Centennial Campaign

Young Alumni give a Damn

By William Abernathy ’88

Reedies have been debating “Olde Reed” vs. “New Reed” for almost 100 years. Whether we danced to Glenn Miller or the Doors, Talking Heads or the Decemberists, the striding, heroic figures we looked up to as freshlings always seemed cooler, brainier, and purer than those whelps we gazed down at as seniors. But of late, New Reed has one-upped its forebears: younger alumni are giving back to Reed in greater numbers than ever before.

Recent figures from the Annual Fund indicate that Reed’s youngest alumni are way ahead of earlier generations in terms of the sheer volume of donations. Over the past five years, the number of alumni giving to Reed in their first year after graduation has risen threefold—from 21 for the class of 2005 to 77 for the class of 2009. Over the same period, the donor rolls from generations of alumni up through the 1990s fell, while more alumni from the 2000s and 2010 gave: 640 alumni from the 2000s gave in 2010, charging ahead of the decade that preceded them. Eighty-two members of the class of 2010 contributed as well, unheard of in previous years, in which very few enrolled seniors donated.

Why the turnabout? One reason may be that recent grads report more satisfaction with their time on campus. “When I went to Reed, there were students who loved Reed and students who hated Reed, and we had a fair proportion of both,” says trustee Konrad Alt ’81, whose son is a sophomore at Reed. “So I’m not surprised that a large percentage of alumni from that era are not enthusiastic about giving. But over the past ten to 15 years, the college has invested a lot in upgrading the quality of the student experience. Students today are having a better experience than they used to, and that’s reflected in these numbers.”

Second, young alumni may have a clearer picture of how the college’s finances work. “The Class of 2010 Scholarship and the recent young alumni Annual Fund challenges have done a lot to raise awareness about charitable giving among young alumni,” says Sara Rasmussen ’05, who serves on Reed’s alumni development committee. “[There has also been] more frank conversation about Reed’s financial aid situation and its need for giving.”

“I think there’s a greater effort to bring alumni into the fold,” says Michael Stapleton ’10, who helped lead the successful class of 2010 scholarship drive in his senior year.

The Annual Fund has made a conscious effort to reach out to current students, according to Annual Fund associate director Lindsay Nealon. “We’re doing a better job of speaking to students while they’re here about the importance of philanthropy,” she says, “so, it’s not the first time they’ve heard about it after they graduate—they’ve heard about it all along.” This cultural shift is important, she notes, because alumni who give in their first year in the “real world” are more likely to support the college throughout their lives.

Paradoxically, another factor driving contributions from young alumni may be the stinging critique of financial aid at Reed which appeared in the New York Times in June 2009. “There was a lot of anger directed at the college,” recalls Stapleton. In response, he and three other seniors launched a group called Reedies for Reed. “It’s easy to criticize,” he said of the Times article, “but [we believed] we should do something about it. Let’s change, or step in the right direction of effecting change, in a positive way.”

Reedies for Reed launched the class of 2010 scholarship drive, which raised a total of $11,707 (thanks in part to a challenge gift of $5,000 from President Colin Diver) and supported an undisclosed student who matriculated at Reed in fall 2010.

The turnabout is especially encouraging because participation among Reed’s alumni is lower than at comparable schools. “This is one place where Reed doesn’t look very strong relative to other schools in our peer group,” says Hugh Porter, vice president of college relations. While colleges most similar to Reed can count on about half their alumni, in a good year only 30 percent of Reed alums contribute. This has serious implications for both philanthropic foundations and financial rating agencies, which consider the breadth of Reed’s donor base when assessing its financial prospects. “It’s a long-term challenge the institution can’t ignore,” Porter says.

Inspired by the class of ’10, current Reed students are planning a new scholarship campaign—dubbed the Reedies for Reedies 2011 Scholarship—for the spring semester, soliciting the entire student body (not just seniors) with a challenge gift from Venky Ganesan ’96. Though no one knows whether they will better their elders, the omens are promising: five students had already given before the first day of class.


Financial Aid At Reed, www.reed.edu/reed_magazine/summer2009/columns/eliot_circular/4.html

“College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students,” www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/business/economy/10reed.html