Paying for the Strategic Directions

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Now that Strategic Directions has been published, the College will begin planning for a capital campaign to raise approximately $400 million to implement their recommendations.The capital campaign will begin with a study of existing donors’ capacity to give. Using search engine software, the College will examine the history of donors and data from its alumni survey, which the College conducts every five years and which asks questions about alums’ capacity to give to Swarthmore. Suzanne Welsh, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, and Karl Clauss, incoming Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, will develop guidelines about what constitutes a financial gift, the time over which donations can be paid, and other technicalities.

In about two years – in time to commemorate Swarthmore’s 150 year anniversary in 2014 – the college will draft a white paper on the campaign, which will lay out the impact of the campaign on the college’s goals of continuing its access to financial aid, creating faculty positions, and building new facilities, among others. The white paper will be presented to top donors (who on average contribute 80 to 90 percent of the total raised in a capital campaign) and test those donors’ willingness to contribute. At that point, the College will announce an official campaign goal, although they won’t go public until they have half of the campaign goal committed to by donors – a policy standard in higher ed development.

After the announcement of the campaign goal, the capital campaign will likely run for five to seven years, although President Chopp explained that the College will try to keep the enthusiasm for donating generated by the campaign going.

“We don’t ever announce when a campaign ends,” she said in an interview.

Given the current economic climate, there is some insecurity about how much donors will be willing to give to the College. The $400 million is a projection by former President Al Bloom after the “Meaning of Swarthmore” capital campaign, which raised $245 million and was Swarthmore’s largest fundraising effort to date. President Chopp pointed out that the projection was made before “The Great Recession,” but that on the other hand, the College has more donors now than it did at the time the projection was made.

“There is a sort of art and science of it, and we’re very much trying to do the science bit, trying to project, trying to analyze, trying to research,” she explained.

One way that the College is stacking the books in its favor is with a new plan for lifelong alumni engagement. According to the College’s description of the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations position. President Chopp is committed to “making development and alumni relations an exemplary program in the nation,” and the issue of improving alumni relations received a place as one of the six recommendations in the Strategic Directions. Although big donors constitute a majority of donations, President Chopp says that “every donor counts.”

“We want to get more serious about lifelong engagement with alumni,” she explained. “We have an alumni community that is eager to connect but it’s been hard to do that, because we don’t have any place to put them, and we’re just a small space. We think that we can use technology and social media and find more effective and efficient ways to connect them with our students for career mentoring, political debates and discussions, for workshops in sustainability, et cetera.”

President Chopp particularly wants to foster relationships between alumni and the college to be able to talk to students on a one-time basis about careers. “We have a lot of alums who are busy with their careers in the profit and nonprofit sectors who would love to be available to Skype with students.”

The school is hiring a social media consultant to expand the College’s strategic presence on social media within the next year.

College documents describe the Lax Conference on Entrepreneurship, now in its twelfth year, one successful example of that approach. The conference brings Swarthmore graduates from the worlds of business and industry back to campus to talk with alumni and current students about ideas that shape the future of commerce.

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