When DePaul trustee and alum Sasha Gerritson started college, she charged her tuition to her credit cards, often struggling to make ends meet. That’s how she knew students would need help like she did when the pandemic hit.
The university will launch an ambitious yearlong fundraising campaign dubbed “Now We Must” on Thursday, which aims to raise $60 million for student support within the next 12-18 months, The DePaulia was told in an exclusive interview.
Led by Gerritson, Vice President for Advancement Daniel Allen, and teams set to assist them, the campaign will rely on donations from individuals, organizations and foundations. Though it officially launches Thursday, Allen told The DePaulia that fundraising began as far back as late May, though they didn’t start counting figures until July 1.
“There was no rest, no moss growing under that stone,” he said. “We’ve already received a number of gifts.”
The funding that’s raised will go toward five “pillars” — scholarships and financial aid, internships, the Student Emergency Action Fund, technology and mental health. There are no subgoals within each pillar, Allen said.
“We want to give our donors the opportunity to designate [funds] to the areas that they are feeling most aligned with,” he said.
Scholarships and financial aid
The first pillar is scholarships and financial aid, which can be applied for through the Office of Financial Aid. The money is intended to supplement the “more than $250 million” that the university already provides, Allen said.
Within the scholarship and financial aid pillar, donors will be able to choose whether that money goes toward specific majors or colleges.
“My major was music, and what I wouldn’t do to be able to provide for musicians, because that is where my heart is,” Gerritson said. “I feel musicians are a group of persons who often very much need funding, having been one myself, and so I could designate my money to the School of Music to be used for scholarships.”
Allen added that if a particular major or college doesn’t receive much funding through this process, the Office of Advancement would ask individual donors with interest in those areas directly to donate, though he said it’s unlikely there won’t be enough general funding.
Both Gerritson and Allen recognized that the pandemic led several institutions to revoke their internship offers made to college students, including many at DePaul. The internship pillar is intended to give students an edge when companies say their budgets have been cut.
“Organizations, companies that [students] had lined up an internship with had to make difficult decisions, and budgets were reduced at those organizations for internships,” Allen said. “We’re raising money to help provide funds that students can take with them back to a company, back to an organization and say, ‘You don’t have to worry about paying me. I have a donor funded internship.’”
Students will be able to access those funds through Career Services.
Student Emergency Assistance Fund
The Student Emergency Assistance Fund (SEAF) has helped students for over 15 years, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Allen said 10 times the typical disbursement of funds was requested from students.
“It became real obvious in March and April how much students relied upon that fund to help get through the final quarter,” he said. “…We don’t see that those needs are going to become any less as we move forward through the pandemic.”
To request funds from the SEAF, students should contact the Dean of Students Office.
The technology pillar has a primary emphasis on hardware, software and WiFi for students. Allen said that those funds could be used for a number of things, including technology upgrades for faculty members in order to provide a class for students to grants for individual students to upgrade the WiFi at their home.
“None of the technology money is going to be used for university operational technology,” Allen added.
Students will contact Information Services to request funding from that pillar.
The final pillar is mental health, recognized by both Allen and Gerritson as unique and specifically important.
“I don’t know if DePaul has ever done [a fundraiser] in the past that had a specific designation and pillar for mental health and wellness,” Gerritson said. “This is such an important topic right now, and my concern for our students and their mental health and wellness is so great. It’s across the board — we’re all very concerned about the effect that the event pandemic is having on all persons and their emotional being.”
Those funds will provide the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) with flexibility to meet the demands of students as they work through the mental and emotional ramifications of living through a pandemic in college.
“We don’t want to say to [HPW], ‘Here are the dollars that donors have provided and they can only be used for this specific thing,’ because the mental health needs of students may shift from day to day, week to week, quarter to quarter,” Allen said.
Those funds could go toward the hiring of more counselors and new training for current counselors, he added.
All DePaul students will be eligible for funds under at least one of the five pillars, Allen said.
“The students who have demonstrated financial needs would be the ones who are going to be given priority to access that, but I can also think about the mental health and wellness pillar, and regardless of what type of financial need you have, mental health challenges know no boundaries as it relates to your family and your personal economic situation,” he said.
Raising the funds
Allen said in a “campaign of this ambition” the majority of donations will come from individuals through direct conversations, but the campaign also plans to use online methods of donation.
“We’ll be doing a lot on our own crowdfunding platform and, again, pushing out email and social media and directing people to our crowdfunding platform to go online to make a gift,” he said.
Both Allen and Gerritson said donors are approached carefully, especially given the current climate of the pandemic.
“We do have to tread lightly, but people hear the urgent need of the student,” Gerritson said. “And it’s a very compelling story, because I believe many other people believe that access to high quality education, higher education is one giant part of the solution in our world. We can give students a chance to have a college education. It could change everything.”
Allen said he has had several pledges from Trustee members thus far that exemplify their generosity.
“This is, you know, Trustees of the University saying we recognize students need this money now,” Allen said. “…That’s the kind of response that we’re seeing right now from, from our trustees and our, in our top donors.”
Gerritson said a committee comprised of 11 other Trustees was formed to assist in courting potential donors.
“We have a very, very strong and caring committee in place for this campaign,” she said.
“The most heartbreaking thing I could ever think of is if a student had to drop out of DePaul right now because they couldn’t afford [to] fill in the blank,” Gerritson said. “And so, when you go to somebody with that story. There are many people who will absolutely step up to the plate, even in a very scary time like this, and give.”
The motivation to raise the funds is personal not only to Gerritson, but Allen as well. He feels he has an “extraordinary responsibility” to provide resources to students.
“If we do that, it’s the next generation of Sasha’s, right,” Allen said. “Who are going to turn around and help the next generation, and the next generation, and the next generation.”