BY SHEBATI SENGUPTA ’19
There is currently a campaign running which, on the surface, seems counterintuitive. The senior gift campaign asks graduating Mount Holyoke students, who as of yet are still college students and not yet earning significant amounts of money, to make a donation to the College. According to Rebecca Hughes ’18, one of two head class agents for the senior gift campaign, the gift “is not a physical gift…it is a sum of money that the senior class fundraises in their senior year which is given to the Mount Holyoke fund.” This fund consists of money “which gets spent on campus the next year,” said Hughes. “You can think of the endowment as the College’s savings account, and the Mount Holyoke fund as our checking account.” The senior gift campaign is only a small part of what goes into the fund, but it can be integral.
The crucial aspect of the campaign, however, is not actually the amount raised — it’s the amount of people who donate. According to Meghan Golden, who works in the office of Advancement, “their goal is to focus on donors, not dollars.” This is because “the percentage of students who give during their senior year actually factors into the college’s ranking…[specifically] into student satisfaction,” said Hughes. She added that the campaign is “not looking for big money, we’re looking for participation.”
The importance of participation, rather than large donations, continues once a student becomes an alum. This is because the number of opportunities the College has to access grants and federal funding is dependent on the percentage of alums who make gifts, rather than the amount they donate. “It’s like a happiness meter. If your alums love you and they enjoyed their experience, they must be making gifts, and it doesn’t matter what size the gift is; it just matters that they’re giving,” explained Golden. It is more helpful to the College to have 90 percent of seniors or alums make one dollar donations than it is to have one alum donate 90 thousand dollars. While the campaign aims to be as high on the happiness meter as possible, “it’s [also] instilling that seed in you, to start thinking about philanthropy early on…so that when we start talking about it next year again, you’ve remembered it, you’ve already thought about it,” said Nicole Villacres ’18, the other head class agent.
To Villacres, the senior gift campaign “is [also] about engaging with Mount Holyoke.” This is partially through events, such as pub nights, or newer senior events like 100 Days Until Graduation. The engagement also happens while making the actual gift. Instead of giving one physical gift as a class, each senior can choose to allocate the funds (even if it’s one dollar) to any one of 11 different categories, including Lynk, scholarship aid, athletics, faculty support and the library/archives. “We’re asking people to think about what’s been meaningful to you,” said Hughes. Personally, she allocated her donation towards scholarship funds, because her scholarship “is a huge part of why she’s here,” and she added that she wanted to do this “even though [she’s] not giving a whole scholarship, obviously none of us can, but that’s not the point.”
Golden had a similar story about why she donated during her senior year of college, during her senior gift campaign. She realized that “tuition is actually roughly 60 percent of what it actually costs to educate a student, so the college essentially picks up the tab for 40 percent of every person here. Once I understood that, and once I received a scholarship, I realized that people who I had never met, who never expected anything back from me, gave out of the goodness of their heart, and that allowed me to get an education. I wanted to keep that cycle going.”