17 December 2008

To the Class of 1989

An Open Letter to My Hampshire College Classmates

Dear Class of 1989:

Give to Hampshire. Please. Give now.

I recently met with a development officer from Hampshire, and was stunned to find that a mere 14% of my classmates contribute anything at all to our alma mater. Total giving for our class for Fiscal Year 2008: $6,607. The class of 2004 has 14% giving participation—and they just graduated! We're getting clocked by the kids who are barely out of college!

Your support for Hampshire College matters. Included below is a longer statement from me about why giving to Hampshire matters to all of us. I hope you’ll read it.

At the same time, you should also know that I am giving to Hampshire. (I cannot ask you to give if I'm not doing it myself.) My 2008 contribution to Hampshire will be $1,200, because I believe it is an important sacrifice to make. I realize that not everyone can give at that level—but most of us should be able to give something.


Here's why your gift to Hampshire College matters.

Support from alumni helps cover the basics, everything from shoveling snow, to buying books for the library, to paying for professors, to the costs of bringing in visiting scholars and lecturers.

Alumni giving helps sustain Hampshire’s financial aid program—critical funds that more than 50% of Hampshire students receive.

Our gifts affect something you may never have thought about: giving from others. Foundations, bond rating agencies, and even wealthy donors all look to see whether the people who graduated from Hampshire care enough to give before they make their own decisions.

And there's still one more reason to give: Hampshire College has a small endowment—tiny when contrasted with Harvard University (roughly $28 billion) or even Amherst College (roughly $1 billion). Those schools lost more in this down market than Hampshire had in the first place!

The upside to this situation is that Hampshire is relatively insulated from recent market losses: it was never able to rely on its endowment much in the first place. The downside is the little money Hampshire did expect from its endowment has been eroded.

So, what about me? I am in the midst of childrearing (not cheap), slowly working to pay off a mortgage, and attempting to save for retirement. I am trying to help my firm weather the present economic storm (so far successfully). And I am acutely aware of how an unstable and unpredictable environment may affect my finances next year. Nonetheless, as I noted in my cover letter, I am contributing $1,200 to Hampshire for 2008, because I consider it important to do so.

Whatever our issues were, the College has a new president, a lot of new blood, and some exciting plans for the future. Our memories of Hampshire may be mixed, but face it: anything else would be unrealistic after four years in a complicated environment, one that (hopefully) challenged our minds, our assumptions, and our beliefs. But think of it this way: here's your chance to help Hampshire College give someone else the opportunity to experience those same things.

Class of 1989, we can do better than a 14% giving rate. If I did not think so, I wouldn't be as public about my own commitment. And as alumni, it is our responsibility to try to help Hampshire. Not because we feel some sense of obligation (though we might), but because as graduates of Hampshire College, a school that helped educate us to be responsible citizens in a complicated world, we should be trying to help Hampshire in turn.


For anyone interested in stories about college and university endowment challenges right now, here are two news items of interest:
The Economist: "Ivory-towering infernos"
National Public Radio: "Economic Downturn Hits Liberal Arts Schools"

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