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Alisa Robertson to succeed Mike Knetter as Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association CEO

WFAA chief advancement officer Alisa Robertson

WFAA chief advancement officer Alisa Robertson

The Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA) announced a succession plan for CEO Mike Knetter, reinforcing its commitment to strengthening the University of Wisconsin-Madison by building pride and affinity and securing and stewarding financial resources to support the university’s mission.

The WFAA Board of Directors has voted to appoint WFAA president and chief advancement officer Alisa Robertson as president and CEO effective January 1, 2025. Robertson is a Madison native and a two-time Badger.

“Her leadership and strategic capacity, industry and institutional knowledge, and authentic long-term relationships with UW donors and academic leaders make her an excellent choice to lead WFAA. I look forward to contributing to her success as our next leader.”

Mike Knetter

The succession plan was initiated by Knetter and developed by the board of directors, and led by board chair, Paul Shain, over the past several months. Knetter will continue to serve as CEO until January 1, 2025 at which time he will transition to the role of strategic advisor of business development and investments and report to the CEO.

“Alisa has served in a variety of roles over 27 years at both UW-Madison and WFAA, shaping our approach to philanthropy and alumni relations,” Knetter said. “Her leadership and strategic capacity, industry and institutional knowledge, and authentic long-term relationships with UW donors and academic leaders make her an excellent choice to lead WFAA. I look forward to contributing to her success as our next leader.”

Shain said that Robertson’s experience overseeing major initiatives that have delivered significant results to the university made her a clear choice for the role of CEO.

“The board of directors conducted a thorough process over the past several months and determined Alisa’s skills and experience make her the ideal leader of WFAA as we usher in the next phase of advancement for UW-Madison,” said Shain. “She brings tremendous experience in building mutually beneficial relationships to support the university, and she has a true passion for the UW.” 

WFAA CEO Mike Knetter
WFAA CEO Mike Knetter

WFAA transformed under Knetter’s leadership

Knetter was named president and CEO of the UW Foundation in 2010 following a national search for a leader, replacing Sandy Wilcox. His tenure at WFAA followed a long career in higher education.

Knetter earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics and economics from UW-Eau Claire and his doctorate in economics from Stanford University. He began his career as an assistant professor in economics at Dartmouth College. He went on to serve as professor and associate dean of the Tuck School of Business before returning to Wisconsin to lead the Wisconsin School of Business as dean from 2002 to 2010.

As dean, Knetter orchestrated the “no-name” naming gift with 13 donors, securing $85 million to retain the name “Wisconsin School of Business” for 20 years. This naming gift followed the expansion of Grainger Hall, the restructuring and improved national standing of the school’s full-time MBA program, and the restructuring and expansion of the part-time MBA programs for working professionals.

“When I arrived at Wisconsin from Dartmouth, one of the biggest opportunities I could see for progress was activating our large, talented, and passionate alumni base for the school’s greatest needs,” said Knetter. “We needed to accelerate our ability to get more flexible support from donors and forming collaborative structures, such as the naming partnership or matching gift programs, fit the personality of the institution. Applying those learnings to our work at WFAA made sense.”

Mike Knetter, CEO of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, thanks Jim & Sue Bakke and Sub-Zero and Wolf for their generous donations at the grand opening of the Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo by Althea Dotzour / UW–Madison)

During Knetter’s tenure as CEO, the All Ways Forward comprehensive campaign raised more than $4.2 billion and exceeded the campaign goal by $1 billion. The Foundation’s total assets under management have more than doubled to $5.4 billion, and annual transfers to UW-Madison now easily exceed $300 million annually. Knetter also led the merger of the UW Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Association in 2014, creating alignment and efficiencies to benefit the university.

“Mike has been a truly incredible leader for WFAA and I am enormously grateful for all he has contributed to UW-Madison and the foundation.”

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin

“The opportunity to serve in two different leadership roles over 22 years at an elite university in my home state is truly precious,” said Knetter. “What began as business relationships often became real friendships rooted in a shared appreciation for what UW-Madison does to transform lives and a commitment to improving that work in an increasingly challenging environment. I am especially proud of the team we have assembled to serve the advancement mission into the future and excited to work with these great colleagues in my new role.”

“Mike has been a truly incredible leader for WFAA, and I am enormously grateful for all he has contributed to UW-Madison and the UW Foundation,” said UW-Madison chancellor Jennifer Mnookin. “He has been creative, innovative, and very successful in building much-needed resources and relationships for the benefit of the university. He has consistently brought his huge range of talents — including his strategic insights, his economic and institutional savvy, and his ability to build deep and lasting partnerships with our alumni, donors, and friends — to build a best-in-class advancement structure.”

Knetter has worked in a variety of public policy, academic, and executive leadership positions including senior staff economist for the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and board member for American Family Insurance, Neuberger Berman Funds, and One William Street Capital Management.

WFAA Board of Directors chair Paul Shain recognized Knetter’s impact across the organization.

“Mike’s experience within and outside of higher education helps him navigate complex issues with ease and inspire a diverse variety of stakeholders to support the university’s top priorities,” Shain said. “He has invested in important leadership and structural changes and transformed the way WFAA measures its success. The result is a more complex, productive advancement engine.”

Robertson said she is pleased that Knetter will remain in an important role at WFAA.

“Mike has been an extraordinary leader and I have learned a great deal from him,” Robertson said. “I’m delighted to continue working with him, along with our board of directors and leadership team, in leading WFAA’s evolution in an ever-changing environment.”

Robertson plans to build on success and strength of WFAA

Robertson has served as WFAA’s president and chief advancement officer since 2022. The majority of her 30-year career has been in service to UW-Madison, where she earned both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA. She joined the university in 1997 as assistant director of alumni relations at the Wisconsin School of Business and eventually served as associate dean of advancement until she joined the UW Foundation as chief of staff in 2011. By 2013 she was serving as chief development officer, playing a lead role in designing the All Ways Forward campaign. In 2017, Robertson was named senior vice president and chief advancement officer.

“I am honored to continue partnering with UW campus leaders, alumni, and donors as the next leader of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.”

Alisa Robertson

“I am honored to continue partnering with UW campus leaders, alumni, and donors as the next leader of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association,” says Robertson. “Philanthropic support and alumni involvement have never been more important to sustaining and enhancing our incredible university.”

Robertson will continue to work closely with Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin on securing support for UW-Madison's greatest needs in the years ahead.

“As Alisa prepares to take on this important new role, WFAA will be going from strength to strength,” Mnookin said. “Alisa has an impressive record of demonstrated success as both a fundraiser and a leader. I’m excited for what we will continue to achieve with Alisa at the helm, and have every confidence that both WFAA and UW-Madison have a bright future indeed.”

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