Alumni donate despite economic hardships

The university remains on track to finish its $1.2 billion capital campaign by 2011, despite the recession, in large part due to widespread alumni donations toward scholarships and financial aid.

The Beyond Boundaries capital campaign, which began unofficially in 2002 and publicly kicked off four years later, has raised $945 million, or 79 percent of its goal, as of Jan. 31, according to Director of Advancement Communications and Donor Relations Christine Sanni (LA ’89).

The campaign’s progress as of late has surpassed expectations in the university advancement office. “It’s tracking above the trend line for the campaign,” Sanni said.

Still, the economic downturn has left Tufts fundraisers unsure about the future of the campaign.

“A lot of it depends on what happens in the market,” Sanni said. “We are targeting meeting our campaign goal in time … but we have noticed some decline in donations this year.”

The fact that financial aid is a key priority for the campaign has played a role in alumni’s continued support.

John Krol (A ’58), a former Tufts trustee who has been giving to the university since the ’70s, said that the state of the economy has heightened donors’ sense of urgency.

“We have to hold diversity very high on our list of priorities,” Krol said. “If you’re going to have diversity in a school, you have to have financial aid.”

Krol most recently gave a gift in excess of $200,000 to be distributed in installments over the next three to four years. The installments will be considered term scholarships, meaning they will be used immediately for financial aid.

James Blockwood (LA ’04) said that his decision to double his gift to Tufts’ annual fund was also affected by the economy. Blockwood has designated that a portion of his gift be used for financial aid.

Sanni said that in the past, annual fund donors have generally not specified where they want their donations directed. Increasingly, though, they are earmarking them for financial aid.

“I feel like them wanting to participate in the education of current students is a huge motivator for alumni and non-alumni,” she said.

Christopher White (A ’63), for example, recently decided to make Tufts, in his will, the beneficiary of a portion of his assets. The bequest, which he hopes will significantly exceed $2 million, is to be solely directed toward scholarships for minority students.

While the ailing economy has prompted donors to prioritize financial aid, many noted that they would have also contributed to the campaign if the financial outlook were more encouraging.

Blockwood said that he would have increased his donation under any economic conditions. “As I continue to prosper financially, so should the institution that helped me to do that,” he said.

Krol said that while he would have made the same donation had the economy not been in its current state, he would not have designated it all toward financial aid.

“I’ve been donating money all along for Tufts,” Krol said. “With all the problems with the economy, this is the year that all the money should go to financial aid.”

Nancy Glass (J ’77), who recently pledged $100,000 for an endowed scholarship, said that the economy did not impact her decision to donate.

Glass, who owns her own entertainment company, said that her relatively new role on the School of Arts and Sciences’ Board of Overseers inspired her gift.

“When you’re on the Board of Overseers and you understand better how the school operates and what kind of kids go there,” she said. “You really want to do whatever you can to keep the school maintaining its best.”

Donors also referenced University President Lawrence Bacow as a major motivator for their gifts. Bacow’s messages to the Tufts community about the university’s economic situation — recipients of which include alumni and friends of the school — have inspired confidence in Tufts’ commitment to meeting the needs of current students, Sanni said.

White said that he made his bequest before meeting Bacow, but noted that the president’s visit to his Washington, D.C., office “reinforced” his decision.

“I’d throw myself in front of a car for him,” White said. “He is just an exceptional person.”