In 2014, the College held its first “giving day,” Spring for Swat. When the final numbers were in, Swarthmore had raised $1.4 million from slightly more than 2,400 donors.
The question was—could it be pulled off a second time? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
The 1864 Challenge officially kicked off on Wednesday, April 26, at noon Swarthmore time. The stakes were high: If 1,864 donors made a gift in 1,864 minutes, an anonymous board member and spouse would give $1 million to financial aid and beyond-the-classroom learning opportunities. Both of these areas of support are key priorities of the $450 million Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign.
"Going to Swarthmore changed my life,” the anonymous board member said. “In the classroom, over meals in Sharples, and in late night dorm-room conversations, I was introduced to ideas and ways of thinking that stayed with me ever since. When I was a student, I benefited from scholarship assistance. Now I’m fortunate to be able to give something back. Affording need-blind access to an increasing number of diverse, talented, and promising students is one of the College’s most important priorities."
Need-blind admission and financial aid are directly tied to the campaign’s goal of building a more inclusive community on campus. In that spirit of inclusivity, the Challenge focused specifically on encouraging participation. No matter the amount, each gift counted equally toward the goal of 1,864 donors that would release the $1 million.
Student Philanthropy Council (SPC) Co-Chair Bobby Zipp ’18 emailed the student body during the Challenge to remind them that giving “is a powerful way to have your voice heard and... to show Swarthmore what students care about.” He reminded them that they could contribute to whatever area of the College they wished, such as “financial aid, a student group, an academic department, the President's Climate Commitment Fund, or The Swarthmore Fund.”
Momentum for the Challenge began when SPC Co-Chair Sarah Tupchong ’17 announced it at the March 31 campus celebration to launch the Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign. She encouraged her classmates to give, since their support would also count toward the Senior Class Gift, which is running its own challenge, also known as #breakvalsbank. President Smith and Board member David McElhinny ’75 are matching every senior gift 2:1. “We now have an opportunity to pay it forward,” Tupchong explained, “to come together as a community, and do our part for this place that has done so much for us.”
The momentum built with the first regional campaign launch event, in San Francisco, the evening before the Challenge began. There, Antony Kaguara ’15, a co-founder of the popular SwatTank innovation competition, spoke about the opportunities he had in college, thanks to the financial aid he received. “I am so grateful to those who supported my transformational experience at Swarthmore,” he told the guests.
Although the Challenge allotted 1,864 minutes—a little more than 31 hours—to reach 1,864 donors, it actually took less than 12 hours to achieve that goal. What then? A new challenge, of course: An anonymous matchbox couple gave $400,000 to support Swarthmore students if the donor count reached 2,500.
"There is nothing more important to us than financial aid at Swarthmore," the second challengers explained. "When Val told us about the tremendous momentum from the initial challenge, we wanted to be part of an effort to push the College over the top."
Others went beyond simply making a gift by issuing special matches for classmates, like Emily Anne Nolte Jacobstein ’07, who matched $10 per donor from her class, up to $500. She was also active on the Swarthmore College Alumni Virtual Connection Facebook group, along with fellow alum Deborah How ’89 and others who encouraged giving and eagerly watched the numbers climb. John Bowe ’83 posted that he was more excited about hitting the mark than he thought he’d be, and wondered, “Do I stay up, waiting for the returns from the west coast?”
Social media was not the only place buzzing with excitement, though. On campus, the Challenge began with a message to all students, faculty, and staff from President Smith. She wrote, “The Challenge is simple but the impact is extraordinary.” She herself was one of the first to give when the Challenge began, and others on campus quickly followed suit by donating online or at one of the tables set up to collect gifts in Parrish, Sharples, Kohlberg, and the Science Center. Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility and associate professor of political science, said he was motivated to give because of Swarthmore’s “collective enlightenment and collective action, deep intellectual inquiry, and meaningful social impact.”
At 2:25 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, with less than five hours left in the challenge, the second goal of 2,500 donors was met. Then, three anonymous alumni came forward to give still a third matching challenge of $500 for each new donor (up to $150,000) through 7:04 p.m. It was an inspiring way to end the day.
“It might seem like the school already has plenty of money,” the original million-dollar challengers said, “but unless more of us chip in, Swarthmore won’t have the resources to do everything that needs to get done.”
By the end of The 1864 Challenge, 3,223 donors had chipped in, raising a total of $2,165,707 so that Swarthmore can continue changing lives and changing the world.