The UW Foundation traces its history to 1945, when the organization was created (under the name Gifts and Bequests Council). Its early leadership included three UW administrators, 11 representatives of the board of regents, and seven representatives from the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA). The Foundation’s purpose, of course, was to “collect and receive gifts, bequests, devises, or things of value” from alumni on behalf of the university. Thus, it effectively spun off WAA’s fundraising function.
On July 1, 2014, that spin-off was unspun, and the UW Foundation and WAA united through a merger. This marriage was not the product of a moment, but rather of many months of planning, as board members and CEOs Mike Knetter and Paula Bonner worked to make certain that the new Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA) will fulfill the missions of both constituent organizations and take advantage of greater efficiencies.
“Each area of our integrated organization has undergone some degree of change and probably endured periods of uncertainty,” says Knetter. “Despite all of that, our results — whether in development activity, new gifts, or the investment portfolio performance — are strong, and we’ve been able to report progress to our board and campus around tracking alumni communications through ABE.”
ABE, or Advancing Badger Engagement, is one of the most important projects undertaken through the merger. ABE is WFAA’s new, combined alumni database and donor-management system. It provides a leading-edge platform for collecting, managing, and reporting alumni and donor information that greatly enhances WFAA’s work to support university advancement goals.
But for alumni and donors, few will notice a change. Under the new structure, the UW Foundation continues to be the outward-facing brand of fundraising and gift receiving for UW-Madison. WAA continues to be the outward-facing brand for alumni relations and engagement. But internally — and from a campus perspective — WFAA is a single organization with a single purpose: encouraging support for UW-Madison and its mission. Campus units will see stronger coordination among fundraising, alumni relations, and stewardship efforts.
In the new structure, Knetter retains the position of CEO of WFAA, and Paula Bonner, who had been WAA’s CEO, holds the position of president of the alumni association and serves as WFAA’s chief alumni officer.
“This is an exciting opportunity for us, not only at WAA and the Foundation, but all across campus,” says Bonner. “We’ve always worked very closely with the Foundation, but now our efforts are completely united. The UW will see great things come out of this.”