Why In The World Should I Give To My College?

I work in fundraising. I’m not a sales person. I don’t work on commission. My pay isn’t based on how much I raise in a year. And no, I’m not going to ask you for money (unless you went to the school for which I work, then I will, but I won’t be pushy). But having worked in Development for nearly 19* years, and being an active member of the social media world where I see rants about fundraising efforts, I just want to to dispel some myths.


Here’s the deal. I’ve worked in education for 13 years, in higher ed for 8 of those. I’ve worked for public and private schools. In my work, I see the financials of the organization. I talk to the students (and their families) who benefit from scholarships. I work with the offices who have to make the budget decisions. I know what goes on “behind the curtain”. No matter where I am, I get the same questions from my constituents. And I want to answer those questions honestly…I’m not marketing to you, I don’t really care if you give to your college or not. But so many people get irked and their alma mater and think they are lying or being annoying when they are not. So… Here is my attempt to educate the world…

5 things your College Annual Giving Office Wants You To Know

1. “I didn’t get any scholarships! I paid for my my own education!” is never true. Yes, you or your parents may have paid your tuition and fees (or may still be paying off those student loans). I know I did. And I worked 15-20 hours a week all through college and busted my butt with 18 hour class loads in order to graduate in 4 years despite changing my major several times. I’m the poster child for “no one helped me, why should I give back?”

But the truth is every single student is supported by philanthropy. Yes, I KNOW that it sounds like a marketing pitch, but it’s not. Nearly every university in the nation uses donor money to support the operating budget. It may pay for student programing, classroom equipment or faculty development. It may even just pay to keep the lights on and the grass mowed. But, the truth is that without a doubt, donor funds help discount the total cost of your degree. At my current institution donor funds + endowment income pays for 27% of our operating cost. Can you imagine paying 27% more for your tuition? Would have have been able to attend? The minute you enrolled at your college, alumni donor dollars were paying part of your way. So while you may have paid your tuition bill, you didn’t pay for the full cost of your education.

2. Giving $10 DOES make a difference. You’ve probably seen announcements of million dollar gifts come from your university. Maybe even gifts of hundreds of millions of dollars. So if the gift you can afford to give is $10 or $20 or even $250 it can feel like your gift is just a fraction of a drop in a very large bucket so why even bother? But the hand-to-god-truth is that as an alum, your gift of even $5 has an impact. No, the cash amount won’t change anyone’s life, don’t let anyone try to tell you $5 will change the life of a college student, because NOPE. But the fact that you gave even $5 means you now count towards the alumni participation level which affects the university’s rankings and that’s valuable.

I’m sure you’re saying “So what, Kate? Who gives a flip about my alma mater’s rankings?” Well, you should. The fact is that if you are interviewing for jobs the perceived strength of your school TODAY is what the interviewer will consider when looking at your degree. Rankings affect that perception. It doesn’t matter that when you graduated 30 years ago if your college was #1 in the state, if it’s in the lower tier now the value of your degree had eroded. It’s in your best interest that the school you went to has a good reputation now, and giving is really your only way to have any effect on that reputation.

What rankings are affected? U.S. News & World Report and Moody’s Financial Services are two biggies. The US News rankings use alumni giving as a measure of alumni satisfaction when determining their rankings. They don’t look at how much each alum gave, just how many. And those rankings help attract new attention (no, really it does), which attracts more applications which means the school can be more selective and accept stronger students which then affects the quality of the educational outcomes which affects the school’s overall reputation and BOOM! Your degree is more valuable because of your annual $10 gift. Seriously.

3. You don’t need my gift because you get millions from your rich alumni.  This is a variation on the point above. Yes, gifts with lots of zeros make us dance in the halls. (Just like I’m guessing a gift of a car would make you wiggle your booty more than a gift of a pack of gum, even thought you are thankful for both). And it’s true that those large gifts often make a transformative impact on a university in the form of a new building, program or professorship. But, never forget the power of numbers, your $10/$25/$50/$100 gift, when combined with others, adds up to a lot of money.

