This spring semester, the Alumni and Parent Engagement Office and the Student Philanthropy Council have encouraged seniors to donate to the college before their graduation this May. This year has prompted more discussion, however, due to initiatives that include a gift-matching program as well as an option to allow seniors to choose to which college group their gift goes. Seniors have largely appreciated these measures as a way to make their gifts more meaningful, but they still hesitate to give to the college so immediately.
In past years, the Alumni and Parent Engagement Office found problems in attracting donations from the graduating class and having students train others in the program. Assistant Director of Marketing for the Alumni and Parent Engagement Office Sarah Thompson outlined issues in the program that this year’s changes hope to remedy.
“Senior giving at Swarthmore used to be tied to fundraising for a particular item on campus such as bench or tree. This model proved problematic over the years as students who were not interested in funding for this initiative were not able to direct their giving to another area of campus,” Thompson said. “We’ve now changed this model so that students may donate to any of the over 600 current use funds within The Swarthmore Fund. This allows students to support what they are passionate about on campus. So, if, for example, you want to designate your senior gift to the President’s Climate Change Commitment Fund to support sustainability issues on campus, you can do so.”
SPC has filled a noticeable gap in the giving initiative. Its members have undergone training in sessions with Thompson and the college’s student phonathon program. Thompson went on to describe the role SPC has begun to fill this academic year.
“Few students were interested in running for [the Senior Gift Officer] position, and there was no continuity or institutional knowledge that could be passed down after the Senior Gift Officer graduated. There are also were no underclassmen educating their peers about why philanthropy matters before their senior year,” she said. “Student Philanthropy Council is open to students of all years and everyone plays a role in helping with senior giving events and in running philanthropy education events for students of all years. The students are hopeful that model will be more sustainable, and they can better pass down knowledge about how to improve senior giving year after year,” she continued.
SPC has provided more structure to the giving process. By adding giving-themed activities and opening communication with different campus organizations, including dialogues with athletic groups, the philanthropy organization hopes to educate seniors about the impact their donations make. Co-Chair of SPC Sarah Tupchong ’17 stated SPC’s mission and its attempts to fill its new role.
“SPC’s mission is to educate the importance of philanthropy to underclassmen, and promote giving back to Swarthmore to Seniors … We have completely revamped the senior gift campaign by having more senior-giving-related events, and with the #BreakValsBank challenge,” Tupchong said.
The #BreakValsBank challenge is an initiative through SPC, President Valerie Smith, and Manager David McElhinny ’75 to increase the money going towards campus groups. For every donation a senior gives to the college, Smith and McElhinny will each match the gift, meaning a senior’s gift will be three times the initial amount.
This initiative and the ability to donate to specific campus groups have become a draw for seniors. Kat Galvis Rodríguez ’17 detailed how these changes to the program made her more inclined to give.
“I did not plan on giving this year, but after I found out about the new challenge and about how we could donate to specific groups, I ended up donating during the wine tasting with President Smith senior class event, which is also when she announced the #BreakValsBank challenge that she was participating in,” Galvis Rodríguez said. “Honestly, I never really gave before because I didn’t know too much about it or where the money would go. But with this challenge she announced and in talking to some students in the Philanthropy club, I was more motivated to donate.”
Galvis Rodríguez expanded on her thoughts, arguing that her gift was impactful to a meaning
“[The #BreakValsBank challenge and the group-designation initiative] made me way more inclined to donate because I knew that even if I could not donate a lot, it would be multiplied. Also, … you could donate it to the dean’s discretionary fund for underrepresented students, to a specific affinity / identity group, a club, a sport’s team, [or] financial aid,” she said. “I felt more secure in the fact that the money I was donating was going to a group I care very much about and one that I have been involved in since my first semester Freshman year, which is ENLACE (the latinx student group on campus). I also plan on donating again sometime later in the semester to other causes on campus that I am passionate about and I hope others do as well.”
Thompson stressed the potential for the benefits gifts can provide the campus community and its constituents.
“The old model also focused more on dollars, and now the focus is more heavily focused on participation. We know that seniors don’t necessarily have a lot of money to give, but it truly is the act of donating and donating consistently that matters most,” she said.
The Alumni and Parent Engagement Office has put in place different measures to make the senior giving program more accessible and impactful. Seniors seem excited by the program, but it will be seen how the Class of 2017 will interact with the college as it heads towards graduation.