Swatties Helping Swatties

2013 has 2010 in its sights.

At a whopping 84 percent, the Class of 2010 holds Swarthmore's all-time record for student participation in the Senior Class Gift.

But that record won't stand much longer if Jennifer Koch '13 and her classmates can help it. Their goal is to surpass the Class of 2010, and they're off to a strong start.

The Senior Class Gift is a Swarthmore tradition that dates back decades and has included such gestures of thanks to the College as trees, benches, and less tangible gifts. Since the 1980s, however, the gifts have been monetary and the goal has been to include as many seniors as possible in the effort. Regardless of the type of gift, its purpose has always been to build awareness of philanthropy.

Associate Director of Annual Giving Kara McDonald works closely with seniors to support their fundraising efforts. "More recently, senior classes have focused on financial aid because it has an impact on every student, aided or not," she says. "It's a good message to be able to say that Swatties are helping Swatties." Student gifts are included in the College's Annual Fund rather than its endowment, and dollars are spent as needed to support financial aid.

Senior Class Gift Chair Koch agrees that financial aid is "a very worthy cause" for student support. "It has influenced my Swarthmore experience in that I've been able to meet a diverse group of students from all over the country and the world," she says. 

A double major in music and political science from Keystone, Colo., Koch is the first to occupy the newly created position of class gift chair. "I enjoy fundraising," she explains. "I volunteered with several organizations in high school and at one point founded a free music camp for kids ages 4 to 11. It was supported entirely through donations and fundraising."

With the help of other senior class gift officers, Koch has introduced new and creative ideas to encourage class philanthropy. The first was to establish a suggested donation-$20.13-that is both easy to remember and within the reach of most students. Donations of all sizes are accepted, however, and have ranged from less than $10 to as high as $201.30. Some students have made pledges and are paying them off in bits during the year. 

Koch and class officers have also introduced several milestone events to keep the Senior Class Gift uppermost in the minds of their classmates. In November, they kicked off their fundraising campaign with a 200 Days Until Graduation party, and to commemorate having only 100 days to go, they sponsored an online auction, open to the entire College community. The auction netted $600 and included such coveted items as a dinner or weekend brunch for eight at the home of Elizabeth Braun, dean of students; a home-cooked Indian dinner for four by Andrew Hauze, associate professor in performance music; and, from the dean's office, two hours of quality time with Henry, Tom Elverson's adorable dog.

To date, McDonald reports that the class has raised about $2,000 and achieved a participation rate of roughly 15 percent (although she is still in the process of counting auction gifts, many of which were made by groups of students). So far, the Class of 2013 is tracking ahead of previous years. The large majority of gifts from seniors tend to come at the end of the year as their postgraduate plans fall into place.

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge Koch faces is reminding her classmates to follow through and make their gifts, but incentives are in place to help make that happen. The first 100 student donors will receive Garnet Pig piggy banks, and all donors and their parents will be invited to a reception with President Rebecca Chopp during Commencement Weekend.

The biggest benefit of all, however, is the lesson learned in giving back. "It's such a great way for students to give to the College that has given so much to them," says McDonald. "It's a great starting point as they make the transition from seniors to alumni. A whole host of our alumni give back to the College in so many ways, and Swarthmore would not be what it is without them."

Says Koch, "I enjoy the fact that I get to give back to Swarthmore and help continue to make it a great place."