With universities across the nation facing decreasing donation intakes in recent years, the University of Mary Washington is holding its own, with a slight increase in donations over the first half of the 2011 fiscal year.
Nationwide, donations to higher education rose 0.5 percent during the 2010 fiscal year according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The 2010 figure followed an11.9 percent drop the previous year, 2009, the steepest in the 50-year history of the Voluntary Support of Education Survey, released by the Council for Aid to Education.
UMW draws from a number of different methods to bring in donations, including phone-a-thons in which current students call former students, an alumni e-news letter that goes out to about 18,000 people per month and class reunion-based fundraising.
Some schools have done away with the practice of calling alumni, because of the advent of cellular phone use and new forms of contacting graduates, according to Associate Vice President for University Development Ken Steen.
“The non-dollar value of the phone-a-thon is it’s a great way for students to connect with our alumni,” Steen said. “The revenues may be down a little, but you cannot replace that personal contact with anything else.”
Alumni are able to ask about what is going on at the university, and students are encouraged to discuss any recent recognition the school is receiving.
“It’s not a generic, cold script,” Steen said. “We keep it very personal.”
Student callers can also benefit from the fundraising process, getting to hear about alumni’s past experiences at the university.
“They share with the student caller their best memories,” Vice President for Advancement and University Relations Torre Meringolo said.
One of the primary goals in seeking donations is not to acquire huge sums but to encourage alumni to contribute what they can on a regular basis.
“It’s important in philanthropy that there’s a habit of giving that grows over time,” Meringolo said.
While tax deduction is one of the reasons that people give, according to Steen, confidence in the university’s worth is the most compelling motivation.
“The No. 1 reason people give is belief in and passion for the university,” Steen said. “Mary Washington has some passionate alumni.”
Alumni contributions can be divided into restricted and non-restricted categories, and into the subdivisions of gifts versus pledges, according to Meringolo and Steen.
A gift is a sum of money donated all at once to the school, while a pledge is a binding promise to donate the money over a specified time-frame.
Unrestricted gifts or pledges can go toward the area of the greatest need, whereas restricted donations are allotted to destinations chosen by the donator.
The category that has seen the greatest increase in the first half of this fiscal year over the same time period last year was new multi-year pledges. This type of donation allows people to choose to donate a specific amount in installments paid out over time.
Over the past year, there has been a 338 percent surge in new multi-year pledges.
Endowment restricted gifts acquired the greatest sum of donations in fiscal year 2011, with a total of $632,405.
For alumni that want their money to have the most enduring impact, endowments are the most appealing form of donations, according to Meringolo.
In an endowment, the initial sum is invested in the university’s portfolio, and 5 percent of what the investment earns is available annually for the school to use. For this reason, the minimum donation is $25,000.
Depending on the how the economy does, the endowment donations earn different returns. Some years, when the economy is doing well, the portfolio earns enough to compensate for the money’s loss of value through inflation over time, Meringolo explained.
Steen and Meringolo both hope to see donations increase over time, hoping to mirror the alumni involvement seen at private schools.
“We’ve got challenges, but in the state of Virginia, we’re pretty healthy,” Steen said. “Our alumni over the years have been very generous.”