Living On Locust: Fundraising As An Alumni Fellow

Gautam Chokhani presents the Class Gift check Dean Erika James during the Wharton graduation ceremony

One of my favorite experiences during business school was serving as an Alumni Fellow. This program is housed within Wharton External Affairs and has a cohort of 20-23 students. Serving as an Alumni Fellow is centered around conversations about the student experience at The Wharton School. Throughout the year, Alumni Fellows participated in several events, including the Giving Tuesday Campaign (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to inspire philanthropic giving), Executive Board receptions, and fundraising for The Wharton Fund.

I decided to become an Alumni Fellow to deepen my paying it forward mentality. As I build my legacy, selflessly supporting others is a cornerstone of my personal brand. I choose to serve as an Alumni Fellow partly because I received a scholarship to attend Wharton, COVID relief funds, emergency financial assistance during the academic year, and global research opportunities. There is value in learning how to fundraise and understanding the philanthropic strategies of an Ivy League institution with a $1 billion endowment. This yields transferrable skills across entrepreneurship, corporate finance, and the visual arts. In addition, you are an alumni member longer than you are a student. With one of the largest alumni networks, Wharton boasts a vibrant global alumni community. I wanted to get a head start before graduation.

Alumni engagement is crucial and students choose MBA programs to gain access to these prestigious alumni networks. The class of 2022 is infamously known as the “COVID class” and every student had a different level of engagement for academic, social, and leadership experiences. The class of 2022 certainly had to overcome more distance than prior class years and I witnessed first-hand how alumni stepped in to support international students who required visas when embassies were closed. Global Alumni associations offered support, resources, and connections to help students feel closer to the Wharton campus. My classmate Xiaoyu Feng could not travel to Wharton, so the Greater China Club hosted a weekend ski trip with alumni and current students in China. These anecdotes further reinforced my decision to pay it forward as an Alumni Fellow.

Wharton Class of 2022 Donors enjoying an afternoon at the Fitler Club


Alumni Fellows are paired with an Alumni mentor who serves on one of the seven executive boards at Wharton. My mentor is Mrs. Lana Woods, WG’90, an amazing mother of two boys, owner of an art gallery, former global executive, and example of Black Excellence. Lana and I both attended HBCUs and are both members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Our core values align professionally and personally, and when we met for dinner, we discussed future goals and the importance of community and mentors. Lana shared anecdotes about her leadership tenure at GE Capital and her international assignment in South America. While she was excelled and enjoyed working at the firm, her passion is centered around art.

Lana encouraged me to “stop trying to figure it out and focus on one thing at a time”. I needed this advice in mid-March, as I entered my final quarter of business school, when I decided not to fret so much over recruiting and life after graduation. I respect her mentorship and advice, understanding her thoughtfulness to empower and guide the next generation of leaders. Lana is known for hosting annual events for current and incoming Wharton students in New York City. She was also one of 32 Black students during her class year, while my class year has almost 100 Black and African students.

Increasing diversity within MBA programs is an important initiative and both students and alumni members are involved in these efforts. For the past eight years, Lana has partnered with the Wharton Admissions team to host a reception for newly-admitted Wharton students, followed by an Alumni Soiree at her home. As students source affinity groups when they transition to new environments, Lana’s efforts directly connect students to alumni and facilitate career and professional relationships. Her leadership is the change we wished to see around more diversity at Wharton because this enhances the learning environment. I look forward to Lana reviving these engagements as a resource for current and future alumni.

Azline Nelson representing the Alumni Fellows in the Giving Tuesday Campaign


Shortly after the first Alumni Fellow meeting, I was invited to be the face and voice of the Giving Tuesday Campaign. Each year, one fellow is selected for the campaign. This year, the program director was personally inspired by my Alumni Fellow application. I highlighted my goals around building a legacy through philanthropy and my desire to leverage fundraising skills within entrepreneurship. This opportunity included a 30-second video and I wrote emails that would be shared with the alumni associations and on the Wharton External Affairs website. There are several approaches to engaging alumni. Within the email, my strategy was to share that I am a first-generation student who benefitted from the COVID relief fund (funded with support by alumni donor giving and The Wharton Fund). Further, I highlighted my gratitude for their generosity and discussed the impact of their gifts.

