Chris Olofson ’92 reflects on his term as Annual Giving chair and the power of Princeton’s alumni community

Chris Olofson '92

Photo by Kevin Birch

Chris Olofson ’92 has been deeply involved with Annual Giving since he was an undergraduate volunteer. So, when he was asked to consider serving as the new chair of the Annual Giving (AG) Committee in 2020, he jumped at the chance. “It’s a rare privilege to serve as chair of Annual Giving,” he said. 

Olofson, who concludes his four-year term on June 30, talks about his service as chair and his appreciation for the extraordinary people who make up the Princeton community.

Previously you said the ability to approach any abstract issue in an orderly way is the most valuable skill you learned at Princeton. Do you still believe this?

Yes, because I’m a classic liberal arts byproduct of Princeton. While I was an East Asian studies major, those critical thinking skills and the ability to write directly enabled a career in technology, which wasn’t adjacent to my academic background. And I’m grateful to have been taught those skills at Princeton. When you’re here, you think of it as a four-year experience and you focus on the education, but once you’re an alum, you realize it’s a lifetime experience. There are so many opportunities during each phase of your life to remain involved in a meaningful way.

How did your experience at Princeton lead you to Annual Giving?

I started volunteering for Annual Giving as an undergraduate student. Back then, being a Tiger Caller wasn’t a paid student job, but we got great swag and pizza as volunteers and you got to talk to alumni, which seemed like a good deal to me. Volunteering has always been a nice way to give back to a place that has given so much to me, which is why I’ve been involved with Annual Giving at Princeton in one way or another ever since. Having everyone come together to support the current generation of students is one of our greatest alumni traditions.

Your tenure coincided with the launch of the Annual Giving theme, Forward Together. Does this theme mean something different to you now as you look back?

Yes, in a way. Forward Together gives all alumni the opportunity to participate in the broader Venture Forward campaign. It also re-energized our dyed-in-the-wool orange and black veteran volunteers and opened the door to a new slate of alumni leaders who will take on increasingly larger Annual Giving roles in the coming years. Annual Giving will make up the largest number of participants contributing to the Venture Forward campaign.

When you started your tenure as chair of the Annual Giving Committee, everything was still mostly virtual and under the shadow of the pandemic. What was the key to reconnecting with the alumni community after such a huge disruption?

I’ve always considered Annual Giving calls as a wonderful way to stay in touch with classmates, so our efforts provided people an opportunity to connect and talk to one another at a time when they craved human connection. The AG family has been an ideal circle of people to volunteer alongside and the whole team transitioned effectively to the virtual world.

Our Forward Together March Challenge videos were another way we adapted during the pandemic. When it comes to reaching recent alumni, short-form videos on social media have been more effective than sending a letter or an email, which are the forms of communication that other classes respond to so well.

That’s great. On the topic of engaging recent Princeton alumni, what are the ways Annual Giving connects with them?

Wintersession is a very popular way for current students to learn about Princeton alumni traditions, including Annual Giving. We also hold a senior class pledge each year, where graduating students commit to supporting Annual Giving for the four upcoming years. And each autumn, we welcome alumni from the most recent classes back to campus for a one-day event to help them enhance their volunteer AG fundraising skills and provide them with an opportunity to give back to Princeton.

Looking back, how would you sum up your four years as chair and what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud that the Annual Giving team — alumni donors, volunteers and professional staffers — achieved an increase in participation in 2022-23 versus the prior year. When you consider philanthropic trends around higher education, it really was an amazing achievement — and one that gives us a lot of optimism for AG to continue supporting current students.

What’s next for you volunteer-wise at Princeton after you step down as AG chair?

I’ll always be involved in my class’s Annual Giving campaigns, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season as a member at-large of the University’s Annual Giving Committee.

I’m also honored to serve on the Princeton University Art Museum’s Advisory Council, which is another amazing group of people. With the new building nearing its completion date, it’s an exciting time for the museum. When the doors open, it is going to be a marvelous addition to the University that will provide enhanced object-based learning opportunities for the entire student body.