A Healthy Alliance

9 December 2019

The Alumni Annual Fund provides critical flexibility for Carleton to meet the needs of every Carl.

A man stands in a meadow beside a bicycle with a mountain in the background

Austin Lau ’05 made his first donation to the Alumni Annual Fund when he was a graduating senior.

“The annual fund supports a lot of the things I know and love, like Off-Campus Studies programs, which I did as a student, and student-faculty research, which I also did,” says Lau, who was on the swim team while he was a student. “When I was a senior, I was involved in the Phone-A-Thon week: students got free pizza and called alumni to ask for gifts and thank people for their gifts. That’s what got me thinking, ‘What are we actually asking for money for?’”

Because he’s not the type of person who opens his wallet any time he’s asked, Lau says, he started paying attention. He learned that a $100 gift to the annual fund can be used to buy a textbook for a student in need; $25 can provide transportation to a student without financial means who wants the career preparation of an unpaid externship; $150 can go toward providing uniforms for student athletes (or new equipment for the swim team!).

“Since then I’ve always understood the importance of the annual fund,” he says.

Lau says his dedication to give to the AAF is due, in part, to the positive role his alma mater played in shaping his future, personally and professionally. The director of strategic partnerships at the web company Automattic also hopes that his giving back will give today’s students an equal opportunity to have similarly seminal experiences.

“The annual fund supports the world-class education that Carleton provides,” he says. “It allows us to be nimble with spending in ways that the endowment isn’t meant to.”

The endowment, a pool of investments that provides longer-term income, and the annual fund are both essential to the health of the college. While endowed gifts tend to support ongoing priorities such as scholarships and faculty support, endowed faculty chairs and lectureships, the majority of annual fund gifts go toward the college’s area of greatest need at any given time.

“Gifts to the endowment might be of a bigger magnitude,” Lau says, “but the flexibility of annual fund gifts is really important.”

Alumni Annual Fund board chair Karen Schilling ’78 points out that, together, the endowment and the annual fund work hand in hand to provide approximately one-third of Carleton’s budget.

“Carleton is fortunate to have alumni and friends who understand the importance of both the endowment and the annual fund, and typically, people who make gifts to the endowment also contribute to the annual fund,” she says. Both endowment gifts and annual fund gifts are pillars of Every Carl for Carleton.

As part of the campaign, the goal for the annual fund is to raise $10 million per year by 2021. It’s already close—fiscal year 2019 closed with a record $9,708,522. And every dollar counts. (Among the more than 11,500 alumni who supported the AAF last year, the most common donation was $100.)

“What we’re looking for is sustainable growth, which means participation from everyone,” Schilling says. “Every Carl’s giving matters because Carleton’s budget is going to grow every year. If the annual fund doesn’t grow, it will mean some things can’t be done.”

Lau and Schilling both hope everyone will join in continuing a strong tradition of alumni and parents financially supporting our current students and their Carleton experience.

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