02 May 2009

Class of 1989, Part 2

An Open Letter to My Hampshire College Classmates (Revisited)

Dear Class of 1989:

On April 25th, the New York Times ran an article titled "Anonymous Donor Gives Millions to Colleges." Unusually for a news article, the headline was both attention-getting and accurate, and if you read nothing else you came away knowing something inspiring and slightly mysterious had happened.

My first thought was: wow, I wish I could do that. I wish I had the means to give multiple large gifts - of $5 - $10 million dollars! - to organizations I think worthy, and the secondary means to enforce what must be a kind of gleeful anonymity on the part of the donor.

But I don't. And most of us don't have that kind of money, either. (If you do, and you've been hiding, now would be a great time to step forward.)

Yet it is precisely because I cannot make a multi-million dollar gift that I am writing you to ask you to join me in supporting Hampshire College, which was notably (!) absent from the list of worthy schools that received one of these anonymous donations. As alumni, our support for Hampshire matters. The biggest reason is the immediate impact of our dollars on everything from the development of new course curricula to supporting financial aid needs for current students. The equally important secondary reason is that our dollars make a statement to the outside world of foundations and other donors about how much we value Hampshire, the experience it gave us, and the importance of their support, too.

At the end of last year, after hearing that only 14% of the Class of 1989 contributes to Hampshire (a lower percentage than the more recent graduating classes), I did two things. I increased my own annual giving by 20%, to $1,200, and I wrote a letter for Hampshire to share with my class to encourage more gifts. I am gratified that some of you took me up on the challenge and made a contribution, too. Still, the need remains and, alas, the response rate was not enough to make the Class of 1989 competitive with our peers. So, I am asking again. I am asking you to think about Hampshire, what it meant to you in the big picture of your life, and the opportunity - actually, I would say the responsibility - we have to ensure its continued success.

Here is what I consider to be the reality: Hampshire College cannot wait for an anonymous donor to come along and drop several million dollars into its endowment. It's up to us, the folks who went there, to show the world that we care. I am committing here, in writing, to giving an additional 20% this year. What are you willing to do? As the logo says, "To know is not enough."

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06 April 2009

We should use less

Are you interested in "a for-profit company that sells sustainable products and gives 10% of profits to water and sanitation projects. "

Check out useless, a new company with "useless" designed and branded products, from water bottles to really cool-looking bags made from recycled billboards.

The products look great, the premise is solid. - and best of all is that useless is looking to partner with colleges to "help campuses and students cut down on waste and raise money for clean water and sanitation projects."

Their first partner? My alma mater, Hampshire College.

Not so useless after all.

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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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