Many traditions at Haverford — like jumping into the duck pond and running around in circles at the Dorm Olympics — don’t make a whole lot of sense. Giving money to the College immediately after graduation, when money may be scarce and the memory of tuition is still fresh, might not make much sense either, but it’s a practice which the College hopes it can turn into a tradition for young alumni.
Each October, the Office of Alumni Relations & Annual Giving holds “Young Alumni Giving Month” (YAGM), a month-long concentrated effort to encourage alumni who graduated ten or fewer years ago to give back to Haverford. Gifts donated during YAGM are matched by a family from the Class of 2011 and then donated to Haverford’s Annual Fund, a yearly sum of gifts that plays a large role in supporting the College’s annual operating budget.
According to YAGM’s website, 858 young alums—over 30% of the young alumni body—gave $48,491 this October. This sum was added to over $100,000 in challenge money provided by the Class of 2011 family for a total impact of $148,491. The 2011 family’s donation is organized so that, the more alumni participate, the more challenge money is “unlocked” for the school. 550 participants unlock $10,000, 650 participants unlock $15,000, 800 unlock $25,000, and so forth. This year’s high participation rate unlocked $50,000 for the school – quite the contribution considering most alums can’t give much more than $50.
One may wonder what the purpose of targeting young alumni is when such a group can only provide small gifts.
“It’s highly focused on participation,” said Julia Gelman-Sheehan, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations & Annual Giving. “Alumni participation is crucial in our rankings with U.S. News and World Report.”
Alumni participation rates in fundraising indicate the alums’ satisfaction with Haverford, said Gelman-Sheehan. A higher rate of participation means future students will apply to a Haverford looking for a similar enjoyable experience.
They also hope the drive will encourage young alumni to get in the habit of donating throughout their lives, especially for later in their careers when they are able to provide bigger gifts for the College.
Alumni support is also crucial considering Haverford’s small size.
“We’re a third the size of Swarthmore and half the size of Williams,” added Gelman-Sheehan. “so we need more alumni in general to be giving just to meet the financial needs of the college.”
Reactions to the drive have been mixed. One current student who works as a phone-a-thon caller said that most of the alumni she called were not receptive and even hostile to the idea of giving back to a school that had already cost them so much in tuition money.
Others, like Andrew Sturner ’12 who is now an Astrophysics graduate student at University of Colorado at Boulder, were happy to give back.
“I benefited a lot from Haverford’s financial aid policy. If other people can have those sorts of opportunities that I was given then it’s worth a few of my bucks to support that. Even if it’s not very much, it adds up, and I’ll keep giving every year as long as I’m financially able to,” Sturner said.
Despite the grumbling of some alumni, the tradition of giving back early seems to be catching on.
“This is the fourth year that we did it [YAGM] and more young alumni have been giving to the annual fund every year in general,” said Gelman-Sheehan.
I’m extremely disappointed to see in this article the quote from Julia Gelman-Sheehan, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations & Annual Giving, in which she says, “Alumni participation is crucial in our rankings with U.S. News & World Report.”
Just four months ago, Dan Weiss, in his first official day in office as Haverford’s president, issued a statement along with a number of other liberal arts college presidents in which he stated that “we are concerned about … the way in which rankings can contribute to that frenzy and to a false sense that educational success or fit can be ranked in a single numerical list” and promised “not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.” (Read the full statement at https://www.haverford.edu/news/stories/421/51.)
President Weiss’s approach is an accurate reading of college rankings. Colleges take a holistic approach to evaluating their applicants; why shouldn’t applicants take a holistic approach to evaluating their colleges? Each college and university is different, unique, and special for a host of different reasons, and to pretend that all of the qualities, good and bad, that make up an institution can be boiled down to a single number is nothing short of outrageous.
Obviously, The Clerk is not an official college publication, so Ms. Gelman-Sheehan’s quote as reported here does not constitute an explicit violation of President Weiss’s promise. Nonetheless, I had interpreted the statement to signify that the College was intending not to place emphasis on college rankings and am highly disappointed to see that they are still ingrained in the administration’s way of thinking.
This is not to say that Young Alumni Giving Month is a bad idea. The College needs all the financing it can get, and cultivating relationships with alumni is an ideal step towards keeping the College on a strong financial footing. Increasing alumni participation is also appropriate, as a higher number of alumni donating when they are young is likely to correlate to a higher number of alumni donating as the years pass. However, the goal of YAGM should be limited to helping keep the College’s finances in order. To see that the administration has the ulterior motive of manipulating Haverford’s place in U.S. News & World Report and the ilk is, frankly, in direct contravention of a lot of the ideals that I’d like to think the College stands for.