Despite the current economic downturn, an increasing number of alumni are donating to the University, Managing Director of the Yale Alumni Fund Bobbi Mark ’76 said.

Between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002, 10 percent more donors gave to the alumni fund than in the previous year’s campaign, Mark said. In the 2000-01 fiscal year, the alumni fund solicited $15.69 million from 43,118 donors. This past fiscal year, 47,511 donors contributed $15.84 million.

Mark said there were two reasons for last year’s success — the increased efforts on behalf of staff and volunteers to personalize the solicitation process and a post-Sept. 11 alumni trend to reconnect with the University.

Randy Nelson ’85, a member of the Yale Alumni Fund’s executive committee, said he is optimistic because University alumni seldom cut back on their generosity, even in difficult financial times.

“What I try to stress is that as difficult as things are for us today, they’re even more difficult for students and their families,” Nelson said. “Classmates are usually very sympathetic.”

Mark heads the group that solicits Yale’s approximately 125,000 living alumni for “current use” gifts, which can be used for Yale’s immediate needs and expenses. Mark said about 85 percent of these gifts are unrestricted, meaning donors do not request that their gifts be spent in specific areas, such as renovations or financial aid.

Yale Vice President for Development Charles Pagnam said unrestricted gifts are important because they can address a variety of University needs.

“The gifts the annual fund raises provide the University with flexible funds which can be allocated as needed,” Pagnam said. “For example, if we suddenly had an increase in financial aid need, these funds could be used for that.”

Mark said current use gifts could be used if Yale had a financial aid deficit, such as the one Brown University officials announced Monday. A year before switching to need-blind financial aid, Brown has a $3 million financial aid deficit and is projecting a $4 million deficit next year.

To increase giving this year, Mark said she is working to further personalize the fund’s written, e-mail and phone solicitations. These efforts include a close examination of previous giving behavior in order to suit potential donors.

Nelson said the group concentrates particularly on major donors to the fund.

“We want to do more to focus on our most generous givers to make sure that we know what their concerns are and that they know how grateful the University is for their generosity,” he said.

Even after a challenging year of fundraising, Mark said she is still confident in Yale’s alumni.

“We are certainly hearing from our alumni, ‘Boy, this is a tough year to give,'” Mark said. “But we are still optimistic that if [alumni] get the right message — which is that their participation counts as much as their dollars — we can continue to bring in an ever-larger number of donors.”

Despite the fund’s recent successes, Nelson said it will continue to re-evaluate its methods and improve upon them.

“The alumni fund is constantly examining its methods and we’re always trying to come up with better and easier ways for people to give,” Nelson said.