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.
The large donations to Swarthmore announced by Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp ‘72 and Chair Emeritus Eugene Lang ‘38 during the past year came as pleasant surprises to Swatties. They didn’t surprise members of the Development Office on Parrish second, who work day in and day out to secure donations for Swarthmore.
The efforts of the Development Office have intensified in recent months as the College gears up for its new capital campaign, to be launched in Fall 2014. The campaign will aim to support the College’s long-term plan, “Strategic Directions,” adopted in December 2011.
The plan’s main focus is on continuing access to need-blind aid, but also includes faculty support, a commitment to interdisciplinary and high-impact learning, and summer research programs and internships, among many other goals.
Right now, Swarthmore is in the “quiet phase” of its capital campaign. During the quiet phase, school representatives start and maintain conversations with alumni in person, by phone, and by email about how their interests and those of the school may intersect. They get feedback about what initiatives are likely to garner support and which are not.
The launch of the campaign in fall 2014 will bring with it much more intentional marketing of Swarthmore’s efforts, with a brand, a logo, and a set of initiatives pulled from “Strategic Directions” aimed at building momentum and focus for the plan’s mission.
The campaign depends primarily upon fostering relationships with alumni. In a recent interview President Rebecca Chopp said, “Philanthropy is really about relationships. Our alumni are not shy, they are very clear about what they’re interested in. I’m responsible to them as much as I am to my students and faculty. I think there’s nothing more fulfilling in the world than helping a donor match his or her interest to change the lives of our students and to support our faculty.”
How is this done? In Chopp’s words: “dinners, countless dinners.”
The main distinguishing factor of Swarthmore’s solicitation compared with other schools is its focus on having an intellectual component during most alumni events. “One of the great aspects of it for me is that these dinners are like seminars,” said Chopp.
She continued, “We often have to tell people to leave because they would do the Swattie seminar thing and stay there half the night if they could. The engagement with the ideas and the passion about the ideas and wanting to really understand how they can make an impact is part of what makes this distinctive.”
Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Karl Clauss, previously the Director of Capital and Annual Support at Colgate University, agreed. “Swarthmore is intensely focused on intellectual development and experience here on campus,” he said. “It’s a community about discussing ideas, not necessarily about throwing parties in different areas of the country.”
The Annual Fund staff and the Capital Giving or “Major Gift” staff implement the “quiet phase” of the capital campaign. The Annual Fund staff members emphasize broad levels of participation, such as the phonathons and mass appeals. Contributions to the Annual Fund are unrestricted gifts that go straight into the year’s operating budget.
Conversely, the Major Gift staff manage a portfolio of long-term, more personal relationships. Clauss said this staff emphasizes “positive giving experiences” and “trust” and tries to match the College’s goals with donors’ personal missions. “People give to people, not things, so having a one on one relationship with somebody you can trust is really critical,” Clauss said.
Director of Development Donald Cooney said all donors support Swarthmore’s educational mission in different ways. He said that “many donors support financial aid in order to enable exceptional students to receive a Swarthmore education regardless of their financial circumstances.” The three main ways of supporting financial aid are termed current (accessible funds), capital (long-term endowment), and capstone (estate gifts), he explained.
According to Clauss, generous donations from current or former Chairs of the Board of Managers, and architects of “Strategic Directions,” demonstrate their confidence in the College’s mission.
While Lang’s large contribution to a new campus building doesn’t fully cover its planned expansions, Clauss believes Lang’s donations will bolster the confidence of potential donors to make up the difference.
At the same time, Clauss warns that large donations shouldn’t devalue smaller donations. “Once we have announced a $50 million and a $20 million commitment, long-time donors out there may be thinking to themselves ‘Does my $25 donation make a difference?’” Clauss said. “We don’t want to disincentivize the people making more modest gifts because those are still very important.”
In keeping with this mentality, Swarthmore hosted a Thank-a-Donor Day where students wrote thank-you notes in McCabe to alumni who have given to the school and encouraged them to donate in the future.
On a more regular basis, student phonathon callers solicit donations from alumni of all ages and incomes.
Out of all the calls we get, I would say about 20% of people give to us” said Lisa Sendrow ‘13, a manager for the phonathon. “A lot of people will say maybe, a lot of people will say no because they’ve given another way. In the fall semester, when more people give, we probably get closer to 35-40%.”
Younger alumni usually have a lower rate of donation.
“If you call someone in their 50s or 60s, you can expect them to make more money than the class of 2011 because they’ve been working for longer and they have more money,” said Sendrow, “So depending on who we call, not a lot of people will say yes.”
All donors, especially younger alumni, are incentivized to give through frequent matching campaigns by the Board of Managers, Parents’ Council, and other Swarthmore-affiliated groups or individuals.
Osazenoriuwa Ebose ’15, a current phonathon caller, said, “It’s really great seeing what happens after you graduate from Swarthmore. There is a whole other life after this place, and I think a lot of people forget about that. It just keeps me really grounded in the fact that even if I do really badly on a test, it’s not going to kill me, it may take a while, but I’m going to get a job. It gives you a lot of perspective. It is definitely worthwhile.”
Featured image courtesy of cvwhipple/Flickr