Senior class gift aims for 100 percent participation rate

by Zach Gorman | 6/9/18 2:35am


If they haven’t already, members of the Class of 2018 may soon become very familiar with the Blunt Alumni Center.

by Divya Kopalle / The Dartmouth

As they prepare to graduate from Dartmouth, seniors might feel the need to make a lasting impact on the college where they’ve spent four years of their lives. That is the basis for the senior class gift, the yearly tradition of pooling money through the Dartmouth College Fund to contribute to financial aid for the College’s incoming class. The Class of 2018’s class gift will support financial aid for the students of the Class of 2022, half of whom will be receiving financial aid from the College. Students can donate any amount of money they choose, though a common donation is $20.18

Alexander McDowell ’18 and Olivia Smith ’18 , this year’s student co-chairs for the class gift, are excited for this gift to help out future Dartmouth students.

“It’s an incredible cause that just goes towards allowing other students to have the same great Dartmouth experience we’ve had over the past four years,” McDowell said. “Being able to pay it forward and pass that down to the incoming class is probably the reason why most of us [get] involved.”

However, recent classes have had some trouble raising money for their senior class gifts. While 99.9 percent of the Class of 2010 donated to their gift, only 31.3 percent of the Class of 2016 participated. In turn, the Class of 2017 set a goal of just 50 percent. Similarly, according to The Dartmouth’s Class of 2018 Senior Survey, 47 percent of Dartmouth students said they were less likely to donate to Dartmouth after graduation.

McDowell believes that recent low participation is due to past seniors not understanding that the gift supports financial aid.

“At first, I didn’t really want to get involved because I thought ... [the administration] is going to put it into the House Communities or something with [the Class of 1953 Commons], and that’s not really what I was interested in … and that’s what a lot of other people thought it was,” McDowell said. “Once I heard it was financial aid, a lightbulb went off in my head. I didn’t know that, and I don’t think people around the school noted that.”

McDowell thinks that the branding for previous senior class gifts prevented students from knowing that the gifts went toward financial aid. For example, the Class of 2017’s gift was dubbed “Forever Green 2017,” an appealing name that nonetheless left the gift’s recipients unclear. In order to combat this issue, the Class of 2018’s gift was rebranded as “’18s for Financial Aid.”

In addition to the rebranding, Smith and McDowell have spread the word about ’18s for Financial Aid by recruiting a number of other seniors to help with the collection process.

“We’ve gathered a number of volunteers, around twenty or so, to help us out with doing more outreach work,” Smith said. “The more volunteers we have, the more people we have to ask people to donate.”

Due to the new branding and marketing strategies, Smith and McDowell anticipate much higher participation in the Class of 2018’s gift than in prior years. They set a goal of 100 percent participation in this year’s gift, doubling last year’s goal.

“One of the reasons we shoot for 100 percent participation is because if you don’t shoot for 100 percent, you’re going to fall well short of it anyway,” McDowell said.

Raising the participation rate will be especially impactful this year. A group of alumni have set up a participation challenge for the Class of 2018: for every 10 students who donate to ’18s for Financial Aid, the alumni will donate an additional $1,000 to the cause. This means that each and every donation — of any amount — can have a real effect on financial aid for the Class of 2022.

“I think that’s one of the great things about this participation challenge,” McDowell said. “Even if you can just give … two dollars and 18 cents, or even just 18 cents, that can go a long way now that we have … anonymous donors coming in to give us that thousand dollars [for every ten donations] to make every single donation really worth it.”

As the ’18s work to have one of the most successful senior class gift campaigns in recent years, other Dartmouth students have begun to take notice. Jordyn Blew ’21 was impressed with the campaign and by the fact that each incoming class is supported by previous Dartmouth students.

“I think that [incoming students] should have as many opportunities to come here as possible,” Blew said. “I think that’s really nice that the older generation’s looking out for the younger ones and wanting to have everyone able to partake in the experiences that they did.”

In addition, ’18s who participate in this year’s class gift are able to make donations in honor or in memory of another person. When a donation is made in someone’s memory, that person’s family is notified of the action via letter.

“Obviously, love is more valuable than that dollar amount,” McDowell said, “but to see how … kids are coming together and to see what they’re willing to put forward as students … [is] a great way to honor someone and keep their tradition alive.”

Additionally, ’18s who donate 100 dollars or more are invited by the Dartmouth College Fund to join the 1769 Society, a group of Dartmouth alumni and supporters who make notable donations to the College Fund each year. Members of the 1769 Society are invited to come back to campus for events and networking opportunities, including a Homecoming reception each year.

Smith believes that the gift allows her fellow ’18s to respectfully honor their alma mater as they finish their time as Dartmouth students.

“[The gift] provides our class with the opportunity to give back to the school, which has given so much to us over the past four years,” Smith said. “And it’s a great way for us to leave our mark as a class, kicking off our lives as Dartmouth alumni.”