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Building A Better Board Experience

April 20, 2020 by Kristin Hanson

Blue Jays Unlimited’s council aims to ensure “alumni feel good about the work they’re doing”

As a veteran of multiple advisory councils inside and outside the Hopkins universe, Rob Sanzillo, A&S ’07, has concluded two things: Volunteer leaders hate having their time wasted, and they want to engage in meaningful work. Sanzillo kept those principles in mind when he took over as chair of the Blue Jays Unlimited Board of Advisors in May 2019 and began a months-long recalibration of its priorities, processes, and perks.

“My goal was to come in and change things, to make this a board where when one member leaves, we have a list of other people chomping at the bit to join.”

A portrait of Rob Sanzillo, chair of the Blue Jays Unlimited board of advisors.
Rob Sanzillo, A&S ’07, an alumnus of the Hopkins baseball team and chair of the Blue Jays Unlimited Board of Advisors.

Alongside vice chair Lynn Schow, A&S ’92, Sanzillo started by reexamining the expectations of the board and revising its bylaws. They addressed giving minimums but also engagement expectations. They slashed the board’s schedule from 12 meetings per year to four and sent the dates and times of those meetings a year in advance — with the expectation of near-perfect attendance. The meetings require more than just sitting silently on the phone, too. Members of the board represent different Hopkins sports, and those whose sports are in season during a given meeting give a short insider’s update about their teams.

Sanzillo and Schow also try to include a speaker in each meeting from another part of Hopkins — for example, Farouk Dey, vice provost for integrative learning and life design was a recent guest star. Their presence illustrates to board members how athletics connects with the larger university.

“It’s not the same voice for an hour, which gets tedious,” Sanzillo says. “I try to play emcee and speak as little as possible.”

The new board emphasizes engagement between each member and alumni of the team they represent — and not just for solicitations. In addition to updating the contact information for as many alumni as possible, board members act as liaisons between the current teams and their former athletes. Sanzillo leads by example: His frequent emails to Hopkins baseball alumni have expanded from just team news and notes to include wedding and birth announcements and other life updates.

“It got to a point where it wasn’t even a fundraising email, it was just an opportunity to talk with 125 or so people I don’t get to talk to every day,” he says

Hewitt Tomlin, A&S ’12, says increased outreach is particularly beneficial for the young alumni he works with from the football team.

“If you follow the Hopkins football Instagram and Twitter, you know what’s happening, but that’s not the same as being engaged. It’s always going to take someone to create engagement,” Tomlin says. “Recent graduates are the most likely to stay involved (with their teams). You can’t wait to reach out to them four years later. The personal touches make a difference.”

Finally, board members took a survey that asked what benefits they hoped to derive from their service. The top response: Access to different leadership development opportunities across Hopkins. All of the board’s members will be invited to the next Hopkins-wide Volunteer Leadership Summit, and a new partnership with the Carey Business School will allow members to enroll in Executive Education courses at no cost.

“It makes alumni feel good about the work they’re doing,” Sanzillo says. “I want to recognize that it’s pretty special to take some of your limited free time and give it to Hopkins.”

That contribution, says Director of Athletics and Recreation Jennifer Baker, doesn’t go unnoticed.

“I am grateful for the time and investment of each of the members of our Blue Jays Unlimited Board. Our student-athletes wear the Hopkins uniform for four years while at Homewood, but they remain a part of our programs for a lifetime,” Baker says. “I am excited to see how this board continues to energize our alumni constituency and work diligently to elevate the experience of our current student-athletes.”

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Topics: Alumni, Blue Jays Unlimited (Athletics)