A Strong Foundation: Building a Student Culture of Philanthropy
Just as a building must begin with a strong foundation, creating a culture of philanthropy begins with students. With alumni giving participation rates dropping across higher education, it is increasingly important for SJU’s Office of University Advancement to engage future alumni before they leave Hawk Hill.
In a campus culture of philanthropy, students become motivated to pay it forward and gain an understanding of how private support impacts their college experience. And by the time they become alumni, they know why their gift is so important and develop a sense of gratitude for those who came before them.
“We’re actively educating our students about philanthropy and the life-long engagement opportunities within the Saint Joseph’s community,” said Molly Robbins MS ’11, executive director of the Saint Joseph’s Fund, the University’s annual giving enterprise. “Our students are blown away by the impact Saint Joseph’s Fund donors have throughout campus and in the scholarship support we offer. While our students are bright and talented leaders in service and champions of philanthropy in the local and global community, often they don’t realize that by making a gift right here at home, on Hawk Hill, their philanthropy will have an exponential impact by touching many lives – those on Hawk Hill and all those with whom our students and faculty come into contact as they live out Saint Joseph’s mission.”
Every Gift Matters
For students, it’s not the size of the gift as much as it is about their participation and getting their buy-in to the fact that every gift matters. Robbins and the Saint Joseph’s Fund team have worked diligently to promote the senior gift program SJUGives, which encourages students to contribute the dollar equivalent of their class year — in this case, $20.14. Students identify their on-campus passion and invest in it directly. These gifts are designated to specific academic programs or co-curricular activities – a team, major, service program or activity – and make an immediate impact. Most importantly, students feel a sense that they have invested in the future of a program or activity about which they care deeply.
“Since I was here when the music department was created, it felt appropriate to give to the music department,” said French and music major Keara Parciak ’14, an aspiring opera singer who this year became the first student member of the Barbelin Society, the University’s annual giving leadership society. “I have a close relationship with my professors. They have done so much for me.”
Barbelin Society opened membership to students as a way to give students “access to our events, programming and members, and, we hope, gives them a great experience we hope they will want to continue as alumni,” said Barbelin Society Director Tom Fithian ’98, MBA ’07.
A Borgia level member of the Barbelin Society, Trustee Dennis Durkin ’74 pledged to match this year’s class gift if participation from the Class of 2014 surpasses that of the Class of 2013. His gift could be as much as $8,000 and will be directed to the Francis and Sara Gillespie Scholarship, a fund University President C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. ’72 launched in 2013 as part of his Magis Scholarship Initiative. The Gillespie Scholarship is just one of 22 that have been established during the first 20 months of the five-year, $50 million initiative. Durkin hopes his pledge will inspire other Barbelin members to step up in a similar fashion.
Building Momentum on Campus
The immediate payoff for this work was evident at the two events during February’s on-campus celebration of National Student Engagement and Philanthropy Day. I Love SJU Day at the Campion Student Center attracted approximately 150 students who had their picture taken with a whiteboard on which they wrote why they loved SJU.
“I Love SJU Day provided students with an opportunity to share with their peers what they value the most about their unique Saint Joseph’s experience,” said Lauren Gentzler, assistant director of campus philanthropy.
Meanwhile, across campus in the atrium of the John R. Post ’60 Academic Center, students expressed their “attitude of gratitude” for the University’s benefactors at flapitude by writing more than 500 notes of thanks on a 52-square-foot banner, penning nearly 100 thank you notes to benefactors and being interviewed for a video documenting the entire event.
“I thought the day was a huge success,” said Christine Scully MBA ’03, senior director of stewardship and donor relations. “Our students love their University, a fact that was readily evident at flapitude. I look forward to continuing this tradition next year.”
The Hawk kicked off the festivities by scrawling “Thanks from ‘The Hawk’ #THWND!!!” (while still flapping his left wing, of course). Messages ran the gambit from “Thank you so much! THWND. Keep on Flapping” and “Peace, Love, SJU” to “Thank you for all your support that makes the SJU experience so great” and “SJU rocks.”
Building for the Journey
By creating a sense of ownership and opening the door to loyalty-strengthening experiences for students, they become motivated to participate beyond graduation. The outcome is more engaged alumni for whom supporting their alma mater has become second nature.
A culture of philanthropy on Hawk Hill is reinforcing the Ignatian ideals upon which Saint Joseph’s liberal arts education was founded. Building a culture of philanthropy is mission-aligned because it helps create engaged citizens dedicated to supporting an education founded upon critical thinking and the pursuit of social justice.
It comes back to St. Ignatius of Loyola when he implored St. Francis Xavier to “go set the world on fire” upon his departure to spread the Gospel in India and Japan nearly 500 years ago. Just as Ignatius prepared Francis for his journey, building a culture of philanthropy on Hawk Hill is preparing students for their life’s journey.