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Articles > School Advancement Q&A > Hutson Dodds Q&A: Engaging Millennial Alumni and Trying New Types of Events

Hutson Dodds Q&A: Engaging Millennial Alumni and Trying New Types of Events

Q&A Interview with Hutson Dodds, Director of Alumni Relations at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston SC, USA
Hutson Dodds with his family
Hutson Dodds with his family

In this interview, devoted family man Hutson Dodds shares insights into his work and personal life, challenges the development of the milennial alumni generation brings, and his efforts to keep city-bound alumni engaged.

1. What's your role at Porter-Gaud? What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am the Director of Alumni Relations at Porter-Gaud. My major projects are split in to two parts. The Fall is full of events on campus and in cities across the US. The Spring is focused on our Alumni Weekend with a few small events mixed in. The next few projects in the queue are: our Alumni Golf Tournament, Homecoming, a San Francisco Alumni Event, a Columbia SC Alumni Event, and our day of giving.

2. What are your goals for the beginning of a new school year?

My goals remain the same, with new ways to reach them. I want to have as many alumni as possible engage in an event, or here on campus in school life. 

3. What made you change to Alumni Relations? What did you do before?

I worked for 7 years in the Middle School as a chaplain, teacher, and coach. While in the Middle School, I learned that I really enjoy administration. Looking at the year ahead, making a plan, and executing the plan gets me really excited. In my final year, I was able to be a part of this leadership through both coaching and working alongside the MS Dean as his unofficial assistant. I received my MA in Educational Leadership and Administration from The George Washington University while working, which allowed me to pursue other jobs.

When this Alumni Relations position became available, it seemed like a natural fit. I love the school. I've worked in almost every facet of the school from spiritual life, to writing curriculum, to assisting the Dean, to athletics, and I am an alum. I have a great sense of where the school is, how to communicate it to our constituents, and being an alum, I have a sense of what they/ we want.

4. Is there a lot of activity within your Alumni network? Have you had any big events recently? 

Yes. I have strategically created a schedule of events that attempts to reach a broad audience. What I have found is that the most important thing is not the event itself, but the hype before and after. You can have a very successful event (I define success as well attended, a broad range of ages, AND attendees that have not been connected recently) but if it was not hyped on a national level before and after, people will think the alumni are not engaged. Social media and email are the best ways to hype events.

In addition to events, I try and sit down one on one with as many alumni as possible. These conversations lead to great touch points as well as generating valuable input from our constituents. A unique event we ran within the last year was renting a box at the Charlotte Hornets Arena for our alumni. NBA All-Star, Khris Middleton, plays for the Bucks. We thought it would be fun to get a group of alumni together for the game to watch him play in Charlotte. It was a huge success. We are going to do a similar event in Nashville this year when Vanderbilt plays University of Tennessee. We have an alum playing for each school. 

Last year, we completely revamped our Alumni Weekend. Our campus is 88 acres, and we have a beautiful green area in the center we call "The Green." The weekend culminated with a huge party on The Green. There was a large tent and live music for entertainment. Five local restaurants set up booths in the tent for alumni to sample their specialties. 

5. What challenges do you face at work?

I face a few challenges. One challenge that every alumni office will cite is maintaining correct data on our alumni. It is hard to invite people to events when you have the wrong address. I also am facing an interesting time period. Being located in Charleston, most alumni were returning around the age of 30. Which was perfect, because they would likely send their child here, and then have a vested interest in re-engaging the school. What we are seeing now is: people from 25-35 are no longer in a rush to come home, or never will at a much higher percentage. The big cities offer jobs/ pay that Charleston cannot.

To combat this, I am going to them. I am out of the office and in their cities engaging them. The millennial generation is stated to have the most disposable cash of any generation in the history of the world, and at a younger age. They are also a generation that is more interested in seeing a direct impact in where their money goes than any other generation. We used to be able to rely on them returning to us, but we will lose them forever if we do not steward them well now, because it is likely they will not return until they are much older. 

6. Porter-Gaud has some famous Alumni - are they still in touch with the school?

Yes. We have some very famous alumni, most of whom are still quite involved with the school. Khris Middleton recently donated $1 million for a scholarship, and runs an annual basketball camp here on campus. Admiral Kurt Tidd was on campus this past year for our alumni weekend, as were best-selling authors, the Lee brothers. Former Pro Bowl NFL star, Ovie Mughelli is a member of our Board of Trustees. Just to name a few...

7. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do when you're not working?

I am born and raised right here in Charleston, South Carolina. After finishing high school, I went to the College of Charleston to play baseball where I majored in communications. After graduation, I married my wife Chandler, and we worked for a college ministry at CofC where we led a trip to India for 7 weeks. Ever since then, my wife and I have been avid travelers. We enjoy learning how other people around the country and world live. We have two children, Hutson Jr. and Georgiana. When I am not with my family traveling, I am on the golf course. I am an avid golfer. I love to compete. Golf gives me the chance to compete even if it is the same course and it is just me out there. Every day the conditions are different, and the course is set up differently. I love to play new golf courses with friends. In the world we live in today, it is hard to have 3-4 hours of time away from work or a screen with friends, and golf provides that...with some competition.

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