This year’s Senior Class Gift campaign — an annual fundraiser designed to get Yale seniors in the habit of donating to the University — was extended last week, after only 49 percent of seniors donated to it before the original deadline. Last year, during the senior class gift campaign with the next lowest level of involvement, just over 65 percent of students participated.
The Senior Class Gift campaign traditionally runs for three weeks in February, with the primary goal of educating “soon-to-be alumni about the importance of giving back to the University while establishing a pattern of giving before leaving Yale,” according to the campaign’s website. This year’s campaign was scheduled to run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 21. But last week, the Yale Alumni Fund extended the campaign to help volunteers from the class of 2018 achieve their goal of at least 70 percent participation, according to Jocelyn Kane, managing director of the Alumni Fund. Representatives from the fund declined to say how much longer it planned to expand the campaign.
As of Monday morning, Kane said, student volunteers have confirmed 691 gifts — a participation rate of 51 percent. During the Senior Class Gift campaign, volunteers invite seniors to donate any sum of money to Yale; the campaign’s website emphasizes that the participation rate in the campaign is more important to the University than the amount of money it raises.
But in recent years, senior participation in the campaign has dropped precipitously. In 2014, virtually all departing seniors — 96.6 percent of the class — donated to the campaign. That figure dropped to roughly 78 percent the following year, 72 percent in 2016 and 65 percent last year. In 2015, students actively boycotted the Senior Class Gift campaign over Yale’s mental health resources. And over the last three years, students have attributed the recent drop in participation to general dissatisfaction with the University, especially in the wake of the racially charged protests that roiled campus in the fall of 2015.
“A high participation rate is important because it inspires alumni participation, promotes future giving among the current senior class and enshrines gratitude to a place I think we can all agree is really special,” said Brendan Hellweg ’18, the campaign’s co-chair. “For the last few years, overall senior participation has declined. We decided to extend the Senior Class Gift timeline to try to reverse that trend and beat last year’s participation level.”
The campaign has sought to incentivize student participation through residential college–specific challenges: For instance, colleges in which at least 75 percent of seniors participate in the campaign will have a $10,000 one-year scholarship, named after their college and class, presented to an incoming first year in their college the following fall. Thus far, only two colleges have crossed the 75-percent threshold — Saybrook College with an 83 percent participation rate and Morse College with an 88 percent rate.
Morse Head of College Catherine Panter-Brick said that two days before the campaign’s initial deadline, Morse was at a 62 percent participation rate, only about 15 seniors short of reaching the threshold. In order to promote participation, she said, she invited all seniors to come by her office for a talk.
“I invited seniors to come by my office and explained that Morse would benefit with a one-year scholarship to a Morsel in the class of 2022 if we crossed that 75-percent participation threshold,” she said. “We were so close to the target, and there was a huge effort from our senior class reps, whom I wanted to support. It also gave me a chance to personally catch up with many students, which I always like to do.”
During the campaign, seniors can make the contribution either online or directly to a volunteer from their residential college. They can choose to designate their donation as unrestricted or funnel it toward a specific cause, like financial aid, student life, faculty support, library resources or campus facilities.
Kyle Deakins ’18, a campaign volunteer from Davenport College, speculated that this year’s students may not have been keen to donate because of misconceptions among students “about what giving to Yale actually entails.”
“It can be hard to convince students that donating a few dollars to a school like Yale will make a difference, but, with the Senior Class Gift, students can target their donations,” Deakins said. He added that the Alumni Fund extended the campaign partly to continue to educate seniors about how giving to the Senior Class Gift works.
The Senior Class Gift was established in 1997.
Anastasiia Posnova | firstname.lastname@example.org