A rigorous three-week campaign to collect donations from the class of 2012 for the Senior Class Gift ended Wednesday with a record-breaking 97.5 percent participation rate.
The participation rate of this year’s seniors edged out that of the class of 2012 by half a percentage point, though its senior gift of $31,545.47 fell roughly $10,000 short of last year’s total. At least 12 representatives of the campaign in each residential college collected donations by holding events and contacting peers individually. While most seniors interviewed expressed enthusiasm for supporting the University, several said they felt excessive pressure to donate from some members of the campaign.
“The senior gift isn’t going to move mountains for Yale’s operating budget, but we’re trying to establish an early foundation for continued giving,” said Joey Mensah ’12, one of two co-chairs of the campaign.
The high participation rate led to additional gifts from anonymous donors, including a $100,000 gift given for beating last year’s participation. In addition, three $10,000 scholarships for incoming freshmen were awarded to the three colleges with 100 percent participation: Branford, Davenport and Ezra Stiles. Jonathan Edwards College also received a $10,000 scholarship for an incoming freshman by donating more in total money than any other college.
Courtney Fukuda ’12, the other campaign co-chair, attributed the high participation rate in part to the enthusiasm of agents and college co-chairs who collected donations in the residential colleges. The campaign gained momentum early in the process after holding a kick-off event and receiving donations from about a quarter of the class on the first night of the campaign, Mensah said. Kevin Ryan ’85 also sponsored a 24-hour donation challenge, and ended up donating $7,000 after seniors raised participation from 78.5 percent to 85.4 percent in one day.
Jocelyn Polce, assistant director of the Yale Alumni Fund, called the senior gift “a vote of confidence for Yale” that encourages alumni to donate to the University.
“It shows that our seniors who are about to go into the world had a positive experience here,” she said. “We publicize that to parents and alumni who may also donate to alumni fund.”
Every college had donation rates of over 92 percent, and Berkeley, Saybrook and Silliman had only one senior choose not to donate.
Many students interviewed said the drive to maximize participation made them feel pressured to donate, and three said campaign representatives were inappropriately persistent with them.
Daniel Thompson ’12 said he chose not to donate mainly because he felt that “harassment and coercion” had replaced discussion about the senior gift. He said after he decided not to give to the class gift, he received calls and texts from peers in Pierson and had multiple discussions with campaign agents about his choice. He added that the Pierson co-chairs visited his room on the last night of the campaign and offered to donate a dollar in Thompson’s name.
Nick Makarov ’12, one of the Pierson co-chairs, said he proposed donating in Thompson’s name because he was not sure why Thompson did not want to donate, and he wanted to ensure financial constraints were not keeping Thompson from participating.
“If it’s a financial reason, obviously that’s understandable,” Makarov said. “[My Pierson co-head] and I were so invested in the campaign that we were willing to make the donation on [Thompson’s] behalf.”
Makarov added that he is happy with Pierson’s 97.5 percent participation rate.
Jennifer Flynn ’12 said she initially did not want to participate because she thought the campaign was centered too strongly on residential college spirit, but she ultimately decided to contribute and direct her gift to financial aid, in part because she has benefited from financial aid herself and would not want to prevent Saybrook from receiving a $10,000 scholarship for a freshman.
Shir Levkowitz ’12, a member of JE who chose not to donate, said he thought the campaign was mostly managed respectfully in Jonathan Edwards but that the campaign overall had “some really troubling aspects to it.”
“The ultimate reason why I chose not to donate was because I was really appalled by some of the practices surrounding the senior class gift campaign, and I think a lot of people were sort of robbed of the right to make a meaningful contribution,” Levkowitz said.
Mensah said some seniors cited “personal reasons” for not donating, and while he respected their decisions, he added that it is “frustrating to not know what the problem is.” Fukuda said the campaign is intended to reach out to as many students as possible and encourage them to donate, but the essence of the campaign as a group activity inherently places pressure on students.
“That’s sort of the nature of it: The closer you get to the goal of 100 percent, the more pressure is placed on those who don’t want to participate,” she said. “I think some people might think there’s too much of an emphasis on this campaign, too much pressure, and they are turned off by that.”
Still, many students interviewed praised the act of donating to the Alumni Fund and expressed excitement that the class had broken the participation record. Alyssa Mitson-Salazar ’12, who was not involved with the campaign, said she often casually encouraged her friends to donate because “Yale has granted [students] so many opportunities.”
Lisa Wang ’12, co-chair of Jonathan Edwards, said she believed the campaign unites the senior class and provides an easy way to show gratitude to the University.
“The heart of the senior class gift is showing appreciation of the four years we have had here,” she said. “It wasn’t about the dollar amount; it’s a way to show gratitude if Yale has given you anything at all.”
Fundraising events during the campaign included an event at Mory’s and a tailgate at the Harvard-Yale hockey game.