Did you know that most universities have alumni giving rates in the low teens? A select few schools have managed to get their participation rates up near 50%. But most schools work their tails off and end up with participation rates of 15-20%.

Now think about that… a large state school with over 500,000 alumni, if half of them gave $15 the school would have nearly $4 million dollars which could cover tuition for nearly 400 students who may not otherwise be able to attend. If a quarter of them gave $10 per month it could mean $15 MILLION DOLLARS. That’s a LOT of money that could help a lot of students. Your gift matters because it’s joined with thousands of other gifts and together they make a giant impact on hundreds, or even thousands, of students.

The truth is, the great majority of gifts to universities are under $100. The power of numbers works on your side here – alumni dollars of all amounts create a pool of funds from which the University can do great things. Don’t think about the amount of your gift – just give something.

4. “I will never pick up the phone when I see University X is calling me. They’re so annoying!” is annoying to us, too. You know what? If you don’t want the call then tell your school to stop calling. Yes, you’ll likely have to pick up the phone to do so. But really, there isn’t a single Annual Giving Director I know who wants to spend time and money calling you if you don’t want to be contacted that way. Same goes for mail. I don’t want to be sending you 3 mailings a year if that item in your mailbox makes you mad/annoyed/exasperated. It’s a waste of money and no one wants to waste money.

However, phone-a-thons and direct mail work. They work really, really well which is why we do them. So until you tell us to stop contacting you in that way, we will continue. A simple “Hey, thanks for the call but I’d really prefer if you take me off your calling list” should do. Any Annual Giving shop should be able to code your record so you don’t get those calls any more. As for mail, just write a quick note to let us know you want to be removed from the mailing list. You don’t get calls or letters, we don’t waste time/money/paper – we both win.

Honestly. Tell me how you want to be contacted and we’ll both be happier. If you get nothing else from this post, please take this to heart.

4b. If you reply to a solicitation email, we can read it. And we usually record comments in your file. So yeah, maybe don’t be crude and rude.

5. We want your feedback! We really do want to know what you think of your school. We want to know why you give or don’t give (unless your reasons for not giving are #1, #2, #3 above, because those arguments aren’t really valid are they?). Do you think the university has gotten too soft? Too hard? Too sports-driven? Don’t like the leadership? Are you just not interested in XYZ University anymore? TELL US!

This feedback is valuable and can help us shape our programs and solicitations. Part of my job is making you want to give back to the university. Your feedback can help me shape how I approach alumni in your era. It can also help us do new things the Annual Giving Office has been wanting to do for years but can’t convince our leadership of the idea…sometimes a couple of well-timed pieces of feedback can help change the course of an entire Annual Giving campaign. So tell us what you’re thinking (just tell us nicely, please!)

Did this help at all? Did I miss anything? What works for you when you’re thinking about giving back? What doesn’t? Any questions you have about higher ed fundraising – just put them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

*I got into fundraising as a student caller at my alma mater, so I’ve been in the “industry” since I was 18. It was a great job and I eventually became a student supervisor then, when I graduated, managed the call center full-time (including 100 student employees!) which has lead to several great career opportunities. I never dreamed this would be my career but I love it. Also 19 years…holy cow I’m old!

A Day In The Life

I’ve seen these pop up around my corner of the net and so I decided to add one of our days to the mix. I’m always fascinated to see how other people spend their day, especially others with young kids. So, here’s what happened on Monday, February 24.

Mark, who gets up at some ungodly hour, kisses me goodbye. I promptly roll over and go into a half-sleep, waiting for Madman to wake up. It happens between 5:30 and 7:00 most days so I never really fall all the way back to sleep.

BOOM! The sound of Madman jumping off his bed signals he is awake. I crawl out of bed, hit the bathroom then go into his room to make sure he doesn’t wake up his sister (she’s NOT a morning person so even a little extra sleep for her is needed). He’s sunshiny and happy as usual, chattering on about a dinosaur and an alien in some epic story. Still bleary-eyed, I help him get dressed and ready.

