BU Giving looks to students for donations

Butler University officials said they hope to increase the school’s alumni gift ranking by inducing current students and recent graduates to donate.

Butler’s 2011-12 alumni giving rate is 22 percent, according to US News and World Report, ranking the school 18th out of about 600 comprehensive regional universities.

It takes almost 300 new undergraduate alumni donors in order to raise the rate 1 percent, Lee Vriesman, senior director of annual giving, said

If current students donated, it would start a good pattern for future gifts, Wendy Harlow, executive director of development, said.

“The best time to educate them is when they’re here,” Harlow said. “There is a great opportunity here and we don’t think it is an insurmountable goal.”

A small number of current Butler students donate. Last year, 28 percent of seniors donated to Butler through the senior class gift, while less than 1 percent of other undergraduate students donated.

Recent alumni have low rankings, too. Only 22 percent of 2011 graduates and 9 percent of 2010 graduates donate.

These figures are typical nationwide. The Washington Post reported in July 2010 that eight in 10 young alumni under 35 feel they’ve already given enough to their universities in tuition payments.

Junior Kyle Frantz said he would not donate while he is a student because of how much money he pays to attend Butler.

“But after I graduate,” Frantz said, “I’d be more than happy to help students have a better experience and make it more affordable for them.”

Vriesman said there is a misunderstanding that tuition covers all of a student’s expenses.

Where tuition lacks, Harlow said, donations pick up the slack, like emergency funds for students who face difficult financial situations mid-year, as well as some study abroad and music programs.

Harlow and Vriesman currently are brainstorming campaigns to promote the concept of donating as a student or recent alumnus, such as letting students know that the amount isn’t important to them.

“It’s not about how much they give,” Harlow said. “They can give $5.”

One way to think of it, Harlow said, is that if students are receiving scholarships, deciding to donate means they are essentially paying it forward.

“Every one of those scholarship dollars came from donors,” she said.

But shelling out scholarships doesn’t necessarily translate to future alumni gifts.

Aid recipients are less generous when deciding to donate, according to a Feb. 21 New York Times article about a new study by professors at Texas A&M and Princeton.

It might prompt students to donate if they knew that they could choose where to direct their gift, Harlow said.

Junior Katherine Sheridan, an Ovid Butler Society member, directs hers to the English department. Sheridan said she started donating to Butler as a student because she has previously been interested in philanthropy.

“Ovid Butler Society is a worthwhile endeavor for those who seek to fulfill Butler University’s motto of education, research and service,” Sheridan said.

Even if students or young alumni decide not to donate to the university, Harlow said it does not soften their voice.

“What gives people input is getting involved,” Harlow said. “Money doesn’t buy influence at Butler.”

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