The disconnect in alumni donations; The incessent requests for donations after graduation without regard to the expenses of college itself needs to be re-examined
February 11, 2019
Another year’s annual Blue Demon Challenge is in the books and DePaul now has over $780,000 extra sitting in the bank.
The Blue Demon Challenge is DePaul’s annual giving day, in which the university pushes its alumni and other supporters to donate money that goes toward causes like scholarships and specific programs.
DePaul, like most other universities across the country, relies more on donations than ever before — these contributions make up more than $14 million of the university’s annual budget — but this puts an unfair burden on recent graduates.
A student at DePaul will begin receiving requests for donations as soon as they graduate, regardless of whether they have found a job or how high their student loan payments are. The frequency of these requests varies by individual, but almost always includes letters in the mail and sometimes even calls from current students hired to do so, according to DePaul’s website. The requests will stop for the rest of the fiscal year if the university receives a donation or a request to be taken off the potential donors list.
“It depends on many factors — their past giving history, their class year or college of graduation and what kind of contact information we have,” said Sarah Myksin, DePaul’s director of annual giving. “In general, we try and contact
every alumnus for whom we have contact information and who have not opted out of fundraising communications at least once per fiscal year. DePaul’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.”
One bright spot, other than having the choice to opt out of getting all these requests every single year, is having the opportunity to decide where exactly your donations will go. For the first year ever since the annual challenge began in 2014, the 2019 Blue Demon Challenge gave donors incentives to give to specific colleges or programs within the university. For example, the College of Education received an additional $25,000 from an outside donor, but only after receiving 60 other gifts while the Blue Demon Challenge was going on.
“From our perspective, these mini- challenges were a big motivator to donors to unlock funds for areas and initiatives that they cared about,” Myksin said.
Incentives like these and the ability to direct gifts to specific funds, the latter of which has always been possible, would make me more willing to give to DePaul after I graduate. Of course, that’s if by that time I’ve found a program that I connect with strongly enough to want to financially support.
Myksin said that sending donations make alumni feel more connected to DePaul after they’ve moved on.
“Through this act of generosity, these donors are interacting with DePaul’s
mission of providing access to education to all,” she said. “One of the things we emphasize to alumni is that gifts of any size collectively have a big impact on what DePaul is able to do.”
That relies on the assumption that graduates both felt connected to DePaul while they were students and that they have the financial means to give back, especially when they start getting calls and letters for money right after getting their degrees.
This definitely isn’t always the case and the stress of paying back large amounts of student loans seems to be a common theme among several graduates.
“I understand the importance of donations, and I think it’s great that people’s donations get put towards these scholarships and programs,” said Diane Abbasi, who graduated from DePaul in 2016 with a degree in urban planning. “If you are able to contribute then that’s great, but I don’t really know if they should
rely on funds from alumni, especially recent graduates. We are still working on establishing our careers and paying back our loans so it’s hard to commit to making these donations every year.”
Another student, Blanca Almanza, agrees. She told The DePaulia she hasn’t donated to DePaul, despite thinking it’s a good cause, because of the financial burden she faces from graduate school and student loans.
“Contacting alumni immediately after graduation when they are trying to strive and get into graduate programs, find a job, etc. is not the appropriate time to contact them for donations,” Almanza, who graduated in December 2017 with a degree in biological sciences, said. “A few years after graduation would be a better time.”
By the time I graduate from DePaul with a master’s degree in Spring 2020, I will owe tens of thousands to pay back the loans that have paid for me to attend DePaul and my undergraduate school. Although I currently send $5 per month to my undergrad school’s student newspaper, this isn’t because of a letter or call I received from that university. Also, I can only see myself continuing to do this if I receive a good enough job when I’m done with school that will not give me significant trouble with paying both my bills and my loan payments. And I would need to find something specific to give to before considering giving any more money to DePaul when I graduate.
Alumni donations do play an important role in helping keep DePaul funded without raising tuition even higher than what may already be planned, and I don’t suggest the university should entirely stop soliciting them. But this could still be done without hounding new graduates who are already stressed enough with
loan payments and other new financial responsibilities.