On Nov. 29, Vassar College’s Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development (OAAD) launched #OurVassar on the collegiate crowdfunding website Give Campus. The fundraiser was created in the spirit of Giving Tuesday, a hashtag activist movement whose mission of charity serves to counteract the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Igniting morale was an anonymous donor who pledged to give $100,000 under the condition that at least 1,000 people contribute at least $1 to the Vassar Fund, whose projects range from scholarships to campus preservation initiatives. 24 hours after the event had been announced, on Nov. 30, 1,370 people—including the aforementioned anonymous donor—had given $213,770.
In an email, OAAD Director of Development Communications Bridget Hollenback commented, “We chose the hashtag #OurVassar, because all of our constituencies, from alums to parents to students, are truly the people that make our college what it is. The success of the campaign, which harnessed the power of social media, is evidence that many people feel the same and wanted to show their support for the Vassar community.” Explaining why the majority of Vassar fundraisers deemphasize reciprocal forms of revenue generating such as raffles and galas, she continued, “We have found that Vassar’s constituents consistently and generously respond to a ‘pure charity’ approach because they, like we, believe that Vassar is a cause worth giving to, with no quid pro quo needed—unless you count the impact Vassar has had on each donor’s life.”
The success of the #OurVassar campaign comes during an uncertain time for donations. Citing statistics taken from the 2016 Voluntary Support for Education survey, The Poughkeepsie Journal recently listed Vassar as one of three Hudson Valley institutions of higher learning that experienced drops in donations. In 2015, donations to Vassar dipped 13.2 percent, generating $35.87 million as opposed to $40.6 million in the previous fiscal year (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Donations increase for DCC, SUNY New Paltz,” 1.20.2016).
Reactions to the fundraising campaign were as varied as the donation amounts. Associate Dean of the College Edward Pittman said, “I was excited to see the campaign and the positive energy it created about Vassar. I learned about it on Twitter, so it caught my attention. As an alum and an administrator, I was glad to participate. The enthusiasm was contagious and I think [the power of social media was the] contributing factor to the campaign’s success.”
While certainly helpful, donations cover only nine percent of operating costs (Vassar and the Economy website, “Budget Overview”). Expressing skepticism over the more volatile long-term success of the Vassar Fund, an economics major who requested anonymity said, “It’s hard to understand how impactful these donations are without understanding the context of past donations.” They went on to allude to Vassar’s insidious financial concerns and unsustainable tuition-discounting, which were brought to the forefront of campus discourse following the publication of Professor of English Don Foster’s May 12, 2016 article in Boilerplate Magazine (“When the Vassar Bubble Pops, Then What?”).
Recent tuition hikes, which have made Vassar one of the nation’s most expensive colleges, have not helped alleviate cynicism about fundraising either, as many students graduate with high loans.
Speaking on the issue of overburdening students with both high costs and demands for donations, Hollenback said, “We well understand that most students as well as younger alums are not in a position to make a large contribution at this point in their lives, and that loan debt may be a factor […] That being said, donating a dollar to Vassar costs less than a cup of coffee at the Retreat, And, make no mistake, that single dollar is important to Vassar. The largest single gift to our college in the last campaign came from the combined power of donations to The Vassar Fund, most of which were in the form of small gifts that, together, added up to something very big.”