University seeks to improve relations with potential donors
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 22:09
The Office of Alumni Relations & Development recently stepped up efforts to connect with Brandeis’ alumni—and potential donor— base, launching programs such as BOLD (Brandeisians of the Last Decade), holding a special swearing-in ceremony of alumni to the bar of the Supreme Court this summer and increasing University President Frederick Lawrence’s visibility with alumni clubs across the country.
From last January to this fall, the University put on 17 “rollout events” across the U.S.— and one in Israel—to introduce Lawrence to Brandeis alumni. Some of these were hosted at alumni homes, others at hotels and convention centers. According to Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement Nancy Winship, who typically travels with Lawrence to these events, he has particularly built relationships with the Los Angeles alumni base during his first years.
Lawrence also added special events such as this June’s group swearing-in of 16 Brandeis alumni to the bar of the Supreme Court, the first ceremony of its kind for Brandeis or any other University, to his itinerary.
A program called Brandeisians of the Last Decade was also launched nationwide last fall in an effort to connect with younger alumni, which make up a disproportionately large amount of Brandeis’ alumni profile. Class sizes have increased over the years from 101 in the first graduating class, the Class of 1952, to 972 students admitted to the Class of 2015, Brandeis’ largest to date.
Director of Development Communications David Nathan credits BOLD with a 19 percent increase in the rate of participation in alumni giving among those who graduated in the past ten years.
At most colleges and universities, the bulk of the gifts which make up their endowments come from alumni, with a small portion coming from “friends,” or donors who don’t have a prior connection to the school, according to Myles E. Weisenberg ’78, vice president of Development. At Brandeis, the opposite is true. Donations from friends such as Carl and Ruth Shapiro, whose names are visible on several buildings on campus, have historically made up the vast majority of funding.
“With a number of that generation passing, Fred recognizes that we have to shift more and more of our time and efforts with alumni,” said Weisenberg in an interview with the Justice. He said that alumni giving as a percentage of the overall dollar amount has steadily increased over the past decade, estimating that this statistic has grown from almost nothing as recently as the 1970s to about 20 percent of all donations now. The alumni participation rate, or the percentage of alumni who make a gift of any size to the University, is around 25 to 30 percent. In terms of participation rate, this puts Brandeis at the 22nd highest in the country, according to Weisenberg.
While the University aims to increase this percentage, it is still a work in progress, said Weisenberg. “Alumni can’t yet take on the full mantle of supporting this institution … because they’re so young.”
According to Winship, 38 alumni have given gifts ranging from $1 million to $16.5 million to Brandeis over the last 12 years. As recently as 2000, no alumni fell in this category.
Winship explained in an interview with the Justice that the senior class gift is one of the most important projects in regard to tapping these young alumni, because it puts graduates in the habit of giving to the University.
The Senior Class gift, which was founded in 1983, has seen a steady increase in both the participation rate and the amount of dollars raised since 1990, the first year from which data is available. It has fluctuated from 1993’s low of $1,068.32 raised at 6 percent participation to 2012’s high of $18,204.99 raised with 75 percent participation.
“What’s so important about the senior class gift is that it’s a reflection of how students feel when they’re leaving. …For 75 percent of seniors to make a senior class gift, whether they’re coming out with loans, they know where their job is or not, is a huge, huge significance,” said Winship.
For the 60th reunion class gift, which includes contributions made by the Class of 1952 over the past year, a record 71 percent of the original 101 members gave, according to Weisenberg.
In addition, 21 of the 86 surviving members of the Class returned to campus this June for the University’s very first 60th reunion. The Class as a whole was recognized with the Alumni Achievement Award, the first time a group of alumni has received the honor.
“I think alumni need to play an effective role in recognizing what the school did for each of us, and … [give] back in some way. That’s my working definition of being a meaningful alum or alumna,” said Max Perlitsh ’52, co-chair of the reunion, in an interview with the Justice.
According to Perlitsh, since the 50th reunion, gifts from the Class of 1952 have been directed toward supporting a Class of 1952 fully endowed scholarship (which requires $1 million, according to Winship), which will go toward supporting one student through all four of his or her undergraduate years. “That’s our way of giving back to Brandeis,” said Perlitsh.