“Let’s tell the story the way we’ve done it.”

That idea guided the UCLA Alumni Association’s approach to its recently published annual report. The online publication shows how a year’s worth of primarily virtual programs — a major departure from the association’s traditional in-person events — continued to build community and engage Bruins around the world. 

The 2020–21 UCLA Alumni annual report collects the highlights from approximately 2,500 Zoom events for thousands and thousands of alumni.

To support UCLA’s half-million alumni during a time when in-person gatherings were largely impossible, the association amped up online offerings including career resources, wellness assets, safe spaces promoting social justice and town halls sharing campus news and addressing health concerns. Some days featured more than 30 events.

“People were so eager to find spaces to be together and learn together, and to work on the career space that was ever-changing,” said Julie Sina, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for alumni affairs. And sometimes, she added, people just wanted to have fun.

To tell the story of the successful pivot from in-person to virtual programming, the association’s marketing team created a report that reflects the creativity that went into all of those events. An interactive dashboard features minimal text but dozens of recordings of virtual events. Video highlights were curated to demonstrate the organization’s core values of equity, diversity and inclusion.

The Changemakers Summit, for example, was a discussion of racial equality in the workplace. The event, which Sina said was one of her favorites of the year, combined the objectives of both the alumni career engagement and diversity initiatives teams, engaging more than 200 mid- and senior-level Bruins from various industries.

The summit is among the many programs highlighted in the annual report, which is composed of eight easily digestible chapters. The report’s website displays video thumbnails showing dozens of smiling faces across Zoom grids, giving a snapshot of Bruins’ desires to gather and to support one another.

“That was the theme of how we gathered — how we built and sustained community over the year,” Sina said. “I think we told it in the way that we did it.”

The association had already been dabbling in virtual programming over the past few years. Messages around Alumni Day, for instance, billed the event as “The day we bring UCLA to you.” The event was recognized in 2019 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education as the outstanding alumni relations program.

Behind the broader move to virtual programming and the all-digital annual report is Estellaleigh Franenberg, senior director of alumni marketing and creative engagement. It was Franenberg who first approached Sina about a virtual Alumni Day in 2017. And that experience set the stage for the successful jump to a fully virtual event calendar during the pandemic.

“One of the messages that we try to get out there is that Bruins create opportunities for Bruins; Bruins support each other, lift each other up and hire each other,” Sina said.

Franenberg’s marketing team has received high praise for the annual report’s production quality and innovativeness. Among other benefits, the interactive form enables the association to feature more people than the print editions did. Sina said those involved in the events of the past year have appreciated being able to see themselves in the report. And they recognize the tremendous amount of work that association staff and alumni network teams have done over the past year.

“I really think they are the unsung heroes of UCLA,” Sina said. “They’re really just amazing people to work with.”