by LEIGH HATTON
The university received over 3,000 gifts and states that they raised over $575,000 in donations on this year’s Giving Day. This funding was allocated to many different areas, since donors were able to select from specific or general recipients for their gifts.
The Office of Annual Giving described Giving Day as “a 24-hour celebration of the Mary Washington spirit of giving back and our collective commitment to the University’s future.”
As a public university, donations provide Mary Washington with necessary funding for a variety of different areas. According to a statement from the Office of Annual Giving, only 25 percent of the university’s operating budget is covered by state funding, leaving a gap that only donations can bridge.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on donations since it began, and the university’s year-to-date giving has been down. In addition, Mary Washington’s annual Giving Day was canceled last year in 2020.
Despite these setbacks, the 2021 Mary Washington Giving Day, which occurred on April 13, demonstrated widely-ranging support for the university.
Lisa Bowling, Vice President of Advancement for the university, explained how the Office of Advancement has adjusted to deal with the unique situations presented by the pandemic.
“Traditional practices, like in-person meetings with prospects and donors, had to be set aside,” she said.
Bowling went on to describe the office’s approach to the matter.
“Education is considered a pro-cyclical giving choice,” she said. This means that donation amounts tend to vary based on the larger national and global economic status.
“It was clear that UMW needed to shift its fundraising messaging to focus not only on students’ aspirations, but also upon their essential needs,” Bowling said. “An example of this is emergency support. There are several funds that are designed to assist students in dire emergent situations, but they are modest in size. This year we have spotlighted those programs so that those who give to UMW can direct their compassionate support to students.”
Donations are also necessary for numerous other departments and programs, including technology and utilities, faculty and staff support and capital support for campus grounds and buildings. However, most of these operational funds are directed back into student financial aid, according to Bowling.
Donors can also give directly to Mary Washington’s specific clubs, teams, centers and departments. Donations can make a significant difference for these groups, providing uniforms and equipment, funds for travel and research and many other necessary areas.
The primary source of Mary Washington’s donations is alumni, who contribute 74 percent of the total donations received. Bowling said that other donors include faculty and staff, community members, foundations and students, among others. She went on to describe why alumni support has a significance that goes beyond the actual donations.
“Many national rankings look at alumni support as an indicator of whether graduates endorse their school,” she said. “To oversimplify, when alumni don’t give, it is assumed that they did not have a strong or positive enough experience to show their belief through giving. It is unfortunate, but this can impact national rankings and the perceived value of a schools’ degrees.”
According to previously released statistics, this year’s totals were less than those from 2019, which had over 4,000 gifts and approximately $600,000 raised. However, the 2021 donations still exceeded 2018’s total of 2,661 gifts and $426,866 in donations, and this result occurred during a time of economic difficulty for many.
For the Theatre Department, Giving Day 2021 saw their highest amounts of donations ever, with just under $52,000 given. Gregg Stull, the Chair of the Theatre Department, stated that the Department worked hard to program for the event, holding 16 livestream events and sharing over 100 posts on social media.
“We always approach the day as a chance to tell our many stories and we are humbled that they inspire people to give to our program,” Stull said. “Giving Day helps support UMW Theatre students with production opportunities, scholarships, artist residencies and professional development workshops.”
Elizabeth Lewis, the Assistant Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, felt that this Giving Day was a success as well.
“One thing I think worked very well is that among the different programs within CAS, we really supported each other’s efforts by sharing each other’s posts,” she said.
“I think the response was very positive, especially since because of COVID, we didn’t know what to expect,” Lewis said of the donations received by the College of Arts and Sciences. “We have such incredibly generous supporters.”
Bowling also described this year’s Giving Day event as “exceptionally strong.”
“It’s a promising indicator that people are beginning to resume their philanthropy and they remain loyal to UMW,” she said.
The Office of Advancement made a good deal of preparations for the event. Social media accounts, such as UMW Alumni on Instagram, shared a stream of posts throughout the day, which promoted a series of ‘challenges’ for various alumni groups. This year, the office used the hashtag #AllTogetherUMW, in addition to the hashtag #MaryWashDay, which is used for the event each year.
The Office of Advancement and the other fundraising branches employ an extensive staff, five of whom are also UMW alumni. Bowling stated that the majority of these staff alumni got their start working as student employees during the University’s phonathon events.
“Fundraising is a wonderful and gratifying field that students don’t always realize exists as a career option,” Bowling said. “Supporting and sustaining a mission one believes in is incredibly motivating and fulfilling. It is inspiring to see the selfless generosity–and even personal sacrifice–that donors make to support students at Mary Washington. It truly affirms one’s belief in the good of humanity.”