I worked directly with the External Affairs office for this campaign and learned about their intricate processes for reaching out to alumni and their communication strategy. I leveraged this moment to improve my written and oral communication by incorporating the art of ethos (credibility), pathos (emotional), and logos (logical) appeal in my delivery. After filming the video with their media team, I approved the final touches and shared the campaign on my social media. Being a part of The Wharton School’s Giving Tuesday campaign and sharing my journey as a first-generation student was a special opportunity. It was a bird’s eye view of how I will start a legacy of giving back and paying it forward.

During graduation week, I had several people recognize my face from the campaign. It was a wonderful conversation starter and a charming finale to my on-campus experience.

Marketing and publicity for the Giving Tuesday Campaign


This year, the Class of 2022 achieved a 50% participation rate and raised $57,000 towards the Class Gift and The Wharton Fund. The Wharton Fund is an alumni donation pool and unrestricted annual giving vehicle that supports students through global research, MBA financial aid, global venture programs, and much more. Alumni Fellows are tasked with crafting a strategy to increase the participation rate of their class year. While we are raising funds, the dollar amount is not a fundraising metric for the Class Gift strategy. The minimum gift is $5; however, we encourage students to donate whatever they feel is acceptable. The participation rate signals the future Alumni engagement level of that class year. All donors received a small token of appreciation, a commemorative WG’22 tassel and access to a happy hour with the other classmates who donated.

Throughout the year, I worked alongside the Alumni Fellows to create a strategy to increase the class participation rate. The 23 fellows were divided into two groups: strategy and marketing. We brainstormed our approach to communicate with our 850+ classmates and build a positive ambiance around donating. I served on the strategy committee and we decided to start with educating students on the various programs that are supported by The Wharton Fund. We connected with the club leaders of students organizations that received funding from The Wharton Fund and asked them to mention this within their next club meetings, group chats, or newsletters.

I learned how philanthropic funds are allocated at the university level across scholarships, research, student support and faculty training. It was also insightful to connect with the Executive Boards and learn about their structure and support for the External Affairs office. It certainly takes a village to ensure that the Wharton brand is strong and the institution is attracting top talent. This approach is manifested through fundraising, mentorship, recruiting support, and admissions engagement.

Truthfully, everyone did not have a stellar Wharton experience and not everyone chose to donate – which is OK. Alumni Fellows listened to their grievances and shared this feedback with the Dean of Wharton, Erika James, during our exclusive breakfast to hear her insights on the student experience. Many alumni are active as mentors, and supporters for recruiting activities and hosting students in their hometowns. These engagements serve a larger purpose to empower students for years.

During the graduation ceremony, Gautam Chokhani presented the check for the class gift to Dean Erika James. This was the first Class Gift fundraising campaign since 2019. It was truly a testament to the Class of 2022s’ belief in the power of their Wharton education and a public display of the Alumni Fellows’ hard work. Among many special moments, the donation check represents the culmination of my first philanthropic fundraising campaign!! The funds will benefit future Wharton MBA students to have the best possible experience and ensure Wharton remains a prestigious learning institution. This is a solid foundation to build a legacy for future generations. Everything that I learned can be leveraged across multiple industries, and I believe that I planted a seed that will grow into larger philanthropic initiatives.

Azline Nelson

As I helped to recruit the Class of 2023 Alumni Fellows, I reflected on my journey as a fellow. I love discussing my Wharton experience with anyone who will listen! Harnessing these opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone to meet new people and improve your public speaking will serve you well in the future. Finally, it is essential to start cultivating your legacy. Philanthropy is one avenue and paying it forward is an everlasting gift that translates into a better society. It is never too early or too late to plant a positive seed that will change the course of your life and facilitate a stronger educational experience for the future.

I hope to see you “Living on Locust” with soul, purpose, and a spirit of collaboration!

Azline is from Waterloo, IA, and became a National Gates Millennium Scholar in 2009. She studied International Studies and French at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, and graduated Cum Laude in 2013. During her undergraduate tenure, she studied abroad in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Geneva, Switzerland, and also interned at Black Entertainment Network and Google, Inc. Azline worked for Delta Air Lines for seven years before starting a dual-degree MBA/MA program at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute.

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