Highlighting successful chapters in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Leading an alumni chapter is no small feat. Leading an alumni chapter during a pandemic? We could add the laundry list of words here- unprecedented, impossible, unheard of, but from our alumni chapters- they took it as another challenge.

While they could have stayed silent and wrote 2020 off as a bad year, our alumni chapters found new ways to succeed and support Marshall University. A handful of those chapters we saw great successes from include our Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky chapter, Mid-Ohio Valley (Parkersburg, West Virginia) chapter and our Southern Coalfields (Beckley, West Virginia) chapter. Not only did we see established chapters have success in the past year, we also heard from talented and dedicated individuals about starting alumni chapters in their regions. Some of those new chapters in development include Richmond, Virginia, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Columbus, Ohio. These developing chapters are gaining momentum with virtual events and outreach, with the hopes of building on that as we slowly return to in-person events as COVID rates decrease.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Chapter Alumni and Big Green Chapter

In lieu of their regularly scheduled meetings, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Alumni and Big Green Chapter leadership started meeting via Zoom. This included a learning curve- several on the leadership team adapted by learning how to use Zoom for the first time. The chapter was unable to have their annual fundraiser, the 2020 Thundercup Golf Tournament and Coaches Tour, but that didn’t stop them from fundraising. They were still able to raise $1,800 to the Big Green Scholarship Foundation through an email appeal, and in the fall, the chapter used a raffle to support their chapter endowed scholarship at the Marshall University Foundation which raised over $1,600.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Chapter Alumni and Big Green Chapter during one of their Zoom meetings during 2020.

Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter

The Mid-Ohio Valley chapter continued their success in 2020, and was even voted the 2020 Alumni Chapter of the Year. How did they achieve such accolades in a pandemic? Not without challenges. Every spring, the chapter plans an annual scholarship fundraising dinner. When the chapter started planning the annual dinner in the Winter of 2020, it was business as usual. The chapter had made connections with corporate sponsors and had a new title sponsor in place for the event. Their Chapter President Laurie Martin said, “Plans were falling into place giving us the feeling we were a ‘well oiled’ chapter machine. That soon changed with the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic.: And just like that, the tough decision was made to cancel the annual dinner.

“The response was remarkable, the majority of our sponsors willingly donated their sponsorship funds. We were very fortunate. Also, we had already collected several items for our silent auction. Discussions continued and several team members explored options for an online auction. We selected an online auction site for nonprofit organizations. This was a huge team effort! One member assembled baskets; other members took photographs of all the items and wrote descriptions. Another member uploaded all the items to the auction site and managed the process. The response was amazing from the bidders and the committee to support an online component to our fundraising efforts,” Martin said.

The challenges the chapter faced and the ways they learned to adapt, is impressive. And Martin said that couldn’t have been done without their faithful chapter members.

“I must thank my chapter members for their hard work and dedication to our chapter. The members never let our chapter down,” Martin said. We are so grateful for the generosity of our title sponsor, corporate sponsors, the individual donors and the auction bidders. They believe in our chapter and support our efforts to raise funding for scholarships and Marshall University.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter at their annual Rally by the River Event in 2018.

Southern Coalfields Alumni and Big Green Club

The Southern Coalfields Alumni and Big Green Club based in Beckley, West Virginia, traditionally has three major events each year- an annual golf outing, bowling event and dinner dance. Chapter President Doug Leeber, said some of their greatest success in 2020 came from transitioning these events to virtual fundraisers and still raise money for student scholarships. Leeber attributes a lot of the success of virtual events to two all-stars on their chapter leadership team, Amanda Ashley and Larry Foster. To get the word out, chapter members texted, emailed and used their social networks to reach as many Marshall alumni as possible. One of their virtual events included a Herd Holiday Market, where items were listed on Facebook for people to purchase or bid on. Another fundraiser included a t-shirt and sweatshirt sale, the design was created by member Becky Cyrus, and Larry Foster coordinated the sale with local Beckley business Spartan Factory. The chapter currently has another online fundraiser in the works, a Golf Ball drop, immediately following their golf outing on May 24. For more details, visit the chapter’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/safedoug.

The Southern Coalfields Alumni & Big Green Club at their annual bowling event in 2019.

Developing Chapters

You may suspect that in the midst of a pandemic is not the perfect time to start an alumni chapter- but in the Office of Alumni Relations, we would argue against that- it turned into the perfect opportunity. Developing a chapter is like a getting a snowball rolling, it takes a lot of care and attention to get one formed, but once we give it a good ‘shove’ and it gets rolling, the momentum builds independently and the chapter gets off the ground. Now we’d like this process to be more like an avalanche, and build quickly and have tremendous success, but through the years, we’ve learned the chapters that see the most success and endure for the long haul, are slowly built. Through 2020 and continuing through 2021, several Marshall alumni have reached out to our office about developing an alumni chapter in their area. This has allowed us to start chapters in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; and Ocala, Florida; with many more new chapters in development. These chapters haven’t had a chance to meet in person yet, but made up for it with virtual events like game nights and social hours through Microsoft Teams.

While we could have all written 2020 off as a bad year, we saw great successes from the mentioned chapter leaders, and so many more alumni. The work done by our committed volunteers continues to change the lives of our students, of which many rely on private scholarships for tuition assistance for their Marshall education.

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead