10 Questions With Alumni Association Director Paul Clifford
Paul Clifford was recently named the director of the Penn State Alumni Association, and he’ll officially begin his term on January 11. After that he will oversee a 177,000 member alumni association, the largest dues paying alumni associations in the world. Before he starts his position as director, we asked him a few questions about what he expects from his new job and plans he has for the Alumni Association.
Onward State: What prompted you to take the Penn State Alumni Association job?
Paul Clifford: First and foremost, I feel that my 19-year career in alumni association management positions me to have a real impact and make a difference at Penn State. That, coupled with the fact I am a native of northeastern Pennsylvania and from a Penn State family, meant taking this job was a no-brainer. The CEO post at the Penn State Alumni Association is the most coveted, respected position in our business.
OS: What do you envision for the future of the Alumni Association?
PC: It is widely accepted by alumni association professionals nationwide that the Penn State Alumni Association is best in class. My vision for the Alumni Association is to stay right there. That being said, the formula that put the Alumni Association on top may not be the same formula to keep the organization on top for the next 20 years.
OS: Are there any changes you want to make to the Alumni Association?
PC: In this business, changes are dictated by the alumni we serve. The Alumni Association will continue to listen and respond to our 177,307 members and the more than 645,000 alumni we serve. And I’ll be doing a lot of listening personally in my first days, weeks, and months on the job guaranteed.
OS: What does the pride and honor Penn State alumni show mean to you?
PC: It means that we have the opportunity to harness their pride and honor to engage them throughout their lifelong relationship with the University. When people graduate, they don’t leave with a love for the Alumni Association specifically. They love the arts they were exposed to; they love the academic rigor; they love game day; they love THON, etc. People love the Alumni Association based on our ability to keep them connected to the reasons they love Penn State.
OS: Amid the recent lawsuits against the Alumni Association, how do you plan to move past them?
PC: I will make sure that I have a full understanding of any challenges facing the Alumni Association, including legal matters. That being said, I think it’s important to ensure that our staff, volunteers, and alumni stay focused on the great mission of this organization and emphasize the many positive impacts we have on the University and Penn State worldwide. I believe that is something we can all get behind and work together on.
OS: What goals do you have for the future of the Alumni Association?
PC: As the Alumni Association comes to the end of its previous strategic plan, it is paramount to put another plan in place to shape the future of this organization. Through an inclusive, data-driven strategic planning process, we will develop our shared goals for the Penn State Alumni Association.
OS: Was there any one thing that made you leave Oregon for Penn State?
PC: No, I was not looking to leave Oregon. But when the recruiters called, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to come home and serve a university my family loves.
OS: How does it feel to lead the largest dues paying Alumni Association in the world?
PC: It feels great to have been chosen for this post! At the same time, keeping the Alumni Association on top and continuing to fulfill its service mission is a challenge that I don’t take lightly. I’m looking forward to January and getting started.
OS: What are your expectations for your job as the leader of the Alumni Association?
PC: I expect that, together with the Alumni Association’s talented professional staff and dedicated volunteer leadership staff at the PSAA, we will do great things. Growing membership, involving alumni in meaningful volunteer roles, strengthening higher education in Pennsylvania through alumni advocacy, and advancing the power of the Penn State network in the business arena are all areas alumni can expect to feel the impact of our organization.
OS: If you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?
PC: I would definitely be a velociraptor. They were swift and agile, two characteristics that are important for twenty-first century alumni associations to embody. They also traveled in packs and were the ultimate team players.