Seniors question donating to MHC Fund


A couple of weeks ago, Shannon McCarley ’17, along with the other members of Mount Holyoke’s senior class, received an invitation to a party. Kicking off the first of many events of the class’s senior spring, the 2017 Class Board invited their classmates to do two things: join them in celebration of the 100 days left until graduation and contribute to the Mount Holyoke College Senior Gift Fund, the graduating class’s traditional donation to the college. While McCarley is thinking of attending the party, she probably won’t be donating to the senior gift fund anytime soon. “I feel like they shouldn’t be asking us for more money while we’re still paying to be here,” she said.

Nicole Annunziata ’17 is sympathetic to the idea of the senior gift fund, but she also doubts she will be opening her wallet at this Friday’s event. Annunziata said, “Since we’re on our way to becoming alums and a crucial part of being an alum is giving back to the college, it makes sense that [Mount Holyoke] would ask [for money]. But at the same time, I ultimately find it very frustrating because I haven’t graduated yet. I don’t have money to give to the school yet.”

The attitudes of students like McCarley and Annunziata have been an obstacle for Mount Holyoke’s Office of Advancement and each senior class board for years. Since 2003, Mount Holyoke has seen a decrease in the number of seniors who donate to the senior gift fund. At the same time, there has been an even greater drop in the number of alums who donate during their first year beyond Mount Holyoke’s gates. This year, the 2017 Class Board and the Office of Advancement hope that a modified approach to fundraising, including

hosting of events like the 100 Days Till Graduation Celebration, can reverse the trend. But to do this they will have to change the minds of students like McCarley and Annunziata and instill in them the habit of giving back to Mount Holyoke.

The previous senior fundraising strategy focused on getting as many students as possible contributing to the senior gift, rather than encouraging a lifetime of donations back to the school. “I think the conversation was very different back then,” said Beckie Markarian ’07, the senior officer of student philanthropy and young alumnae programs. “It was mostly ‘Throw your change in a bucket because every quarter counts!’ But that wasn’t really a sustainable message, right? People were trying to get their pub glass or trying to get to 100 percent [class participation], but there wasn’t the explanation of where the money’s going to, why it’s important [or] what it means to help give back to support future students.”

The 2017 Class Board has found that the usual senior fundraising tac- tic of hosting monthly pub nights in Blanchard has not had the predicted appeal to the class of 2017. According to Omaima Afzaal ’17, one of the class board’s head class agents, last semester’s pub night’s tended to draw in the same crowd of students. In order to reach more seniors, they would have to try a different approach. “We thought that the best way to reach different circles across campus was to do a much larger event that celebrated how far we’ve come as a class,” Afaal said. “We got really lucky in that the 100 day mark before graduation happens to fall on a Friday.”

Afzaal said that the feedback from Friday’s event will determine the kind of events the 2017 Class Board puts on in the future. “I think we’re really trying to stray away from the more traditional models of fundraising because that hasn’t been working for our class. So [we’re] really just trying to see what engages them,” Afzaal said.

For both McCarley and Annunziata, more transparency about where the donations go would also encourage them to contribute to the senior gift fund. “Before they blatantly ask for money, I would want details to know what that money was going [towards] versus just supporting Mount Holyoke as an institution,” McCarley said.

Annunziata would like the college’s administration to be more transparent about how alumnae do- nations influence the direction of the college. “Of course it makes sense that people who give more money have more of a say in what happens at the college and the direction that the col- lege takes,” she said. “But things like Super Blanch, for example, [where] an alum offers a substantial amount of money to the college and it makes sense that they’d want to take that money and do what the alum wants to do with it even though on campus it’s tremendously unpopular...There’s not a lot of transparency in how those decisions are made.”

The 2017 Class Board is hoping to demystify the process of alumnae giving at their tabling events throughout the semester, but it might take more than that to convince skeptical students that their donations matter now.

For Afzaal the reason to donate is a no-brainer. “I think ultimately, as long as you have the name Mount Holyoke on your diploma, as long as Mount Holyoke is on your resume, on your LinkedIn, all of us share in the fact that we all have a stake in how Mount Holyoke performs after we graduate,” she said. “Regardless of your experience, we all have a reason to give back and sustain that relationship.”