Late last year, Barnard began a new initiative to make its Reunion Giving program more robust, with the full support of President Debora Spar, who said, “establishing a strong Reunion Giving program is vital to raising the kind of philanthropy the College needs and deserves, which is why I am so excited about this endeavor.”
“Barnard offers a world-class education and we want to complement that with a world-class reunion giving program,” explains Bobbi Mark, vice president of development and alumnae affairs. Kelli Payne, director of reunion giving, who joined the development staff last summer, adds, “Many alumnae see reunions as milestones and a time to elevate their support to the College. At Barnard, we want to make sure that reunions foster even more of a ‘come back and give back’ tradition.”
The Reunion Giving program’s main goals are to increase participation, broaden leadership giving, and significantly expand the number of volunteers involved with reunion giving. Those volunteers can in turn reach out to their classmates in a personal way to support their alma mater. Says Payne, “We are asking alumnae with a demonstrated commitment to the College to recruit others so that Barnard can boast a volunteer corps proportional to the number of alumnae who truly value what the College has given them. The new Reunion Giving program will accelerate Barnard’s ability to develop a significantly larger number of fund-raising volunteers, similar to what has been in place for decades at peer institutions.”
The cornerstones of the new program are the Reunion Gift committees. Each committee will consist of a reunion gift chair or co-chairs and a specially selected group of volunteers, who will ask members of their class to consider leadership gifts above and beyond their typical giving in honor of their quinquennial reunion. Mark defines a leadership gift as “a stretch commitment that ranks Barnard as a top philanthropic priority for the alumna, in accordance with her capacity to provide financial support.”
The importance of the Reunion Gift committees cannot be overstated. “They provide the backbone for all reunion giving efforts and, along with the network of Barnard Fund chairs and class agents, the foundation of alumnae giving in general,” states Spar, who personally assisted in recruiting some of this year’s Reunion Gift chairs.
Serving as Reunion Gift co-chair held great appeal for Marley Blue Lewis ’05. “I strongly believe in the school and understand how important it is to give back and support the institution,” she says. As a younger alumna, Lewis is also keenly aware of her role in “encouraging a tradition of giving to Barnard,” since it has been repeatedly demonstrated that successful reunion gift programs and peer-to-peer solicitations positively impact overall future giving.
“It’s a great concept,” says Camille Kiely Kelleher ’70, Reunion Gift chair for her class. “It’s still early, but the people I have called and asked to be on our committee are very happy to become involved.”
Along with this enhanced solicitation of gifts comes a new emphasis on the type of gift being requested. Instead of being encouraged to make a one-time gift during a reunion year, alumnae will be asked to maximize their commitment by considering gifts structured as five-year pledges. These multi-year pledges will be included in each class’s cumulative- giving reunion total, so that the donor and the class receive recognition for all restricted and unrestricted commitments— including critically important gifts to The Barnard Fund— made in the five years leading up to each class Reunion. “A five-year pledge is a great help to set the foundation for a lifetime of consistent giving,” says Payne.
“Any effort that can build up the amount of money donated to Barnard is great,” says Kelleher, who cites Barnard’s low endowment relative to other peer institutions and her own attendance on a scholarship as key reasons for her ongoing commitment to support the College. “I owe a lot to Barnard, so I’m happy to do what I can to give back.”
Because the program is new, and she is new to Barnard, Payne views this year as a “soft start.” She says, “We are still working on identifying committee members from each class; we want to create a vibrant reunion giving program that people look forward to being part of and supporting.”
-by Karen Schwartz '93, photographs courtesy of the subjects