Dissecting Donations To The Senior Class Gift

The Senior Gift Committee has recently ramped up its fundraising efforts for the outgoing Class of 2015. As it stands, the Senior Class Gift exists more as a requested donation than a thoughtful contribution of the graduating class. Members of this year’s graduating class are given the option to donate to one of five categories: Student Financial Aid, an unrestricted Boston College fund, the Flynn Fund for Athletics, Spirituality and Student Activities, or Academic Excellence. Students also can specify where their donation will go with an “other” option, but it is then unclear how these donations—often as small as one dollar—can effectively go toward whatever the students want.

Rather than setting a monetary goal, the Senior Class Gift Committee encourages participation at all levels. With any size donation, students in the Class of 2014 were allowed to go to an open bar event on Brighton campus during senior week. The BC Board of Trustees has also taken to encouraging students to donate, setting a benchmark for the senior class’ participation. Drake Behrakis, a member of the board, founded a Legacy Grant initiative last year, offering $25,000 in project grants to BC undergraduates on the condition that a certain percentage of the senior class donates. For the Class of 2014, Behrakis asked 70 percent of seniors to donate, and for this year’s class, that number will be 73 percent, or 1,665 students.

Suggesting a dollar minimum from graduating seniors seems harmless enough, and indeed, the return on investment here could potentially be quite high. Last semester, the senior class left BC with a $32,000 gift, a respectable contribution to the University by any standard.

What is questionable, however, is the strong emphasis placed on what seems to be a superficial sense of giving. When the options for the senior class are as vague as “Spirituality and Student Activities” or “Academic Excellence,” there’s no tangible item the senior class is putting its money toward.

“The point of it is to get you in the habit of giving to the school,” said Megan Dunn, co-chair of this year’s Senior Class Gift Committee and A&S ’15. Considering the substantial role BC alumni have played in the University’s growth over the last few decades, increasing its donor base is a worthy initiative, but does little good in itself. Giving back to BC ought to be a matter of what that money actually means to the University.

Asking graduating seniors—many of whom are saddled with student debt—to “do their part” seems like a bold statement for a university with an endowment of over $2 billion to make, particularly when there’s no way for students to know specifically where their money is going. That’s not to say the senior gift should be so concrete as a bench or lamppost, but attaching a cause to the senior gift might actually serve to grow the tradition.

The annual Pops on the Heights concert is a perfect example of how BC alumni can work together to address the demonstrated needs of BC students. In that case, giving has led to the creation of 210 scholarships in the event’s name, helping students with financial need attend BC.

Making one’s first monetary donation to the University should be more than a matter of giving one dollar to get to an open bar, and becoming a part of BC’s donor base should not be driven by a sense of habit or guilt. The intention behind it makes all the difference—and the school has thrived in recent years because of thoughtful contributions made by alumni who have thought in a critical way about what could actually make the school better. The senior class, as a whole, should decide just what its first contribution to the University will be, and at the very least, be given a more absolute sense of to what that gift amounts.

Featured Image courtesy of University Advancement

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