With just over three weeks left to go, boosting the percentage of alumni taking part in a new fundraising initiative seemed out of reach. But resignation didn’t have time to set in when something absolutely extraordinary happened.
By Dustin Racioppi
Thirty years ago, around the time M*A*S*H went off the air and Michael Jackson floored the world with the moonwalk, a hallowed countdown took hold at Drew. Photographs show a permed, mustached and thoroughly flannelled crowd of students grinning in what is believed to be the first documented celebration now known as 99 Nights (then it was called 100 Nights, and it isn’t clear when or why it was cut to double digits).
Most alumni know 99 Nights as the beginning of the end at Drew. Graduation day is on the horizon and, in a celebratory kickoff, students begin the countdown with a night of revelry and dancing. John Holden ’98 remembers the party as a Drew tradition held close to the hearts of alumni.
So when Drew needed a rally this year, it seemed appropriate to revisit ritual.
Like most colleges and universities, Drew had watched alumni giving decline with the economy. Nationally, the percentage of alumni making gifts decreased from 9.5 percent in 2011 to 9.2 percent in 2012, according to Bloomberg. The percentage reported by U.S. News & World Report in 2012 is a tad higher, at 13 percent.
Drew’s participation rate sagged to 21 percent in 2010, then it flat-lined. Peer schools like Trinity and Skidmore dropped, too, but among the group the participation rate still averaged 29 percent in 2012, says Holden, now the director of annual giving. Something had to be done. And 99 Nights was flipped.
The 99 Days challenge launched in March, a full-court press of a campaign to get alumni participation back on the upswing. Organizers set a goal of reaching 24 percent participation. Rather than count down 99 nights until graduation, they had 99 days until June 30, the end of the fiscal year, putting a new twist on an existing Drew tradition.
The 99 Days campaign sought to energize alumni. About a dozen years of class agents helped spread a “clear message” that Drew needed to get its participation rate up, Holden says. There was a strong appeal made to older alumni, slowed by economic pressures, to consider investing in Drew once again, but also to younger alumni to start giving what they could.
“It’s not just about the dollars,” Holden says. “It’s about our reputation, ranking and ability to compete for larger gifts.”
Organizers poured time and energy into an aggressive online campaign, Facebook and Twitter included. “We really need to move on all fronts at all times,” says Kenneth Alexo Jr., vice president of university advancement. A group of about 10 alumni sweetened the pot too: If 99 Days reached its 24 percent participation goal, the group would kick in $50,000.
Around Day 75, it didn’t look like the goal was in reach, Holden says. But resignation didn’t have time to set in when something “absolutely extraordinary” happened.
Daniel Drew, a cattle driver and wealthy trader, reliably pumped money into the seminary he founded in 1867. He was one of the richest men in America and was commonly referred to as “Uncle Daniel.”
“There seemed to be no need for haste in raising money as long as Daniel Drew lived,” wrote John T. Cunningham ’38 in University in the Forest, his history of the institution. Daniel Drew’s notoriety for immense wealth was countered by a financial flame-out at the end of his life. A financial statement from 1875 shows the seminary’s endowment having $10.29 on hand.
The seminary’s president, John Fletcher Hurst, who would later become the first chancellor of American University, felt it crucial to end the widespread belief that Drew “was a one-benefactor responsibility,” wrote Cunningham. With the imperative to raise funds thrust upon him, Hurst turned to trustees, bishops, ministers and laypeople.
“One dollar given now will do more good than 10 in a few years,” he wrote to them. In five years, he was able to announce that the seminary had not just reached its fundraising goal of $300,000, but exceeded it by $11,000.
Hurst’s efforts laid a framework for university fundraising and made it clear that Drew’s financial health should not rest on large infusions by one or two or a few interests.
More than 130 years later, the message isn’t so different.
“$5 for $50K. We are so close!” reads Drew University’s Twitter feed from June 28, referring to the small donations needed to trigger the pot of alumni incentive money.
Word soon got around that widespread alumni participation has a significant impact on the university’s national ranking and reputation among peer schools and also means better chances to pull in large institutional grants. It also boosts the value of a Drew degree. “Once people understood the critical role that participation plays in the health of a university, I think it was relatively easy. They found a way to give,” Holden says. “Then a lot of them became messianic, and really helped us spread the word.”
Volunteers took to the social outlets online and, says Holden, “The numbers pulled away after that.”
Much of what keeps Drew competitive—the New York City programs, scholarships and research fellowships, for example—is at least partially funded by gifts from alumni, says Jane Driscoll Himmelrich, director of donor relations and stewardship. “It’s great to see the joy alumni are having with this. There’s so much pent-up energy for a Drew renaissance,” she says. “Alumni participation that is widespread and sustained is key to getting there.”
The 99 Days challenge brought urgency to that idea. Email blasts and Facebook posts showed how close Drew was to the goal. There was a hashtag, #Drew99. Volunteers popped up to spread the word.
“When my friends started posting about the 99 Days challenge, I wanted to contribute as well—both with a donation and an ask to my Drew network,” says Jennifer Hudon ’07, a first-time donor who tweets @HudonNoodles. “It seemed like there was already a lot of energy around achieving Drew’s fundraising goal, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
With days to go, participation hit 24 percent.
Alumni participation accounts for 5 percent of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings formula. Beyond that, it is considered a measuring stick of alumni satisfaction.
In that case, Leo P. Grohowski ’80 sees a “very wide gap” between satisfied alumni and the rate of giving back. But Grohowski, who is the chief investment officer for wealth management at BNY Mellon in New York, says he understands—sort of.
