Reunion giving is key to Carleton’s philanthropic growth
It’s been almost a quarter-century since a group of Carleton alumni volunteers gathered at the Denver airport in 1988 for a meeting that would transform Carleton’s annual fund into one of the most successful in the country. President emeritus Stephen R. Lewis Jr. was ready when the group came to him. “They said, ‘We want to take over the annual fund. We will rebrand it, set goals, recruit volunteers, and do the asking.’ Of course I said yes,” Lewis recalls. “I had been waiting for this.”
The Alumni Annual Fund adopted a reunion-giving model in 1996, combining the talents of alumni volunteers with the dynamic energy of Reunion. “In 1996 we began encouraging members of reunion classes to make a multiple of their usual contribution,” Lewis says. The College’s new investments in reunion programs and volunteer support led to an increase in both reunion attendance and giving. The Class of 1991—the first class to celebrate its fifth reunion under the new reunion-giving model—has so far set class giving records in all of its reunion years.
Currently, all reunion gifts—with the exception of 50th-reunion gifts—are unrestricted support for the annual fund. (50th-reunion classes may designate their class gift for a specific purpose if they choose.) Unrestricted giving, which supports the College’s annual operating budget, provides the margin of excellence that “makes it possible for Carleton to be Carleton,” says Lewis.
Classes use creative, sometimes wacky, methods to reach fund- raising goals and break reunion-giving records. Lewis recalls,
“Funny thing, when we first started, someone said to me, ‘All that class competitiveness may work out east, but it wouldn’t work in the Midwest.’ I thought, malarkey.” Fun is the key, Lewis adds. “If it’s only about money, forget it.” Over the years, Carleton reunions have become even more varied, fun, and inclusive, drawing thousands of alumni and their families to campus each June.
Becky Zrimsek ’89, assistant vice president for alumni and parent relations and director of the annual fund, says another key to Carleton’s reunion giving success is that “volunteers are committed to motivating classmates to stretch in their giving.”
Carleton’s success with its annual fund has been well noted on the national stage. For the past 10 years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Carleton number one on its list of “Most Loved Schools,” on the basis of alumni giving.
The future of alumni giving appears to be safely in the hands of younger alumni who are really engaged, says Zrimsek. “That differentiates us from other places, and the attendance for our 5th- and 10th-reunion classes is inspiring to all alumni.”
Current Carleton president Steven Poskanzer calls the reorganization of the Alumni Annual Fund the catalyst for Carleton’s overall philanthropic growth over the past two decades. Says Poskanzer: “The growing power of reunions excites and inspires our alumni to steward the College at a higher and more significant level than ever before.”