In the waning weeks of their undergraduate years, a few months before they officially become alumni, seniors have donated to the Yale Alumni Fund in record numbers this spring.

The fund’s annual senior class gift drive wrapped up earlier this month with a 79 percent participation rate among members of the class of 2005-, the second-highest level of participation in the history of the drive. Seniors donated a combined $18,000 for this year alone and pledged an additional $76,600 over the next five years, Yale Alumni Fund Managing Director Bobbi Mark ’76 said.

The average senior gift was about $20, but this figure varies considerably from college to college, where senior volunteers run grass-roots fund-raising efforts, drive co-chair Blake Marks Landro ’05 said. In Saybrook and Pierson Colleges, 100 percent of seniors donated, and Saybrook raised the highest total, Marks Landro said.

Volunteers for the gift drive did the bulk of their fund raising in February through phone banking and knocking on students’ doors. Emily Scharfman ’05, the other co-chair, credited this year’s success to school spirit among seniors and a dedicated corps of volunteers.

“I genuinely think it’s important for people to recognize that Yale and all of the benefits we’ve received couldn’t exist without the support of its alumni, despite the gripes with the administration we may have,” Scharfman said, noting that tuition covers about half the total cost of an undergraduate education at Yale. “I think we had good agents on the ground who really explained the issues at hand.”

For Harry Reyes ’05, participating in the gift drive was a chance to give back to Yale in the way that mattered most to him — financial aid.

“I felt like I’ve gained so much from the [Yale] experience,” Reyes said. “I am afforded a lot because of financial aid, and I ensured all the money I donated went back to financial aid.”

Latoya Brisbane ’05 also said she earmarked her donation for financial aid, but said she would have donated to the University even if that option was not available to her. She said she expects to continue donating to Yale after she graduates.

“It just seemed like something I should do,” Brisbane said.

As the two most active colleges in the gift drive, Pierson and Saybrook will split a $2,500 prize from an anonymous donor. Winning colleges have traditionally donated about half of the prize to charity and use the other half for a purpose of their choosing. Saybrook and Pierson are considering throwing parties this year using their prize money, Marks Landro said.

As in previous classes, development officers have placed a higher premium on class participation than on total dollars raised, Mark said. She pointed to research showing the sooner alumni are in the habit of giving back, the more likely they are to make sustained contributions.

“We would much rather have it be 79 percent participation and $18,000 than 50 percent and $25,000,” she said. “The higher the participation, the better the class is in a position to give back throughout their lives.”

About five years ago, the development office revamped the volunteer structure for the senior class gift drive. Two senior class co-chairs, chosen in their sophomore year, in turn recruit two co-chairs for each residential college, who then recruit eight to 10 agents to solicit donations from students throughout each college. Three years ago development officials also began the current five-year pledge program. Under the new system, participation rates have surpassed 70 percent each of the past three years.