Months after Yale College’s senior class gift campaign concluded with a record-low participation rate in late February, the University’s professional schools are wrapping up their respective class gift initiatives — with significant variation in strategy and participation across the schools.
FULL PARTICIPATION AT THE SOM
Reversing a trend of declining participation over the past three years, the Yale School of Management saw a 100 percent participation rate for this year’s class gift campaign. Every member of the class of 2016 from the SOM’s MBA, Executive MBA and Master of Advanced Management programs — a total of 416 students — pledged donations to the class gift, raising a total of over $413,000, according to SOM Senior Associate Dean for Development and Alumni Relations Joel Getz. The donations will be channeled to the school’s Alumni Fund, which is considered “flexible money” and can largely be used at the SOM dean’s discretion.
“The high participation rate sends a great signal to our alumni. It suggests that our current students are getting as much out of the school as [the alumni] did in their eras,” Getz said. “When students are participating even when they do not have any income, it suggests that the needs of the school must be great, and the school must be doing well to inspire that kind of loyalty.”
The participation rate for the SOM’s class gift has historically been high in comparison to other professional schools, but has seen a declining trend over the past three years. The rate for the MBA candidates was 97 percent in 2013, 83 percent in 2014 and 76 percent in 2015.
Getz said that although previous classes saw fewer donors, total donations raised were comparable to this year’s. In addition, MBA candidates for the class of 2015 comprised the first cohort to see a significant expansion in student size — from 249 in 2014 to 291 students. Thus the class gift chairs may not have been able to have discussions with everyone, he added.
Getz added that the variation in participation over the past four years could be a result of the different approaches adopted by class gift leaders: some have focused on the total sum of money raised while others chose to prioritize overall participation rate.
Aaswaad Kalamkar SOM ’16, one this year’s class gift co-chairs, said the team changed its outreach strategies to be more effective in soliciting gifts. For example, the team opted for electronic pledge forms instead of hard copies, which had traditionally been used in the past. In addition, they recruited “class marshals” to each reach out to seven close friends to solicit donations.
Daniel Gerber SOM ’16, another co-chair of this year’s class gift committee, added that the team has emphasized participation rate over total funds raised, as people have different abilities to donate.
The class gift has played a central role in helping the SOM balance its budget, Getz said. The School of Management is one of the only professional schools responsible for managing their own budgets as “self-support schools.” Although part of the SOM’s budget comes from the school’s endowment, most of that endowment already has a designated purpose, such as funding faculty or academic programs. Tuition does not have restricted usage, but only 38 percent of the SOM’s budget comes from net tuition. Thus, the alumni fund, which is flexible in its usage, can be used to fill the gaps in the school’s budget when the school hits a deficit.
“In last several years, without the alumni fund, we would not have been able to be break even or have small surpluses [for the budget],” Getz said.
NEW POLICIES AT THE LAW SCHOOL
Established in 1990, the Graduating Class Gift Campaign at Yale Law School — which remained consistent in its model for the past 25 years — saw a series of changes this year.
For the first time, graduating Law School students designated their class gift donations to specific student groups, journals or clinics at the school. This year’s campaign, which started in early April and is still ongoing, also marks the first time that Law School students can make a one-time donation or pledge instead of a multi-year one. The school has not yet released data about the current participation rate or total funds raised.
The change came after students met with the Law School’s development office and expressed an interest in directing their gifts to student organizations. The participation rate from students in J.D. and joint-degree programs dropped sharply from 85 percent in 2013 to 36 percent in 2015.
“The hope is that this change [of directing gifts to specific groups] will increase participation,” said Beezly Kiernan LAW ’16, who has been helping the development office with the Class Gift Initiative. “At least a few student groups have encouraged their members to donate to their group, and I donated to a group of which I’m a member.”
Mallory Swartz, who works at the Law School Fund Office for the Class Gift Campaign, did not return a request for an interview.
Kiernan said cultural differences unique to each professional school might cause variation in participation rates among students, adding that some schools probably have stronger traditions of giving back. He added that the size of the school also matters, as it is easier for a smaller school to achieve higher participation.
While some undergraduates attributed the record-low participation rate in this year’s Yale College Senior Class Gift to the protests of last fall, Kiernan said these issues are less likely to affect participation at the Law School.
“I don’t think the wave of protests that hit Yale last semester was quite as salient at the Law School. I’m sure some students won’t donate to YLS due to negative feelings about the institution, but I doubt the effect will be as strong as at the college,” Kiernan said. “Some law students don’t believe that the Law School needs the money, particularly after we’ve forked over more than $100,000. This is a fair criticism — YLS is not the neediest institution in the world.”
SPIRIT AT THE DIV SCHOOL
Unlike other professional schools, Yale Divinity School channels all its class gifts to fund financial aid for students. Divinity School Director of Alumni Relations & Annual Fund Gail Briggs said the annual class gift is important because over 90 percent of Divinity School students receive financial aid.
The campaign, which started on March 30 and will last through the week before Commencement on May 23, has seen 30.4 percent participation and collected a sum of over $13,600 as of Monday night. The 2015 class gift campaign drew 59 percent participation and raised a total of over $13,000. Briggs said she expects more gifts to come in after final papers and exams, and that she is optimistic that this year’s figure will meet or even surpass performance from the previous year. When asked whether the protests of last semester will affect participation in the 2016 class gift, Briggs cautioned against associating participation with any negative feelings.
“We are not linking participation rate to any sort of discontent or unhappiness among students,” Briggs said.
Nicole Perone DIV ’16, a student leader in the class gift campaign, said the school focused more on the spirit of giving than the quantifiable results. She added that some graduates of the Divinity School may not end up in positions as lucrative as students from other professional schools might, which could explain the difference in total sum raised.
Briggs added that the school may not be as aggressive in the “preaching of giving” as other schools.
The school is planning a communitywide event, where Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling will be dumped into a large tank of water if the class gift reaches a threshold of $10,000.
“It’s a way to make [the Class Gift Campaign] fun and relaxing for students. It’s a way to unwind and it has generated a lot of excitement,” Briggs said.