Class of ’83 alums are brewing something big

bergholz imageJohn Bergholz '83  

Epiphanies can come at odd times. John Bergholz ’83 was swapping recollections with Sara Nichols ’83 over a beer on the porch of the student union during their twentieth class reunion when the idea dawned on him.

Given the college’s perennial challenge to raise enough money to admit all worthy applicants regardless of need, why not create a Class of 1983 endowed scholarship? Sara responded instantly: “What do we need to do to make this happen?” The answer turned out to be a brand new paradigm for Reed — peer-to-peer fundraising.

“We didn’t have the infrastructure set up to help them reach their goal,” says Johanna Thoeresz ’87, director of development. “But their enthusiasm and persistence enabled us to build a strategy and a plan. They really created a new model for volunteerism at Reed.”

Bergholz and Nichols were not exactly fundraising neophytes. He is vice president for development at DePaul University. She is the creator of a new intellectual property company, What’s The Big Idea?, that plans to donate at least 50 percent of its profits to organizations that contribute to the achievement of United Nations Millennium goals such as poverty reduction, universal education, and environmental sustainability.

After answering questions, collaborating to solve problems identified by staff, and demonstrating the philanthropic leadership of establishing the fund with their own pledges, they were ready to give their project a name: the “Class of ’83 Well-Endowed Scholarship.“

“We hoped to create fundraising envy,” Bergholz explains.

financial aid image“We thought it reflected the sense of humor of the class, a raunchy, subversive group,” Nichols adds.

This was no typical “what-can-you-give?” class effort. Bergholz and Nichols first called friends to join them in matching their commitments, and word spread.

“The success of the project is due to the fact that it was built on personal relationships,” Nichols says. “It was gratifying how enthusiastic everyone was. Almost everyone I called said yes.”

Through both large and small gifts and pledges, the organizers have surpassed their original pledge goal of the $75,000 endowment minimum. They now hope to come as close as possible to the endowment amount that will satisfy the entire average need package for a Reed student on financial aid — $500,000 — by their twenty-fifth class reunion in 2008.

“If we could make a difference in one student’s life, that would be worth doing,” Nichols says. “I love Reed, and I would like as many people as possible to have access to a Reed education.”

The motivation is even more personal for Bergholz. “I got a lot of financial aid, including some scholarship support, as a student. I had an obligation to return the favor when I was in a position to do so.”

The real success of the project, according to Nichols, will come when it is emulated. “I’ve already heard from people in other classes who are considering doing the same thing,” she says.