This past week U.S. News and World Report named Carleton one of the top 10 “most loved schools” in the country. Of the 1,283 colleges surveyed, Carleton ranks second in the percentage of alumni who donate.
Alumni donations “are a hugely important source of revenue for the college that lets us be strong... and we absolutely depend on the passion of alumni to generate those dollars," remarked Steve Poskanzer, Carleton's first-year president.
This past year a total of 61.3% of alumni donated to the college, ranking Carleton first in the country among liberal arts schools. Only the Webb Institute, a New York small, private college for marine engineering, placed higher, with a donation rate of 70.9 percent. No other Minnesota college placed in the top ten. Carleton has historically placed highly in the rankings.
“Carleton alumni give at a very high percentage rate, which is wonderful, but they also give unrestricted dollars," Poskanzer continued. “At a lot of institutions people will give, but give to a narrow [category]. I'm only giving to the English Department. I'm only giving to the lacrosse team. I'm only giving to the X and Y Chair in Botany. Carl alums really do get this notion—they give the money to the college and they trust Carleton to spend the money where it’s most needed.”
Chris Clark ‘95, Executive Director of the Alumni Annual Fund, said that the rate at which alumni have donated to the fund has not changed much the past couple decades. Donations to the fund are entirely unrestricted, so Carleton has the discretion to use the money as it sees fit. “Alumni participation grew from the 1980's into the 1990's, and has basically stayed flat since that time.”
President Poskanzer was quick to highlight that the amount of donations is just as important as the rate of donation. “[Alumni donation rate] is an important benchmark both because it measures loyalty and because it's a benchmark a lot of other people pay attention to,” he said. “Equally important, though, is the benchmark of how many dollars we are raising from year to year. If you just have a high percentage and you're not successful in raising significant amounts of money... that would hurt Carleton.”
The size of donations and the overall amount has grown over time. “Carleton received nearly $7.5 million in annual gifts from alumni, parents, and friends last year,” Clark said. Annual gifts have increased over the last three or four years. “This support makes a marked difference for all parts of Carleton, from helping support financial aid, to making sure faculty members are fairly compensated.”
Clark noted that alums from the '80s, '90s, and '00s all donate at a rate of about 50 percent. Classes from the '50s and '60s, on the other hand, donate at higher rates. As expected, the older alums also contribute more substantial donations.
Perhaps surprisingly, Carleton's alumni donation percentage did not dip during the recent economic recession. Donation amounts, on the other hand, dropped significantly. However, Clark claimed that two recent fundraising initiatives worked to counteract the recession's effects. “In fiscal year 2009 (July '08 - June '09), Carleton trustees saw the potential for a deficit and came together to provide an additional million dollars over what they were already doing. In fiscal year 2010, we had an anonymous donor support a $400,000 challenge."
Poskanzer and Clark both hope alums will continue their generous habits. “There is no assumption that all alumni can give equal amounts of money,” Clark acknowledged. “However, everyone can make a gift, and together the group makes a powerful difference