Wanted: Farm Hands

AJames Kaczman

The timing was nearly perfect. Betsy Collard was halfway through her first day as head of the Stanford Alumni Association's new volunteer initiative. Pierce McNally, '71, happened to be in the Bay Area on business and decided to stop by Bowman Alumni House. "I'd been looking for a way to reconnect with Stanford," says the Minnesota investor and business consultant. At about 2 p.m., he showed up in Collard's doorway asking how he might volunteer for the University. "I said, 'That's great,'" laughs Collard. "'But I haven't even unpacked my boxes.'"

That was December. Since then, Collard, MA '62, has organized her office and started laying the groundwork for the volunteer effort. It's still in an embryonic phase, but the goal is clear: to serve Stanford by tapping into the skills, knowledge and commitment of thousands of alumni like McNally (who ended up working on a volunteer project with the Cantor Center for Visual Arts on campus).

The centerpiece will be a website that will hook up volunteer alumni with needs across the University. The matchmaking service, which will launch next year, might find a mentor for a current student, a host for an off-campus event or an expert to serve on a University task force. "We want to send out the message that, for Stanford, volunteering is an important form of giving," Collard says.

Eventually, she hopes to reach many of the 51,000 alumni who, according to a 1998 survey, are interested in serving Stanford. (About 10,000 now do some kind of volunteer work, from serving as class correspondents for this magazine to helping recruit undergraduates.) For now, Collard is setting up some small pilot programs to test the initiative's matchmaking skills. She and her staff are placing alumni with the Bechtel International Center, the Undergraduate Advising Center and the Music Affiliates.

And they're looking for advice on where to go from there. Collard, who spent three years as Stanford's assistant dean of women before a 30-year stint as a career development consultant, says alumni themselves will help shape the project's agenda. "We want to practice what we preach," she says. "We can use all sorts of help."