We’re back in my room where I get Madman set up with my laptop and Netflix while I try to doze the remaining precious minutes until my alarm goes off at 7:15. He spends the time building with a handful of LEGO and saying “wook a dis!” with every creation, so I am unable to really sleep.

My alarm goes off and I grumble and get out of bed for good. While Madman continues to watch Ninjago I head to the bathroom to shower. I washed my hair last night so it doesn’t take long for me to be ready and dressed.

Matilda has joined Madman on my bed, watching Netflix as she gets ready. I shoo her into the bathroom to brush teeth and hair. I get jewelry on and pick out a sweater and we all head downstairs.

I make the kids breakfast smoothies and start considering what I want to take for lunch. I give them their smoothies in front of the TV (PBS Kids) and head back upstairs to do my make-up. Tour all the bedrooms gathering dirty clothes and putting them down the laundry cute. I only have to yell for the kids to stop fighting twice while I’m upstairs, not a bad morning.

I collect Madman’s empty smoothie cup and remind Matilda to keep drinking. She’s not a breakfast person and even smoothies are often left unfinished. Head into the kitchen to empty the dishwasher. Find we forgot to turn the dishwasher on last night so I shove a few more things in it and turn it on. Throw a pot of water on the stove since I’ve decided to take egg salad for lunch and need to hard boil some eggs. Do a few stray dishes and put them on the rack to dry.

Remind Matilda again to keep drinking. Start loading backpacks (Mark made lunches before he left). Realize Madman has a form that needs to be filled out so I do that. Make sure Matilda’s new shoes are marked with her name, find a snack to throw in her bag and put all the bags by the back door. Check work email.

What the heck is that smell? Oh, it’s the trash. Take it outside. “Matilda, for the love of god, please drink your smoothie and stop writhing around on the floor!” Brush her hair for the third time today.

Make some toast while the eggs finish cooking. Eat one egg and make egg salad with others. Pack up my lunch and add it to the pile of bags at the back door.

Tell Matilda to gather all the coats and boots. She dumps them all on the living room floor and the kids start to get ready to go. Tell Matilda to finish her now hour-old smoothie before she starts to get her gear on.

I take all the stuff out to the car (2 very full backpacks, my purse, laptop bag and lunch bag). Start the car so it warms up. Take the recycling out. Come back in and set out stuff for Mark to make dinner. He usually makes dinner but I made mac & cheese last night and he’ll just have to top it and throw it in the oven tonight.

Herd the kids to the car, get them buckled in and head to school. Get in car-line for preschool drop off.

Madman heads into school and Matilda and I park on the street to wait until she can get out. They go to the same school in the mornings but preschool drop off is at 8:45 and she can’t go inside until 9:05. So we sit in the car and chat. We usually use this time to review some school stuff. Since it’s Monday and we don’t have her spelling list yet, I give her math problems to solve while we wait. I check my work email in between problems.

I give her hugs and she runs up to the door. I head to work.

Arrive in my office. It’s still a mess from my event last week. Resolve to clear out all the crap by the end of the day. Chat with office mate, then take my lunch down to office kitchen. Chat with others along the way. Whoohoo! Donuts in the kitchen! Have half a donut while chatting with coworker. Return to my desk.

9:30 – 12:15
Crack open the first Diet Coke of the day
Edit content I was given for a mailing and hand off to designer
Get update from staff member on a project.
Meeting on donor recognition
Collect content for another mailing, start editing for audience.
Chit-chat with officemate about projects
Call PureBarre to redeem my Groupon (I’m scared that I won’t be able to move after the 1st class).
More editing and writing.
Call pediatrician to schedule appt to adjust Matilda’s meds. He can see her today, which is great but means I’m going to have to leave early. Say thankful words about my employer’s family-friendly workplace. Leaving early also means I can’t go to Target at lunch like I planned. Bummer.

