Young alumni throw fundraising soiree to up University ranking

By Kat Glass

When two U of C alumni saw their alma mater’s ranking in the most recent U.S. News and World Report slip to 15, they knew it was time for serious measures. Paul Grana and Pat Richards, who both graduated in 2003, called some friends, bought some alcohol, and threw a fundraising cocktail party last Saturday in their Ukrainian Village apartment.

Richards and Grana wanted to convince at least 100 friends to bring in $10 each, raking in $1,000 for the University and setting their sights on getting the U of C ranked among the top 10 universities nationwide. They titled their party “10 for 10,” employing the known correlation between alumni giving and universities’ rankings in U.S. News.

“We saw the rankings falling and thought, ‘the caliber is not falling at all,’” Grana said.

As of Thursday morning, the organizers had counted $2,802 from 102 donations, with a few stragglers promising more money, according to Grana. One eager alumnus donated $1,250, and there were multiple $50 and $100 donations from the 20-somethings as well.

The plentiful bar—stocked with Sky Vodka, Bacardi 151, amaretto, and the requisite Jello shots—encouraged partygoers to dig into their pockets.

“Once you get into the spirit of giving, it keeps going,” said Ashley Hanson, A.B. ’03, who was manning the donation table. “The alcohol doesn’t hurt either.”

The guests traveled from Santa Barbara, New York City, and Charlotte, North Carolina to attend the party. According to Grana, some friends are planning another 10 for 10 party in New York City. Grana hoped this party would inspire others.

Diane Reynolds, the director of the Office of Annual Giving, said that alumni giving “has a pretty strong impact on the overall ranking.”

Though alumni giving has increased over the past two years, the U of C still lags behind peer institutions. Older alumni classes from the University are smaller than at other universities, according to Reynolds. Since these groups are generally the heavy hitters when it comes to alumni donations, the University is at a disadvantage.

During the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years, 29 percent of University alumni donated. Sixty-one percent of Princeton University alumni and 39 percent of Washington University in St. Louis alumni donated to their universities during this same period.

“We’re really trying to raise the participation in giving to match our peer universities,” said Assistant Director of Young Alumni Giving Adam Niermann, who was at the 10 for 10 party.

Reynolds said that the Office of Annual Giving has focused attention on the senior class gift, five-year reunions, and a recently started first-year-out-of-College reunion in efforts to improve alumni giving.

Young alumni—or, graduates from the last 10 years—make up 25 percent of the total University alumni. Research shows that people who start donating early will continue giving money, according to Reynolds.

And the alumni themselves understand this science:

“As the U of C is dropping in the rankings, it’s very important to create a culture of giving with young alumni,” said Alonso Bustamante, who graduated from the College in 2005. He hopes that if its alumni increase their donations, the University will be ranked “where it belongs—at the top.”

Mike Fazekas, who graduated from the College in 2005, said that he hopes alumni will keep the donations coming to help the University.

“[The U of C] needs to carry the weight it deserves,” Fazekas said. “As alumni, we need to do a better job.”

The eager alumni are willing to go to whatever lengths possible: “If we need to do something like this five times a year to get [the University] up there, we’ll do it,” Richards said.

The festive atmosphere of the party encouraged some to donate money more than traditional means would have.

“It’s a lot better than the telephone calls,” said Taylor Kirkin, who graduated from the College in 2003. He added that the party “foster[ed] a sense of community.”

Kurt Kimmerling, an ‘02 college graduate, said that the 10 for 10 party was much more fun than his experience with the senior gift campaign, which he said “was like pulling teeth…it didn’t have any positive energy to it.”