College looks to increase donations

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October 24, 2013

2:10 AM

In addition to the thousands of dollars students pay in tuition each year and the money provided by the commonwealth of Virginia, the College of William and Mary also relies on alumni donations.

Although it is a state institution, the state only funds 12.4 percent of the College’s operating budget. To make up for the difference, the College relies on private donations, most of which come from alumni.

“Over time, we’ve begun to draw students who see William and Mary as a top-tier university, and students who begin to see philanthropy as a top priority,” Vice President for Development Matthew Lambert said.

According to Lambert, 23.9 percent of all undergraduate alumni gave back to the College last year. Lambert said the Development Office’s goal is to reach 40 percent by 2020.

“We want to establish an undergraduate culture of philanthropy,” Lambert said. “It is also a point of pride. If you want your university to thrive, you need to create a culture of support.”

The College doesn’t begin soliciting undergraduates for monetary donations until their senior year. In contrast, most Ivy League institutions begin soliciting their undergraduates as underclassmen.

“We don’t have a culture of giving like other universities do,” Lambert said. “But it doesn’t take long to create traditions here.”

The annual Senior Class Gift is a tradition the school uses to foster philanthropy among alumni. It started in the 1960s, and in 1994, seniors were given the right to choose a specific area toward which their gift would be pledged. Each year, the Senior Class Gift Committee frequently holds events to create incentives for giving and to educate seniors on the importance of donating to the College.

This year, the 2014 committee’s five co-chairs set the goal of a 70 percent participation rate. Co-Chair of Student Outreach Grace Martini ’14 said there isn’t a specific monetary goal, but in years past, the Senior Class Gift has raised around $20,000.

“We strategically chose 70 percent [participation] as a goal because it’s something we could reasonably reach, and if we reach it, we can make an even more aggressive goal,” Martini said. “Education is still our main priority, so we can encourage people to keep giving post-college.”

The Class of 2011 set a record participation rate of 79 percent. Typically, 60-70 percent of seniors participate in the Senior Class Gift.

William and Mary Phonathon helps the school keep in touch with alumni and encourage regular donation. Phonathon supervisor Kelly Hall ’15 said callers contact alumni from several different pools, such as those from the Mason School of Business or those about to have an important reunion.

Hall said callers initially check the alumnus or alumna’s contact information, so even if the person isn’t interested in donating, the school still has a way of reaching them. Then, they speak with the person about their time at school and about what they’re doing presently. Finally, they ask if they are interested in making a donation. The usual amount is $250, according to Hall.

“We are generally well-received by most of the people we talk to, but it can depend on how they enjoyed their time here,” Hall said. “Usually they enjoy talking about their time at school.”

Private donations, such as those raised by Phonathon, are essential to the College’s financial future, according to Vice President of Financial Affairs Sam Jones.

“How excellent you can be with private money depends on how much money comes in,” Jones said.

Jones noted that the state only provides basic operating costs for the College. To pay for the remaining operating costs, the College looks to tuition dollars as well as private donations.

“The state is only going to fund to an average level, and they are a very formula-driven funding entity,” Jones said. “This sort of model doesn’t fit with a public ivy like William and Mary.”

Many students and alumni alike do not realize how little funding the Virginia legislature provides.

“As a public state institution, sometimes people don’t see us as having as much of a need for private dollars as a private institution would,” Jones said. “One of our main challenges is communicating to folks that we need private donations to fund the margin of excellence the state will not fund, even in their best economic situation.”

While alumni donate to the College throughout the calendar year, according to Assistant Vice President for Lifetime Philanthropic Engagement and Annual Giving Daniel Frezza, the two most popular times of the year to give are the end of the calendar year and the end of the fiscal year.

Last year, gifts of $250 or less raised over $2.93 million for the College.

According to Lambert, the 2013 fiscal year was a record-breaking year for the number of alumni donors at the College with 18,552 graduate and undergraduate alumni contributing.

Of alumni who were affiliated with a Greek organization while attending the College, 32.03 percent donated in the last fiscal year, and 37.93 percent of former athletes donated as well.

“It gets back to the student development theory,” Frezza said. “The more a student is engaged and successful at the College, the more the student is involved in the College after graduation.”

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  • Ariel Cohen and Zach Hardy

  • Elle Dee Jay-H.

    ***EVERY*** gift counts.