracking system to help meet our goals,” Lyons explains. “We had been tracking event attendance and giving history, but not all types of engagement.”

With the help of the Birkman Method, the appropriate staff were identified to lead this effort. Collaboration across the division resulted in a program in which the yearly percentage of engaged alumni can be tracked.

“We generate engagement scores for each alumnus based on the activities and programs in which they participate,” Lyons says. “For example, higher level engagement activities generate more points into the constantly calculating engagement score.”

The presentation will give some preliminary results of the engagement data. Who are the alumni who are scoring 100 on this test? Results so far indicate that 83% of highly engaged alumni graduated prior to 1980; that 45% have multiple degrees from CUA; that 44% live in the Washington, D.C., area; and that their lifetime giving ranges from $282 to $1,705,844.

About CASE
CASE District II is a regional organization of advancement professionals who work in the areas of alumni relations, communications, and philanthropy. District II is the largest of the eight CASE districts, and aims to help members build stronger relationships with their alumni and donors, raise funds for campus projects, produce recruitment materials, market their institutions to prospective students, diversify the profession, and foster support of education. For more information, visit