“Everybody’s really busy,” he says. “It’s easy to get busy and forget about the years spent at Drew, but when you think about Drew and what it did for you, it’s not a tough sell.”
So he gives—to endowment scholarships, to physical projects, to his old baseball program. It is up to successful, older alumni to set an example, but also to remind alumni of the shared responsibility to give back, he says. “It can’t be one committee. It can’t be one group of individuals. It can’t be one board,” says Grohowski.
Holden says a 99 Day challenge is planned for next year to continue momentum. “A one-year blip in participation is not going to have a huge payback,” he says.
Holden is encouraged. Just before the fiscal year ended, he returned to the group of donors ready to pony up $50,000 to see what it might do if Drew nudged alumni participation a bit higher, from its original goal of 24 percent to 25 percent.
The group said it would kick in another $10,000.
By the end of Day 99, it had to make good on that promise.
Meet Some of the People Who Give to Drew
The McEvoy Family
Griffin McEvoy ’13 comes from a family with ink in its veins. His father, Nion McEvoy, is the chair and CEO of Chronicle Books. His grandmother, Nan T. McEvoy, was a newspaper reporter and chair of The San Francisco Chronicle, the newspaper co-founded in 1865 by Griffin’s great-great-grandfather, the legendary Michael H. deYoung.
The McEvoys, long a fixture in San Francisco society, have created an endowment to assist Drew students pursuing internships in the fields of media, publishing and communications. “We were happy to do something,” says Nion McEvoy, who, with his mother, throws an annual olive harvest party at the 550-acre McEvoy Ranch north of San Francisco, attended by the likes of author Amy Tan and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. “Drew was a great place for Griffin. He loved being there.”
McEvoy says he hopes the endowment, made through the Nan T. McEvoy Foundation Fund, will remove obstacles that limit internship options, such as the cost of train tickets to Manhattan. The McEvoys’ gift will help three students this first year and countless thereafter. The first three students this fall are at Tommy Hilfiger (marketing), the New Jersey Devils (graphic design) and the Museum of Chinese in America (communications). Drew’s proximity to New York City provides “a lot of exciting internship opportunities,” says Nion McEvoy. “We just wanted to help make those opportunities possible for the students.—Christopher Hann
The small things added up for Janelle Hoffman ’13 this spring when she stood in the Ehinger Center to accept the Dean’s Award for student activities from her mentor, Sara Waldron, the dean of student life. In her four years, Hoffman says she “lived” for her roles in student government, from voting on capital projects to improving service at the snack bar. It culminated, as the outgoing president, in this moment receiving the highest award for student achievement. She realized that she owed something. Hoffman is on a payment plan for a pool table and games at the new student center, part of the senior gift from her class. Now a public affairs associate for the education nonprofit JerseyCAN, she intends to contribute more, and for a long time. “I feel like we were given so many opportunities and so much room to grow, and at the same time the university needs to grow and change,” Hoffman says. “We have an opportunity now to take what Drew has given us and contribute to what’s going on there.”—Dustin Racioppi
Myungsung Church, Seoul
Hana Kim began thinking about a gift to Drew shortly after returning to South Korea, having earned a PhD in American religion and culture in 2012. “I received a lot of scholarship aid and felt I had a debt to repay,” says Kim, 40, administrative pastor at Myungsung Church in Seoul, one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the world. Founded in 1980, Myungsung Church has 100,000 members and 100 pastors, including the Rev. Eric Eunsung Park, who earned a PhD from the Theological School in 2011. Through their church Hana Kim and his father, Sam Whan Kim, the founder and senior pastor, decided to fund a scholarship and facilitate innovative research that would benefit students and faculty alike. Says Hana Kim, “We want to help out students from developing countries, as well as fund faculty research. It’s a sign of our appreciation to Drew and a sign of mutual partnership in the future.”—Mary Jo Patterson
About 10 years ago Michael Dee G’05,’15 started taking courses at the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies at Drew with one goal in mind: learning. He had been mulling over some of life’s big questions, including what it takes to make one’s existence matter. The 1972 Yale grad and co-owner of the family business that produces Smarties, the iconic rolled candy, took one course at a time and fell in love with the history of ideas.
Dee, who is currently writing his dissertation on Darwin before the publication of On the Origin of Species, says he gives to Drew because, “It’s one of the good things. It isn’t so much that Drew was good for me, but that it’s good for all students, and good for the community,” he says. “It’s a jewel. I find the professors to be really exceptional, and the deans extremely helpful, as well as demanding.”
“And,” says Dee, “we want demanding.”—Mary Jo Patterson
Fans of Paolo Cucchi
When Paolo Cucchi retired in 2008, his colleagues at Drew wanted to honor him in a way that would reflect the ideals he nurtured during his 24 years as dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Academic excellence, certainly,” says Kathleen Madden, a professor of mathematics and former assistant dean, “but also the collaboration of academic research and the growth of our international programs.”
The answer came in the form of the Paolo Cucchi Student Research Fund, which will aid Drew students engaged in academic research outside the classroom. Faculty, staff, alumni and trustees contributed to the fund, now fully endowed.
“I think it’s wonderful,” says Cucchi, who, for the first time in three decades, is spending fall away from the Forest. “When I was dean, I often would get requests from students who had wonderful research topics, but they required spending time off campus, and we had no funds for that purpose.”
The first Cucchi research students are now at work on the history of Mexican-American education and p53, the tumor suppressor protein.—Christopher Hann