This year’s Alumni Giving Fund set a new record for the College topping $5 million for the first time.
The campaign runs annually from Oct. 1 to Feb. 15. Every year volunteers from each graduating class give up their time to raise money for Williams. According to Director of the Giving Fund Joan Genova, there were over 900 alumni volunteers this year and 12,166 alumni made donations. The money raised is kept separate from the College’s endowment and it is used against the current operating budget.
Commenting on the success of the Fund, Genova said, “The last few years have been extremely good.” Last year $4.7 million was raised and this year’s $5,036,702 is in keeping with the upward trajectory. Genova explained that while Ephram Williams was the College’s first benefactor, the Giving Fund officially began when Zephaniah Swift Moore left Williams to start Amherst in 1821. This created a precarious monetary situation which led to the founding of the oldest society of alumni in the United States. The Giving Fund has raised money for the College every year since.
“What’s fun about it, and the reason the Williams Alumni Fund is so successful, is that it’s class-based fund-raising,” Genova explained. Each class has a volunteer head agent with 25 or 26 associate agents. All the agents come to Williams for a major gathering before the campaign gets under way each year in September.
Each class sets its own goals, the agents then dividing up the class lists and participate in the scheduled telethons. Telethons are held in major cities such as Boston, Washington and New York throughout the campaign. The largest telethon lasts four days and takes place in January at the Williams Club in New York City. “It’s a way to stay in touch with everybody and also the College,” Genova said.
The largest amount of money raised by a single class this year was $209, 067 and came from the class of ’75. This class also holds the record for the largest class contribution ever made to the Fund, $353,500, which was raised for the class’s 20th reunion. The oldest class agent belongs to the class of 1924 which has only three people in it. Still, this class donated $8400 this year to the Giving Fund. The class of ’97, raised $6,889 this year in memory of Professor Bell under the leadership of head agent Isaac Pesin ’97.
Although this year had the highest dollar amount raised, the participation level was 57.45 percent, below the record high of 68.8 percent set in 1986. Genova said the challenge is for participation rates to keep up with the growing role, especially since Amherst has averaged a higher rate since 1983 than Williams. In dollar amounts, Genova explained, Williams averages slightly ahead of Amherst, but while Williams’ participation rate has averaged 49.5 percent since 1983, Amherst’s has been significantly higher at 65 percent.
Genova explained that the money raised by the alumni volunteers is used as unrestricted dollars for the purpose of running the College on a daily basis. Because the College only puts 4.5 percent of the endowment into the operating budget, it makes more sense to make unspecific donations to the Giving Fund as all of that money is used for the express purpose of operating the College. She explained that there are other kinds of donations that alumni are able to make that go into the endowment. For example, an alumnus might want to set up a scholarship or donate money to the current science project, which is a $20 million fundraiser in progress.
The importance of the Giving Fund, Genova said, is its role in subsidizing the education of Williams’ students. “What it comes down to is cost.” Like other U.S. colleges, each student’s actual cost is much more than tuition. At Williams, it costs about $55,000 to $60,000 per student per year. Genova explained that this discrepancy stems in part from the College’s committment to meet the needs of each student and to maintain its needs-blind admissions policy. The subsidy for each student constitutes an operating cost and is therefore met by the contributions made by alumni. Genova said it is hard to pinpoint who exactly owns a college but based on their organization, enthusiasm, and donations she said, “The College is held in trust by the alumns.”
“The Giving Fund is part of the Williams culture and tradition,” Genova said. “It is a way to introduce the younger classes to the idea of philanthropy and support for the College.” Regarding her experience as director, Genova said, “It’s a lot of fun. The alumni are great people to work with.” The trouble, she said, is that as soon as the year’s campaign ends it is time to look forward to the next. She has already met with the class officers of ’98 to begin the process of selecting agents.