Back at the beginning of 2011, UAFS made the local news for ranking near-last in alumni giving in the year’s U.S. News & World Report college rankings.
To be fair, the low percentage of alumni donating to the University wasn’t a particularly meaningful statistic; UAFS and its predecessors claim roughly 40,000 living alumni, yet have made a concerted effort to remain in contact with them only since 2007, when the alumni association was launched. Compounding the issue was the fact that until about a decade ago, many students transferred elsewhere to earn four-year degrees and considered those institutions their alma maters—even though UAFS still counted them as alumni.
Still, increasing the rate of alumni giving is a priority for Foundation leaders. Not only does a broad base of smaller, annual cash gifts form a strong foundation for the “giving pyramid,” but research shows that major donors frequently begin their relationship with an institution by making one or more smaller gifts. The late Janelle and H.L. Hembree, for example, who left UAFS $1 million when Mr. Hembree passed away last year, began their giving to the University with a $25 check in 1991.
Now, the Foundation is working hard to improve the rates of not only alumni giving, but also annual giving in general by launching the University’s first organized Annual Fund
—a concerted yearly effort to gain the support of alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends in the form of one-time, unrestricted gifts.
Despite the relatively small size of the average annual gift, a good program makes from those gifts a whole greater than the sum of its parts, creating the kind of impact individual donors may have a hard time imagining. In fact, partly because gifts are unrestricted and available for immediate use, annual giving is among the most valuable kinds of support for most American universities.
Even students are getting involved in giving at UAFS; with the Foundation’s help, the Student Alumni Association has placed small plastic coin banks in every room in the Lion’s Den residence hall, where students deposit any change that’s just “lion” around. Of course, the forty or fifty dollars those coins add up to each semester won’t alter the course of the University. But then again, neither did that first $25 gift from the Hembrees…