Lunch with other coworkers who packed. Conversation ranges from the best Lenten fish fries in the region to odd things our kids have stuck up their noses. Fun stuff.

12:50 – 2:30
More editing and writing. I have a ton of stuff going out over the next 6 weeks, all of it needs to be approved by various people and given to the designer so my life it all about content generation right now.
Take a break from looking at the screen to clear out some of the event stuff.
Realize I need to call school to tell them not to send Matilda to after-care since I’ll be picking her up.

Meeting with staff member on program progress. Pop in to chat with co-worker across the hall for a few minutes.

3:00 3:15
Hustle to finish up stuff that needs to be to the designer by the end of the day. I’m nowhere near done nor is my desk clean. Looks like I’m working from home tonight and “end of the day” will be the true end of the day.  Leave to pick up Matilda.

Pick up my best girl, who looks like a ragamuffin as usual. Get yelled at by her teacher because I didn’t walk the 30 feet to the door and instead waited by my car like about 30 other parents. I didn’t see any of them get yelled at.
Head to doctor’s office as she chatters all about her day. Then we listen to Frozen and I cringe because OMG I’m so sick of this soundtrack, please make it stop.

Doctor is not on time. Shocking. Have Matilda work on her spelling words. She uses my phone to email them to my parents who will quiz her via FaceTime later in the week.

See doc and get a new Rx. Take it to the pharmacy where there is a 45 min wait. Text Mark with an update.
Have Matilda work on her spelling worksheets (she gets a worksheet with 12 activities on it each week, she has to choose 3 to do before Friday). She completes all 3 activities for the week before the prescription is ready.

Finally pick up meds, am shocked a the price and text Mark.  Pay through gritted teeth and head home.

Arrive home to Mark and Madman. On normal days Mark picks up both kids and is home by 5, with me getting home around 5:30. Chat with Mark about the confusion our new insurance plan is causing. Head upstairs to change into workout gear.

Dinner is on the table and both kids are refusing to eat. I have a banana and peanut butter since I’m working out later and don’t want a big meal. Have epic stand off with Madman who is refusing to even try the mac & cheese although it’s his favorite food. Matilda eats her required number of bites then makes herself a PB&J. I wonder why I bother cooking.

Hug the kids and head to PureBarre for my first class. I’m nervous. Arrive and fill out forms, redeem Groupon and find a spot in class. Proceed to have a tiny, sinewy, peppy woman kick my butt by making me do “just one inch more”. Holy crap that workout is hard.

Arrive home still soaked with sweat and concerned about my ability to move my… everything… tomorrow. Go upstairs to kiss Matilda goodnight and find her still reading. I lay down with her and take over the reading… we finish the rest of her chapter book.

Head downstairs for some reheated dinner. Check the news, twitter and FB. Update this post

Pull out the work I didn’t complete today and get to work editing.
Upload file to the designer with promise of the one missing section tomorrow after I get the info I’m waiting on.

Close laptop.
Check twitter on my phone and realize how sore I already am from PureBarre. Hunt up some prescription-strength ibuprofen.
Put away the few things still left out from dinner.
Chat with Mark for a few minutes before heading upstairs.

Sneak into each kids’ room to give them a kiss.
Fall into bed (having done the requisite bathroom routine). Read Attachments on my Kindle until my eyes can no longer stay open.

Lights out

Castaway Bay Review and Giveaway

Disclosure: Castaway Bay provided one night of accommodations with water park passes, as well as four day passes to give away to one reader. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. 

Update: Congratulations to commenter #6 – Andrea! Please check your email!

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Confession time: While I’ve been to Cedar Point probably one hundred times in my life I’d never been to any of their water parks. In fact, I’ve never been to any indoor water park. So when I was invited to be part of an overnight at Castaway Bay as part of #CPMoms I jumped at the chance.

