With eye on donations, GW to create student life advisory council

An advisory council dedicated to guiding student life programs across campus – from health and wellness to career services – will launch as early as this April.

The group, made up of alumni, parents and community leaders, will work with faculty and administrators to build connections with donors, make annual contributions to the office and volunteer their time with student programs, said Robert Snyder, the division’s leader of planning and outreach.

Snyder declined to comment on how many people will be on the council, who the council members are or how they were chosen.

GW has 18 councils that advise officials in areas like library development and research. There are also separate councils for each undergraduate school.

Alumni council members are typically some of the most engaged nationwide, and there’s a general expectation that each will donate to the University annually. With GW in the middle of a massive fundraising campaign, adding a student life-oriented council could help remind donors to fund specific projects in the Division of Student Affairs, which includes counseling and career services, instead of other typical gift areas, like financial aid or professorships.

Snyder said in an email that council members are responsible for “providing an annual financial contribution in support of Student Affairs departments, initiatives and student organizations.” The members tend to donate to the causes they advise.

Tim Miller, the director of the Center for Student Engagement, said in an interview this month that the council’s first meeting will take place some time in April.

“[The council will] help guide us and guide our efforts as well as guide our fundraising,” Miller said. “We’re in the final stages.”

Gifts could fund student organization’s needs like supplies for GW’s emergency medical service and theater groups, or fees for sports teams’ tournaments.

Advisory council spots often go to alumni and act as a way to bring in donations, said Laura Taddeucci Downs, who will serve on the council. GW alumni tend to donate back to the University at a rate of about 9 percent.

Taddeucci Downs, who also volunteers as the chair of the Council of Chairs and is the former head of the Alumni Association, said the student affairs council will focus on building citizenship and leadership programs, supporting health and wellness and growing career and professional development opportunities.

“I’m sure many members will also offer to advise students organizations and serve as mentors as well,” she said.

When Taddeucci Downs went to GW, she was involved in student life activities like varsity sports, the Colonial Cabinet and Greek life, and she said she is most interested in working in those areas.

She said she also wants to be involved in student activities because she served as the student activities director for a time when she worked at GW for 12 years.

Major alumni donors include Mark Shenkman, whose $5 million gift last year helped send students to New York City for a career services trip and aid veterans in finding ways to incorporate their military skills into civilian jobs.

Steve Frenkil, the president of the GW Alumni Association, said the new council will share “ideas and experiences” like all of GW’s advisory councils.

“GW alumni come from diverse backgrounds and a broad array of identity and affinity groups, ages, points of view, and life experiences,” he said in an email.

The Council of Chairs, which is made up of some of GW’s most active supporters, announced in February that it was looking for young alumni to bring onto councils and drive in donations.

Experts say expecting advisory council members to fund projects is common among universities.

“The rule is give, get or get off,” said Jill Boline, the director of annual giving at California State University, Los Angeles.

Boline said her development office looks to add alumni to their advisory councils who are working in leadership positions and are also in a financial place to give back to the school.

Most of the time, the to-be council members will have already made significant donations to the school, she said.

“If you’re being asked to serve on a council, my hope is that you have an interest,” Boline said. “That’s a huge honor.”

Meredith Blair, the executive director of annual giving and regional advancement at the University of California, San Diego, said many advisory councils require members to give money to the University.

Council members tend to rally around and donate to causes they’re advising, with suggestions from the university, she said.

“We really empower [council members] to kind of decide what impact they want their gift to make,” Blair said.

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