Less than a week after the annual Senior Class Gift campaign concluded with the lowest participation rate on record, a group of four seniors is launching an “Alternative Class Gift” campaign to collect donations from students for local and national charities.
The first of its kind, the student-run Alternative Class Gift differs from the traditional Senior Class Gift in that it encourages seniors to direct their donations toward charities, rather than the University. The campaign, which begins today and runs through March 11, is modeled after the Senior Class Gift, lasting three weeks and requesting the same $5 minimum donation. The seniors behind the initiative are requesting the donations in recognition that some students may feel uncomfortable donating to Yale for a number of reasons, they said.
“It’s important to remember that students don’t just have a responsibility to the University but also a responsibility to our greater community, whether that’s New Haven as a city, or the country as a whole,” said Emily Patton ’17, one of the campaign leaders. “Yale is such a privileged institution. It’s worth asking whether this is the first place that we should think of when we consider what kind of charitable giving we’re obligated to do.”
The funds raised will go to charities such as New Haven’s Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, Haven Free Clinic, the Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Junta, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to Dane Underwood ’17, one of the campaign leaders, all of those charities have expressed support for the initiative. Participating students will be able to specify which charity organization they would like their donations to benefit.
The Senior Class Gift is an annual fundraising campaign organized by the Office of Development. In addition to collecting cash gifts for the Alumni Fund, which consists of unrestricted resources that can be spent on the University’s most immediate priorities, the campaign intends to encourage seniors to be active postgraduation benefactors by introducing them to the donation process.
But participation in the Senior Class Gift has plummeted in recent years: In 2015, amid an active boycott over the University’s mental health resources, the number of seniors donating dropped from about 100 percent, where the figure had remained for four years, to 78.1 percent. This number declined again in 2016 before hitting a new low this year at 65.6 percent.
Some students pointed to lingering disillusionment with the University given controversies surrounding Yale policy over the past couple of years as a reason for low participation in this year’s Class Gift. Patton said the new initiative could offer an alternative for students who are interested in charitable giving but who might be reluctant to donate to the University.
Still, Patton said the Alternative Class Gift is not intended to stand in “direct opposition” to the Senior Class Gift.
“Officially, we don’t have a stance against the Senior Class Gift,” Underwood said. “Whatever your reasons for giving, we think this is a good way to give, whether you want to supplement your gift to the senior class or whether you want to find an alternative use for your money, we think this is a good outlet for that.”
Students from all four class years are invited to contribute. They can donate in person or over Venmo, and campaign leaders will keep track of senior participation in the initiative by asking donors to include their class year in the description line of their payments.
Patton noted that it would be interesting to compare participation in the Senior Class Gift with the Alternative Class Gift, adding that a higher level of participation in the latter would send a statement to the University about where students’ priorities lie.
“I really hope the participation rate matches the Senior Class Gift. It would be amazing if it goes above it,” said Sarah Rose ’17, one of the campaign leaders. “I’ve talked to people on the political left, conservatives, athletes and people who live off campus, and they’re all really excited about this [campaign] for different reasons. … They think communities are important, and they have gotten a lot from different parts of New Haven.”