No Strings Attached

19 April 2021

Gifts to the Alumni Annual Fund provide critical support and flexibility in turbulent times.

During the Every Carl for Carleton campaign, 18 thousand alumni, parents, and friends have made a gift to the Annual Fund.

As COVID-19 began to rage across North America last spring, the economic fallout was immediately palpable for college students from coast to coast. Summer jobs and internships were altered or eliminated altogether. Many families lost significant income. And parents of students across the country, trying to minimize spending and prepare for the long term, were trying to keep credit card debt down and wondering if they’d be able to afford tuition.

And yet, while many other like-sized colleges struggled to support students, Carleton increased its financial aid commitments. In large part, this is because of the size and scope of alumni gifts to the Alumni Annual Fund, which supports the college’s annual operating budget. Typically directed to the college’s highest and most pressing needs — teaching and learning, and financial aid, for example — these funds allow Carleton to be more responsive, says Rod Oto, associate dean of Carleton Admissions and director of Student Financial Services, “particularly in uncertain times.”

Many of the supplemental aid packages Oto’s office issued last year were relatively small — often just a few thousand dollars per student. “I know that doesn’t sound like a lot given the millions in the financial aid budget,” Oto says. “But we helped resolve crises for students and families. We couldn’t have done this without the flexibility in our budget to help students, much of which came from sources that gave us that flexibility.” Student aid packages were left intact, even as Carleton refunded most students’ room, board, and fees for the term. The college offered special consideration for seniors eligible to graduate early. And the college adopted a no-layoff policy for regular staff and faculty members through the fiscal year. There were even funds for college partners Bon Appétit (food services) and Barnes & Noble (the bookstore) to help keep Carleton-based employees on their payrolls.

Gifts to the annual fund and the endowment are the twin pillars of the Every Carl for Carleton campaign. And while all gifts to Carleton are as crucial as they are appreciated, during any fiscal year the college can only spend the income its endowment earns. Unrestricted gifts can be used for any purpose, and right away. It’s akin to the differences between a personal checking account and a 401k. You can put 100 percent of your checking account to work for you at any time. The 401k is reserved for longer-term purposes.

Last year, Carleton raised $9.9 million in unrestricted gifts to the annual fund. Here’s how the money affected three vital areas:

Financial Aid

72 percent of Carleton’s financial aid budget comes from unrestricted gifts and other unrestricted income in the annual budget. “If we didn’t have those resources, it would call into question whether we could be as generous,” Oto says. “The implication is that we would have to raise our tuition more than we would like to help make up that shortfall, or we’d have to cut services to make the budget balance.”

Off-Campus Studies

For study abroad, unrestricted donations literally allow students to take flight: they go toward airfare, scholarships, immunizations, and visas. “If these gifts were suddenly not available, that would be a serious problem for student participation,” says Helena Kaufman, director of Off-Campus Studies.

Career Planning

“We appreciate the generosity of our donors who have specific areas of career interest they want to fund. But there are many students whose goals might not fit the traditional notions of what should be funded,” says R. J. Holmes-Leopold, director of the Career Center.

Unrestricted donations create an opportunity for the Career Center to fund the ingenuity and the spectrum of interests a Carleton education inspires. Holmes-Leopold remembers one sophomore who wanted to combine a business management career with computer science. A grant from the Career Center’s budget allowed him to fly to San Francisco his sophomore year. That led to internships and a current job at his dream company. “Had he not had that scholarship, he would not have had the intentionality and depth of his intern experience, which prepared him to be well positioned to launch his career,” Holmes-Leopold says.

Among its peers, Carleton is known for its prudent financial stewardship, says Austin Lau ’05, board chair of the Alumni Annual Fund. And balanced budgets have long been a dependable point of pride, especially in times of tumult — with the annual fund playing a critical role in this success. Lau hopes that alumni and parents will consider an unrestricted gift to the annual fund as fiscal year 2021 concludes on June 30. “The world kept throwing things at us in 2020,” he says. “Here’s hoping 2021 doesn’t have anything hiding up its sleeve.”