UNC General Alumni Association President Doug Dibbert ’70 on Monday received the Frank L. Ashmore Award for service to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the profession of alumni relations.
Dibbert, who has led the GAA since 1982, received the award at the CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement in Chicago.
Steve Grafton, president of the alumni association at the University of Michigan, said in his nominating letter that he immediately thought of Dibbert when he read how the CASE Distinguished Service Awards aspire to recognize individuals whom we know “through their words and deeds that lead, inspire and transform.”
“I believe recognizing him with the Ashmore Award will not only pay tribute to what he has done for CASE and our profession, but it will also heighten CASE’s reputation for being the professional organization of distinguished advancement professionals like Doug,” Grafton said.
In accepting the award, Dibbert reflected on CASE’s 41-year history: “CASE has much about which to be proud, and what we do in alumni relations, communications, and fundraising has never been more important.
“We do our work best when we do it together,” he said, “never subordinating one area to another, for organizations don’t work — people do. Alumni relations — from which all of what we now call advancement emerged — has always been about building and sustaining authentic relationships.
“Alumni are really former, present and future students and represent each institution’s only permanent and largest constituency,” Dibbert said. “Alumni should always be more than cheerleaders and checkwriters. It is the value of their diplomas for which current faculty and administrators are stewards.”
After graduating from Carolina in 1970 with a degree in political science, Dibbert spent nearly a decade on Capitol Hill, serving two congressmen and a senator before returning to Carolina to lead the alumni association.
“It only took him about 10 minutes after arriving home to decide that CASE was the professional organization he would embrace as his own,” Grafton said. “What he has told me is that CASE has had a profound impact on his career. What I know to be equally true, though he doesn’t say it, is that through CASE, Doug Dibbert has had a profound impact on many others.”
UNC System President Tom Ross ’75 (JD) said Dibbert’s long tenure as leader of the UNC General Alumni Association stands apart from the rest. In the past 30 years, Ross said, every university in the system – with the exception of UNC — has experienced at least one leadership transition in its top alumni affairs position.
“Doug’s tenure is a tribute to the tremendous job he has done as well as the very high level of respect he has earned because of his performance,” Ross said. “The stability and accomplishments for which Doug has been responsible in Chapel Hill are truly remarkable.”
When Dibbert was named GAA president, he joined a staff of 17 in Alumni House next to The Carolina Inn. The GAA, established in 1843, then had 25,800 dues-paying members and held records on 160,000 alumni. His tenure has been marked by growth in the GAA’s offerings to its members as well as to all Carolina alumni. Those offerings include reunions, Carolina Clubs throughout the world, career services, outreach to current students, sponsorship of lectures and other enrichment programs, alumni travel, the bimonthly Carolina Alumni Review and a voice in University affairs.
The GAA moved into the George Watts Hill Alumni Center in 1993 and now serves more than 70,000 members with a staff of 41; among the GAA’s responsibilities is maintaining the alumni records of nearly 304,000 Carolina alumni.
Dibbert’s wife, Debbie, has served as Chancellor Carol L. Folt’s chief of staff since August 2014. Their sons, Michael and Brian, graduated from Carolina in 2003 and 2005, respectively.
In addition to leading the GAA, Dibbert has served as chair of CASE’s Board of Trustees. He also is a former president of the Council of Alumni Association Executives and has served as a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
Susan Kubik, principal at eAdvancement, said she came to appreciate Dibbert’s talent and thoughtful, stable leadership while serving with him on the CASE board.
“A consensus builder by background and training, Doug had the uncanny ability to dissect a problem or situation and get immediately to the heart of the issue,” Kubik said. “And, while he is generally viewed as quiet and reserved by nature, his depth of knowledge is so broad and the respect colleagues hold for his intellect so genuine that when Doug speaks, people listen.”
It is because of those leadership qualities, she added, that Dibbert has had a profound impact as “a mentor and teacher to countless numbers of young professionals who have emulated his style.”
Over the past 19 years, the GAA has been recognized with a total of 107 national or district awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Fifty of those awards have recognized the association’s communications, including for the Carolina Alumni Review. Fifty-seven CASE awards have recognized the association’s programming related to career services; travel; lifelong learning; reunions; Carolina Clubs; athletics; admissions; Family Camp; legislative advocacy; and programs and events for young alumni, current students and their families.
The Ashmore award is named in honor of a former executive director of the American College Public Relations Association, a predecessor organization of CASE.
CASE’s membership includes more than 3,600 colleges, universities and independent K-12 schools in 77 countries. CASE is the largest nonprofit education association in terms of institutional membership, with more than 78,000 advancement professionals on the staffs of its member institutions.