Colleges will try just about any possible pitch to get alumni to open checkbooks. There’s the plea to solve problems, the capital campaign announcement, the rankings push, pride in alma mater, even altruism.
Juniata College, in Pennsylvania, is trying a new approach: give every penny raised in the annual fund to students in need. And it seems to be working.
In past years, the 1,400-student college solicited donations for the Juniata Fund. Some of it would go to student aid, and some of it would go toward operations costs; paying the electric bill, mowing the lawn, or a variety of other expenses -- as is the norm for annual campaigns.
Jodie Monger-Gray, a Juniata trustee – as of April – and past president of the alumni association, said she’s always felt an uncommonly strong bond among Juniata students and alumni, and she came up with a good way for them express it. Monger-Gray was put in charge of the fund -- now the “Juniata Scholarship Fund” -- last year, and decided that the electric bill could get paid from other sources; the fund would be for people giving money to people.
Word only started spreading about the move several months into the fiscal year, and, at the 11-month mark, the fund has raised over $800,000, equal to the entire donation harvest last year.
College officials said that more alumni seem to be donating, and that some people who were perennial $50 givers have suddenly become $500 givers.
Monger-Gray, who graduated from Juniata in 1988, said that nothing gets Juniata alums to lighten their wallets in the name of higher education like a personal connection. The theme, she said, of this year’s fund: “Pay it forward.”
Monger-Gray said that when she was at Juniata, an $800 award allowed her to stay in college. Five years ago, the Virginia entrepreneur endowed a scholarship that is now fully funded and helped pay for Morgan Riebel, a student in the class of 2007.
Monger-Gray met Riebel and Riebel’s mother. The mother told Monger-Gray that a divorce left Morgan hard pressed for college money, and the scholarship allowed her to stay. She promised to pay it forward some day.
Realizing that the sense of personal connection, of helping students in a time of increasing unmet need, is the button to push at the generosity vending machine, Juniata allows donors can find out how many students their class of alumni has supported, and Monger-Gray hopes to have alumni actually meeting students that are helped by their money, the way she did with Riebel.
Rae Goldsmith, vice president for communications and marketing at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said that she doesn’t know of any other annual fund that earmarks all the money for student aid.
But, she said, if it’s working, then it’s good policy. “Good fund raising is tying the needs of the institution to the interest of the donor,” Goldsmith said. “If an institution is able to capture the interest of the donor and really at the same time help address institutional needs, that’s what effective fund raising is all about.”
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