Alex Schmeling

While participation from alumni donors to Yale College hit a new low last year, gifts are on the rise at the School of Management.

In fiscal year 2015, the total dollar amount raised for the SOM’s annual alumni fund skyrocketed from the previous year by 46.8 percent. The fund’s participation rate rose from 45.2 percent in 2014 to a record-breaking 51.5 percent, making the SOM the only school at Yale to have an alumni participation rate exceeding 50 percent over about the past 20 years. As the school gears up for more fundraising initiatives between now and the end of fiscal year 2016 in June, it has already seen positive signals: compared to this time last year, alumni participation in the fund is up by 0.5 percent, and dollar values increased by 15 percent. Joel Getz, SOM senior associate dean for development and alumni relations, said reasons for the upward trend include the expansion of outreach to international alumni, greater resources allocated for fundraising and excitement regarding the SOM’s recent developments, such as the school’s increasing global expansion.

Getz, who has been in the position for eight years, said his team casts a wide net in soliciting donations and places emphasis on all gifts, even the smallest ones. Twenty-nine percent of alumni who had not donated in fiscal 2014 gave last year.

“I am a firm believer that participation and dollars go hand in hand,” Getz said. “People with the capacity to make large gifts like to know that the school is working hard to reach out to everyone, and small gifts collectively add up to a lot of money.” Getz added that he hopes to see even better results this fiscal year and “certainly wants to break 50 percent again.”

Last year, gifts of $100 and below totaled over $100,000, and gifts under $1,000 totaled approximately $600,000. The total giving to the alumni fund last year was just over $3,000,000.

In addition to emphasizing gifts of all sizes, Getz added, the SOM also bolstered its efforts by focusing on alumni who might be unfamiliar with the culture of philanthropy toward their alma mater. For example, the participation rate of Mexican alumni grew from 4 percent in 2013 to 55 percent last year. Moreover, the average international donation was larger than the average from the entire donation pool. Getz said significant contributions from international alumni could come because those alums resonate with the school’s goal to become “the most global business school.”

Getz said that his team has been creative in approaching alumni, writing special messages to couples whose members both graduated from the SOM and having his staff write to SOM alumni who went to the same undergraduate alma maters as they did.

“When I graduated from Harvard, I never thought I would reach out to people and have them donate to Yale,” Getz said.

Beyond the team’s fundraising efforts, SOM Dean Edward Snyder identified three reasons for increased alumni participation — all of which he said have “nothing to do with” him or the school’s fundraising team.  Firstly, the school’s mission statement of educating leaders for business and society proves compelling in today’s world; secondly, the SOM’s new building has generated excitement among the alumni; and, lastly, the school is a close-knit community and has a small alumni base of around 7,000, which makes it easier for alumni to remain connected after graduation, Snyder said.

“There is a general trend against alumni giving. We are going against the grain,” Snyder said.

Still, Snyder has a strong fundraising track record. During his deanship at Booth Business School at the University of Chicago, the school’s endowment grew from $197 million to $475 million — even without accounting for the $300 million gift from David Booth, the largest gift ever granted to any business school — and much of that growth was credited to his leadership. When Snyder served as the dean of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 1999, the school received a $60 million gift, the largest ever made to a business school at that time. And the SOM recently received a gift of an undisclosed amount from Indra Nooyi SOM ’80, whose donation is being used to endow Snyder’s deanship.

But Snyder called the trend mere “coincidence,” noting that a different situation exists at the SOM. While Virginia and Chicago had individual, large-sum donations, financial support to the SOM is more broad-based.

“It is a different phenomenon here. I have less to do with it,” Snyder said.

Still, Getz called Snyder a “great fundraiser,” adding that the dean has allocated more of the budget to expand the development office and has given the office “free rein” to try new initiatives. For example, this year the development office is launching a new society named after the school’s founding year, “the 1976 Society,” to promote consistent giving. Donors can become members of the society if they donate to the SOM every year, starting this year.

SOM alumni interviewed said they donated to the school because they are pleased with its direction and recent developments.

Tom Halsey SOM ’81, a donor, said newly launched academic initiatives such as the Global Network for Advanced Management and the Program on Entrepreneurship have generated enthusiasm among alumni. Moreover, the school has received favorable press over the past several years and applications have jumped dramatically. Over the past five years, the freshman class size jumped from 228 to 326.

“The general reaction of SOM alumni is that the school is doing very well and it deserves our support. ” Halsey said.

Pam Farr SOM ’78, president of the SOM Alumni Association, said she donates annually because of the SOM’s deeply rooted culture of collaboration and teamwork. This culture forges strong bonds among students and faculty as well as a sense of community, which survives beyond a student’s two years at Yale, Farr added.

When asked about the discrepancy between alumni giving to the SOM and Yale College, Halsey said donating to undergraduate institutions correlates more with the turmoil of the times in terms of student activism, which can create controversy and get in the way of alumni support. Because graduate schools tend to have many fewer as well as older students, there tends to be less controversy, Halsey added.

Halsey added that the difference could also be due to the different sizes of the alumni pools at Yale College and the SOM.

Support for the SOM also extends beyond its alumni network to reach the broader University.

Jerry Kenney ’63, who attended Yale College and not the SOM, said he supports the SOM both financially and strategically by serving on its advisory board. He said he was concerned about how Yale was faring overall and felt it would be a big deficiency for Yale to not have a first-rate business school.

The Yale School of Management Alumni Association has 53 chapters in 32 countries around the globe.