No limits?: The Power of Giving


In my last column, I detailed the stark fundraising differentials between Grinnell and peer liberal arts colleges Carleton, Swarthmore and Amherst. What is clear is that a “Giving Gap” exists, with peer institutions fundraising substantially more from their alumni bodies than Grinnell. But what is also apparent is that Grinnell can improve its fundraising dramatically. This column will detail the power of giving.

Compared to other revenue sources, fundraising represents the easiest way for Grinnell to finance projects. For example, suppose Grinnell wanted to raise $1 million to supplement the annual budget. The college’s three revenue sources are the endowment, net student revenues and fundraising. The annual endowment payout rate is 4%: to raise an extra $1 million Grinnell would have to increase its endowment value by $25 million, or approximately 1.67%. Grinnell’s discount rate (financial aid provided to students divided by tuition and fees) is 61.4% since most students do not pay “sticker price,” meaning that to raise $1 million from net student revenues, Grinnell would have to increase its comprehensive fee by over $1,000. Alternatively, every one of Grinnell’s 19,507 alumni could donate $52 every year for a total of $1 million.

It will be several years before Grinnell can hope to close the $22.2 million fundraising gap with Carleton. But that is not cause for discouragement: major progress can be made with marginal improvements. In 2012, gift revenue increased by 27% to $6.6 million even though only 32.6% of solicitable alumni donated to Grinnell. If Grinnell maintained the last year’s average gift size of $1,033 but pushed its participation rate past 50% (where Carleton is), total gift revenue would exceed $10 million: an over 50% increase! And if half of all 19,507 Grinnell alums donated an average of $1,000 (which sounds high, but is still less than the average alumni donation for Carleton, Swarthmore and Amherst) then total gift revenue would approach $20 million.

Why do donations matter? Simply put, they provide the foundation for Grinnell to expand, adapt and improve. Facilities upgrades—including Burling, the ARH and Forum South Lounge—will be majority funded by gifts. Alumni gifts contribute to everything from financial aid to summer internship funding. Gifts can even be restricted to support specific initiatives of a donor’s choosing. Want Grinnell to become carbon neutral and build a wind farm? Want to preserve the Classics department? Want Grinnell to maintain need-blind admissions? These projects can all be achieved through donations. And while Grinnell will naturally seek to improve itself and allocate its budget efficiently, gifts allow the College to truly excel by taking its facilities, personnel, programs and students to the next level.

It is important to remember that philanthropy should never be taken for granted. Not everyone is in a position to contribute financially and there exist myriad ways to support Grinnell. But at the end of the day, we cannot deny that a giving gap exists between Grinnell and peer liberal arts colleges. Donations represent more than a windfall: they are required to maintain an elite liberal arts college, and a lack of resources will ultimately leave Grinnell unable to compete with colleges like Carleton, Swarthmore and Amherst. Are we really to believe that Grinnellians are less enthusiastic than Carleton alums? Grinnellians give their time and money to transformative causes and organizations all across the world while neglecting their alma mater.

These are unstable financial times for colleges, with traditional revenue sources under pressure. But that is all the more reason to give. Grinnell needs its alumni to support it now more than ever. Every donation counts, no matter how large or small. And everyone has a reason to give.

Give if you valued your time and education at Grinnell and wish to provide that opportunity to others. Give because the generosity of Grinnellians before you contributed to your college experience. Give if you believe Grinnell is a special institution that empowers students to change the world. Give if you are proud to be a Grinnellian. Give if you believe in the power of giving.

 Ishan Bhadkamkar ’13 is an intern with the Grinnell College Investment Office.


'No limits?: The Power of Giving' have 8 comments

  1. April 19, 2013 @ 11:06 am David

    Interesting column. Perhaps an interesting follow up could take place after contacting a number of alumni who do not donate to Grinnell and finding out why they choose not to do so.

  2. April 19, 2013 @ 3:17 pm Beth Halloran

    Ishan —
    Thank you for writing on the important topic of philanthropic support to the College. As Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, I can tell you the power of peer to peer conversation and the role it plays in helping individuals think through their position on the topic.

  3. April 21, 2013 @ 9:54 pm Raghav

    Its good to see more of us behind this cause, because unfortunately, too many students still feel as though Grinnell is being unfair to them in charging the tuition it charges, or take the financial aid they receive for granted.
    I too am strongly in support of student/alumni giving, so thanks Ishan.

  4. April 23, 2013 @ 8:57 pm Paul

    Give because you don’t believe in platitudes, like those promoted in this article.

    That said, you have a point — fundraising is not only important, it’s a necessity.

    Still, instead of simply imploring its graduates to donate for the sake of donating, why don’t you explore the far more interesting question: why Grinnell’s fundraising is paltry in comparison to ‘peer schools’.

  5. April 27, 2013 @ 1:18 pm Jim Hatfield, '63

    As a former editor of the S&B I suppose I should note that the most concrete evidence that things have changed considerably at Grinnell in the past 50 years is the fact that the paper is now electronic and bears little similarity to the inky rag we used to turn out late Thursday nights in the bowels of the Grinnell Herald. Unfortunately, a more relevant fact is that comprehensive fees now top $50K annually. I’d like to help but, as someone with four grandchildren who would one day like to go to college, and as a member of a middle class that has seen its incomes decline even as the wealthiest grow wealthier, I won’t be sending a check anytime soon.

  6. April 30, 2013 @ 7:24 am Tired

    I’m tired of this incessant whining about how badly alumni give. Really tired.

    My class has occasionally donated above 50%; although it has not been as high lately. I have donated consistently for the 30+ years since I finished grad school, but not so much lately.

    Perhaps it is schtick like this column trying to guilt giving or extortion-tactics related to the future of need-blind. I don’t know. It seems the college just expects I should blindly donate and then donate some more.

    Grinnell has lost its way. Too much money has made it lethargic and entitled. Pump up the educational side of things and maybe the interest would return.

  7. May 7, 2013 @ 3:48 am Concerned Citizen

    For me, not giving to Grinnell is a function of where my loyalties lie. In a lot of ways, I’ve loved my time here, but that has largely been in *spite* of the administration. I’m sorry, but at this point I just don’t think Grinnell is a very well-run institution. I don’t trust the administration to spend my money in a way that will truly benefit the students and faculty of the college. I don’t really like the direction in which Grinnell is headed.

    Before I donate, show me that my contribution won’t just go to fund consultancy firms to micromanage my education. Show me it won’t let Bob’s close. Show me it won’t allow dedicated and competent staff members to be unceremoniously fired. Show me that Grinnell’s commitment to diversity is not just lip service. Show me that need-blind admission is a higher priority than building the biggest swimming pool in the state of Iowa. Show me that the health center and mental health services can actually serve students (or even just show me that the only on-campus health center can maybe not close on Saturday and Sunday.) Show me that Grinnell cares about the wellbeing of its students beyond merely how they might be liabilities.Show me that Grinnell as an institution gives more of a fuck about students than it seems to right now.

  8. May 8, 2013 @ 4:46 pm Joanna

    Your free lunch is one more reason you won’t be on my donation list in 2013.

    Similarly to the view expressed by others, the school is simply choking on its own propaganda.

    If the college can afford to provide free sandwiches for lunch at the Convo (we used to gorge on cookies that went untouched at all the 4:15s in South Lounge), then I’ll never believe it is more important to give my money to Grinnell than just about anywhere else.

    For a place so self-proud about social justice, the actions on campus are a lens into a disturbing hypocrisy of privilege, classism, and arrogance — “do as we say, not as we do”.

    Since the students turn over every four years, it appears those in charge own the responsibility for change.

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