Fundraising campaign could boost alumni giving, leaders say

Media Credit: Hatchet file photo by Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

Jeremy Gosbee, the president of the alumni association, said he and other officials have worked on increasing the alumni giving rate but that substantial progress will likely take decades. Alumni have given 63 percent of gifts in the ongoing $1 billion campaign.

The majority of donors to the University’s largest-ever fundraising campaign are alumni, giving 63 percent of gifts on the way to reaching the $1 billion goal.

Experts say that as GW leaders push donors to give in the final months of the campaign, more alumni could be motivated to give – helping to bolster a historically low alumni giving rate that the University has struggled with for years.

GW has raised $984 million in the campaign so far, and officials said last year that they expect to reach the goal by June – one year ahead of schedule.

Matthew Manfra, the interim vice president for development and alumni relations, said the University’s alumni giving rate is at about 9 percent, but that he hopes the campaign will encourage alumni to continue to give after its completion.

“Since ‘success begets additional success,’ we are optimistic the campaign and the momentum it has generated will have a positive effect on future giving,” he said in an email.

The University’s giving rate has remained around the 9 percent range throughout the campaign. In October 2012, one year after the private launch of the campaign, the rate was 9.3 percent.

A strong and engaged alumni community not only inspires lifelong loyalty, but also promotes and advances GW.

Manfra said that while having all kinds of donors is critical to the University’s financial health, alumni are particularly effective because they directly benefited from philanthropy, like student aid and grants, when they were students.

“A strong and engaged alumni community not only inspires lifelong loyalty, but also promotes and advances GW,” Manfra said. “Many of these GW graduates say they want to return the favor and give back to help other Colonials succeed.”

More than 64,000 donors have given to the campaign since its private launch in July 2011, and more than 40,000 of those gifts have come from alumni, according to the campaign’s website. The campaign’s public phase began in June 2014.

Some of the most substantial gifts given during the campaign have been from alumni. Char Beales, an alumna, and her husband Howard Beales, a professor in the business school, gave a $3.2 million endowed gift in October to the School of Media and Public Affairs, the school’s largest-ever gift, to fund a professorship in accountability journalism.

Mark Shenkman, a former University trustee, earned his M.B.A. at GW in 1967 and donated $5 million to the school, naming Shenkman Hall and supporting the business school’s career center.

Jeremy Gosbee, the president of the alumni association, said that while GW would like to increase its giving rate, he does not expect the University to reach rates of “super elite” institutions. Princeton University has the highest alumni giving rate in the country at 63 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Gosbee said that the University has had trouble staying in touch with alumni in the past, and that officials have amped up alumni outreach in the last 20 years. Raising the giving rate is a “long-term investment” that may take a few decades to take effect, he said.

“It’s an area we can continue to improve in as we keep investing in alumni programming,” Gosbee said. “GW is still relatively new to the full-fledged alumni relations program, even though we’ve been doing it for 20 years or so. As we continue graduating classes and continue connecting those new graduates to previous graduates, I think we’ll continue to see that go up.”

GW is still relatively new to the full-fledged alumni relations program, even though we’ve been doing it for 20 years or so.

Laura Taddeucci Downs, the chair of the Council of Chairs, said that the campaign has been a chance for the University’s development staff to improve their outreach to out-of-touch alumni and market the University to bring in donations more effectively.

She added that the University culture around donating has changed over the past decade, with programs like the Senior Class Gift campaign showing current undergraduates why philanthropy matters.

“Giving back is what you need to do as an alum,” she said.

Taddeucci Downs, who earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from GW, said she has given annually for the past 10 years, donating to the swim team, the education school and the Division of Student Affairs. Showing alumni where their donations to the campaign are making a difference is key to improving the overall giving rate, she said.

“If we just take the momentum from the campaign and show alumni what we’re doing with the money that has been raised, whether that’s through scholarships, improvements to residence halls or what have you, and the alumni can really see their dollars being put to good work, I think that’s really going to make a big difference in terms of getting them to continue to donate year after year,” she said.

Avery Anapol contributed reporting.

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