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reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Raising Reed

By Chris Moses ’02

One common retort to the vulgarity of fundraising is: "They only care about me if I give money, and anyway, I can't give enough to make them care."

Chris Moses

Chris Moses '02: money shouldn't be a dirty word.

That's exactly right: giving matters if you want to be counted. Not as individuals—having worked closely with the College Relations staff, I can assure you that, more than anything, they want to hear alumni perspectives about the college, its problems and successes, your experience and opinions.

But as a collective, as an alumni body, the contributions we make determine whether we are considered real stewards in the life of the college. How serious are we? How seriously can we expect to be taken?

Or to ask it another way, how do we, as alumni, take care of Reed?

One key answer is: by giving money. Certainly there are many important and essential forms of commitment and participation that don't involve giving money, and these supply a tremendous lifeblood for the college. It's not a soulless corporation. But it is, like it or not, an institution—one with bills to pay, liabilities to insure, buildings to maintain. To further Reed's mission of uncompromising academic excellence requires a tremendous amount of resources.

More than any topic, money provokes fierce debate and heated feelings amongst Reedies, whether resentment or joy, conspiracy or generosity. Why is this? And does it matter?

A group of alumni have come together to ask these sorts of questions, and to challenge common assumptions and long-held traditions about how Reed raises annual fund contributions. Self-labeled as Alumni Fundraising for Reed, we are a small and growing handful of people drawn from across class years. We are volunteers and exist independently from, though work closely with, the college's Development Office. We are united by a common hope: to integrate a strong network of alumni support that helps ensure Reed's future financial health. We give as we're able, in both modesty and generosity.

The AFR wants all Reed alumni to be excited about contributing, however they may be able. We alumni have life-long relationships with the college, however that may be comfortable. We want to hear from you, and to help create a new space for alumni voices and involvement at Reed.

As an AFR member, I want alumni giving to change. I don't want money to be a dirty word—obsessing over its ill consequences is as detrimental as senselessly lusting for more.

Reed does have particular fundraising needs to ensure a successful future. Success here means having the most up-to-date facilities and academic resources, the best faculty, and the ability to attract and support the most brilliant and independently minded students from around the world.

Many have a misconception that Reed was once need-blind. To the contrary, many needy students were admitted previously, though some were admitted without any financial support for the first year. This "come anyway" policy was ethically dubious at best, and far more harmful to admission selection and student retention than today's marginal need sensitivity. But that's still not good enough: many AFR members hope that the college will become truly need-blind with solid support and sensible planning.

Simply put, Reed will be need-blind for the first time when, for the first time, we give it the resources to be need-blind.

Our overarching goal is to preserve a financially healthy Reed, measured and made possible through sustained alumni investment. At the moment, the college relies far too heavily on a handful of extremely generous alumni, rather than an appropriately strong base of giving. Though some of us give generously, Reedies as a group give far less often and far more stingily than our peer institutions. (A 2009 survey of need-blind institutions showed that on average 48% of their alumni made a gift to their college in that year, compared to 33% at Reed. The need-blind colleges brought in an average of $6.7 million in unrestricted Annual Fund gifts; Reed brought in $2.9 million. Even if you include single, impossibly large endowment gifts from one angel donor—an unsustainable paradigm—Reed comes in at the bottom of the survey. The average endowment among need-blind colleges is $498,000 per student, compared to Reed's $224,000.) Yet as a group—contrary to popular myth—we're not poorer or less able to give.

To have an honest conversation about Reed's future, we need to put our money where our mouth is. To debate the way the college allocates its resources, to help direct its future, we can't pick and choose what's about money and what's not. We need to embrace the whole of Reed. This is the goal the AFR has set for ourselves, and one in which we invite you to share.

If you want to get involved, or to offer any comments, please email me at moses@alumni.reed.edu.

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reed magazine logoDecember 2010