Centennial Campaign

Giving Back—Our Way

Illustration by Lucy Bellwood ’12

Reed alumni want to broaden the college's base of donors.

By Chris Moses-Jenkins ’02

What happens when you turn 100? Ideally, you’re financially independent. Ideally, you’ve passed through your adolescent angst, made it through a midlife crisis or two, and have the energy, vigor, and confidence to truly flourish in your second century.

We have celebrated a great deal at Reed’s centennial. Yet, as alumni we still have our work cut out for us. The college is in solid financial health, especially given the economic crises of the past five years, and will soon conclude a successful $200 million campaign. But strength is more than a balance sheet. A strong Reed is one with broad and active alumni participation, the resources to ensure the best possible education for its students, and a determinaton to innovate.

What will this take? A group of alumni have been developing a number of efforts under the moniker “Alumni Fundraising for Reed,” or AFR for short. We believe that alumni participation, volunteerism, and yes—giving—is the heart of the college. We’ve grown from a handful of Reedies brainstorming around a San Francisco conference table to an established steering committee with three working groups and over 90 volunteers who have done a phenomenal job strengthening Reed’s Annual Fund.

We’re concerned about money—or more truthfully, how many alumni give back to the college. Reed’s current giving rate lags embarrassingly far behind our peers. We’re most interested in expanding participation and developing a culture of philanthropy. Reed is something to believe in and something to support. The more we’re able to be counted, the more organized and generous we are, the greater investment we’ll have as stakeholders in the institution’s future.

The AFR’s focus on young alumni has been tremendously successful. Recent classes are giving at higher rates than ever before (we hit 889 donors in fiscal year 2012, up 51% since 2007) which is crucial for the long-term future. Current students are also giving back in record numbers.

Why is this so important? Without fail, those who begin early with reliable gifts, however modest, and continue to contribute as their circumstances allow, make up the bulk of Annual Fund donors and provide the vast majority of total value contributions in the long term. The myth of the got-rich-and-then-gave is just that. Sustaining donations don’t fall from the sky, immaculately conceived, and delivered by wishful commandment. Just like a senior thesis, pieces get assembled over time and create the greatest whole.

This leads to our second goal: expanding the equity of contributions across all those who give. For too long, the college has relied on a small number of reliably generous alumni who have given at disproportionately higher rates than their peers. The Annual Fund needs a robust number of gifts at every level, not just at the top and bottom. Our Griffin Initiative has used generously donated matching funds and benefited from countless volunteer hours to expand the number of alumni giving at the Griffin level of $1,000 per year. (We now have 538 Griffin donors, with a goal of 565 next year.). Matches have also encouraged donors to reach toward a $500 gift; some have stepped up their commitment to $1,911 to honor the founding of Reed; others have chosen to make important leadership gifts with monthly contributions of $85 or $160.

These successes have confirmed our belief that Reedies have the capacity and desire to give, and furthered our sense that an alumni-led effort has tremendous potential for strengthening the college’s financial future. Moreso, the many great conversations and creative ideas about events and activities—the real and sustained desire for engagement—have given us hope for an alumni body that is itself truly enriched through its support of the college.

Our work is just beginning. The AFR has ambitious goals for increasing alumni support, but our most exciting conversations come from envisioning a Reed alumni body that knows itself better, nurtures its relationships, and finds many fulfilling connections with the sustained life of the college. 

So when you get a call from a current student (or an alumni volunteer), pick up the phone. Or go online and see how you can get involved.We’re excited for your ideas, your visions and, above all, your commitment to the power of alumni-based fundraising for Reed.