Reenvisioning donations: An examination of changes to Development’s policies

Alumni and parent donations are integral to funding the College. While in the past donors could only give to the College in general, this year marks a significant change in this policy, as donors can now choose to give directly to one or more of five funds: Highest Priorities; Great Professors, Great Teaching; Financial Aid; Student Life and the Arts or Excellence in Athletics. Moreover, donors who wish to contribute to a specific athletic team can choose to donate to that team’s budget directly. Parents and alums can now channel their donations into the aspects of the College about which they are most passionate, and the influx of donation-based support that these programs receive will free up remaining resources for other programs, hopefully through utilizing surplus generated from this new program. This structure is already in place at many peer institutions, and we believe that the College’s change in policy will be beneficial for all funded programs.
The nuanced change in athletics donations packs much potential. Athletics is a particularly visible area of student life in which team activities, particularly annual break trips, often present financial hardships to athletes. Students who are unable to pay are either supported by team funds or end up excluded. Often such activities are not covered under team budgets and many athletes find themselves unable to fully participate in their teams. With the introduction of the College’s new donation policy, we hope and believe that some of these student burdens can be alleviated. The athletics department is a natural choice for a nuanced expansion of the Office of Development’s policies because athletics has an established budgetary framework and infrastructure and that there is a distinct need for further funding in specific areas.
Additionally, the fact that excess donations to any one team will then be allocated to the athletic department’s general pot of funding allows for the equalization of funding imbalances among teams and serves as an important check on any one team receiving a disproportionate amount of funding. Finally, this change will also diminish stress on student-athletes and parents who are often tasked with the role of unofficial team fundraisers.
Approximately 40 percent of students at the College are athletes; many more are involved in the plethora of clubs, performance groups and organizations that are a hallmark of our purple bubble. Rightfully, alumni can now choose to donate to a fund that supports these organizations, but unlike in the case of athletics, they cannot give to specific groups. Nevertheless, many student groups could benefit from targeted donations due to the finite amount of funding available to student groups. While we understand that it makes sense to pilot this new donation program with athletics, we would also like to see the College investigate a similar implementation for specific clubs.
Clearly this is no small feat. While the College’s athletics department is long-standing and comprised of the same teams each year, many student groups have periods of inactivity and may be unreliable. Where student groups are concerned, it is important to make a distinction between those that are in flux and those that have seen more longevity at the College. Making this distinction is the first step toward assessing the feasibility of a club-specific donation policy. Ideally, the College can devise a system through which first these more stable and consistent clubs can be identified and brought to donors’ attention.
To a certain extent, this type of categorization already exists in the form of designation as a College Council subgroup. In order to qualify as a subgroup, a club must have been in existence for two years. The subgroup classification is designed to denote clubs that have a distinct leadership structure and a dedicated membership that will help to ensure sustainability. While higher expectations of infrastructure would surely be required before groups could receive funding from donors, this already-established designation serves as a useful starting point.
As we move forward in considering the adaptability of this new donation policy to student clubs, one feasible starting point comes to mind: club sports. To a large degree, these teams already have the budgetary and leadership structures in place to receive specific donations, and as athletic organizations, they incur the costs of travel and gear purchase that varsity programs also face. If the College is to consider expanding this newly-implemented system for alumni donations, the inclusion of club sports seems to be a logical next step.
These shifts in the Office of Development policies are certainly positive ones that will benefit both the donor community and the College. With any promising policy, however, there is always more we can do, and we hope that the Office of Development will continue to revisit, reexamine and revise these policies to help every aspect of life at the College enjoy their benefits.

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