Senior Gift awaits late spike

With two weeks left before graduation, the Class of 2012 remains slightly behind last year’s record participation in Senior Gift donations. Gift organizers expressed optimism, however, that seniors’ contribution to the student-driven initiative will spike in the final weeks.

“The goal is to break the 2011 participation record and, since people tend to be very last minute about everything, we do expect to see a lot of people give in the next few weeks,” wrote Felicity Meu, director of student and young alumni development, in an email to The Daily.

The Class of 2011 set an all-time participation record with its Senior Gift, recording just over 82 percent of seniors donating to an initiative intended — largely through The Stanford Fund — to support financial aid and other undergraduate programs.

“This renewable, discretionary fund enables the president to respond to immediate needs, unexpected opportunities and fresh ideas,” Meu wrote. “[Senior Gift donations] are an essential complement to endowment gifts. Every undergraduate at Stanford is touched by the Fund in some way and the Senior Gift is a way to say ‘thank you’ and give back.”

As of May 29, more than half of the Class of 2012 had contributed to this year’s Senior Gift. A month before graduation last year, participation figures for the Class of 2011 approached 60 percent.

“We do not want 2011 to be an outlier — we want their gift to be the start of a trend,” Meu wrote.

Meu noted that Senior Gift committee members have organized a number of events to increase turnout and senior participation, including house and dorm visits and in-person outreach as the fundraising enters its final period.

“We know students love Stanford and we know many of them believe it is important to support the University,” Meu wrote. “The committee is working hard to bring down any possible barriers to giving.”

“There’s some social pressure around it,” said Kara Murray ’12, who recently donated.  “Everyone gives so you sort of have to give. Some people may not even find out what it’s used for until later.”

With matching donations, the Class of 2011 exceeded $200,000 in its fundraising total. The Class of 2012’s donations will be matched 2:1 by Peter Bing ’55, with the Parent Advisory Board contributing a further $5,000 for every 10 percent increase in participation among seniors.

Meu predicted that the vast majority of Senior Gift donations will be allocated to The Stanford Fund’s need-based financial aid program, which has in recent years grown from approximately half of the Fund’s expenditure to 81 percent in 2010-11 as a result of financial aid policy changes and an inhospitable economic climate.

“As a direct result of the economic recession, this is likely to continue for several years, with student need surpassing the payout from endowed scholarship funds,” Meu wrote.

The Senior Gift has seen a gradual rise in class participation over the past decade. However, peer institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth have consistently recorded even higher levels of turnout. Meu acknowledged that work remains to be done to ensure a consistently comparable turnout from Stanford seniors.

“Our students chose Stanford for the caliber of education but also for the Stanford ethos,” Meu wrote. “I only hope that, moving forward, that includes philanthropy and gratitude.”

About Marshall Watkins

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.