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Timing was perfect – right in the middle of (another) polar vortex and we were all itching for something different, something warm, something fun. The 82 degree air of the indoor water park was calling our name. We didn’t tell the kids where we were going so they were super excited when we pulled into the parking lot and they saw the three tube slides that snake their way out of the building. We wasted no time checking in and getting ourselves ready to hit the slides. We were given a “Starfish” room with 2 queen beds, a closet, a mini fridge, a microwave, a small table with 2 chairs, a bathroom with a bathtub/shower, and a screened balcony with view of the frozen bay. The room was nice and was clean (and the fridge was great to have), but it’s nothing special. It’s a standard, if a little dated, hotel room. Castaway Bay also has suites with bunk beds and 2-room suites for bigger families.

But, you’re not at Castaway Bay for the hotel rooms, are you? You’re there for the WATER PARK! Which is why as soon as our bags were in the room and we grabbed some pizza we suited up and headed to the slides. And here is where I totally fail as blogger… because I didn’t take my camera with me into the water park and therefore I have no pictures. You guys, I’m so sorry. But the thought of chasing kids around the water with a camera just sounded like a disaster.

However, here is what I can report… the park is perfect for young families. Matilda, at age 7, was able to roam the park freely. Castaway Bay had plenty to keep her entertained without being enormous. She beelined for the wave pool and rode the waves for awhile before exploring the Lookout Lagoon Family Funhouse. She spent a ton of time running up and down the stairs, going down the smaller slides and cheering as the giant bucket dumped 1,000 gallons of water over the whole structure. She finally found her way up to the top of Rendezvous Run water roller coaster that shoots you uphill using water jets. After her first run she was hooked! And I have to agree. Mark and I both rode this ride several times and it was really fun.

While Matilda was feeling all “big kid” and having free rein, Madman found his bliss in the Toddler Tide Pool. With a few shorter slides, water pipes and lots of room to splash he was a happy dude. And with the set up, it meant he was able to do what he wanted (go down the tandem slides over and over and over) while either Mark or I hung out near the pool edge keeping an eye on him. I honestly was worried about the logistics of wrangling 2 kids at a water park, but the set up of Castaway Bay gave us parents peace of mind. Neither kid could really get out of our sight at anytime so we were able to breathe easy. And it also meant that Mark and I could take turns checking out the bigger slides like the Paradise Plunge and Tropical Tube Slides.

This seems like a good time for me to give a shout out to the Castaway Bay Lifeguards. They are trained as are part of Ellis & Associates National Pool & Waterpark Lifeguard Training Program. As a former guard myself, I know that Ellis guards are some of the best trained in the industry as they have very rigorous standards. Castaway Bay has received numerous awards of excellence from Ellis and the guards were attentive and friendly. I was completely at ease with Matilda and Madman going on all the slides and in each pool even if Mark or I weren’t right at their sides.

Fun at CB doesn’t stop when you leave the water park. We took a swim break to check out the arcade and later we did some crafts including decorate-your-own beach towels. We also got info on Club Castaway but didn’t partake (the kids wanted MORE SWIMMING!). But in Club Castaway kids can sing karaoke, attend a dance party with the Peanuts gang and even watch a Peanuts movie or have a bedtime story with Snoopy. There is a Club Castaway schedule at the front desk and most activities are free. Mark, the coffee addict, wants you to know that there’s a Starbucks on-site, as well.

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Now that we’re no longer water park newbies we’ll definitely be going back to Castaway Bay to break up the winter doldrums. It was a perfect quick getaway (only 90 minutes from the eastern Cleveland ‘burbs!) and it was a much, much needed family break from being trapped inside our house. Even if we don’t go for the full overnight again this winter, it’s nice to know that it’s totally worth the drive for a tropical day trip.

And now the giveaway… Castaway Bay gave me 4 day-passes for one reader ($100 value!). Just leave a comment before midnight (eastern) on 2/12 telling me why you want to win.