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Hillsdale College raises money sim­i­larly to every other uni­versity in the nation, but with one sig­nif­icant dif­ference: While most other uni­ver­sities rely on alumni donors, the majority of Hillsdale College’s donors have never set foot on campus.
Exec­utive Director of Insti­tu­tional Advancement Nancy Johnson said this is because the donors are ide­o­log­i­cally aligned with Hillsdale. They want to stand for what the college sup­ports.
“We only have about 13,000 alumni that we have addresses for — there just aren’t that many,” Johnson said. “But beginning in ‘70s with the first issues of Imprimis, Hillsdale started building a database of people who were inter­ested in these important ideas, and it gave us a base of support.”
These donors have made Hillsdale’s latest capital cam­paign — “The Rebirth of Liberty and Learning” — pos­sible. The six-year cam­paign aims to raise $498 million before June 30, 2018 for fund both capital projects and endow­ments.
Hillsdale’s donors con­tribute in a variety of ways: large gifts, small gifts, annual dona­tions, or a bequest. Johnson acknowl­edges that the cam­paign could not reach its financial goal without dona­tions of all types.
“Usually when you plan for a cam­paign you know that you’ll have a handful of donors who give a great deal,” she said. “They give major gifts. But there are thou­sands of donors who are going to give gifts less than $1,000. You need them all, you can’t do it all with just one or the other.”
Donors can always give input regarding where their money goes, and Johnson said the college is com­mitted to hon­oring those wishes. Some­times, aligning the donor’s desires and the college’s goals can be a bal­ancing act, Johnson said.
“It’s very common that donors have spe­cific ideas about where they want to give their money,” Johnson said. “But I would say that nine times out of ten it matches up with some­thing that we’re doing. The donors see the whole gamut of things Hillsdale is doing and they can always land on some­thing with which they agree.”
Some gifts from this cam­paign have already resulted in advance­ments on campus. The Margot V. Biermann Center, the Searle Center, and the Chapel project are capital projects in the current cam­paign. Addi­tionally, the cam­paign raises money for endowed schol­ar­ships and endowed faculty seats. One hundred and fifty million dollars will go towards endowed schol­ar­ships.
This cam­paign, which started in 2012, began with a “silent phase” and then hosted a kick-off gala in the fall of 2013. Johnson said that most cam­paigns begin with this “silent phase” which allows the admin­is­tration to plan out and analyze the campaign’s goals.
“Usually by the time you launch it, you have a handful of lead­ership gifts in hand,” Johnson said. “You go to the people you know who are ready to make a gift, and they help to get the ball rolling. Then you use the momentum to get the word out that Hillsdale is in a capital cam­paign.”
Director of the President’s Club and Parents Rela­tions Mary Ewers said that there are mul­tiple reasons why people donate to Hillsdale. As a parent to three Hillsdale alumi and a President’s Club member, Ewers explained her “pay it forward” men­tality.
The cost of a Hillsdale edu­cation is more than $66,000, but according to Ewers, even a full- paying student pays less than $35,000. Less than 9 percent of Hillsdale stu­dents are full payers.
“That’s why I joined the President’s Club,” Ewers said. “With my President’s Club giving I will never cover what was paid by all of these gen­erous people who came before me and my kids.”
The President’s Club is the college’s giving society in which members pledge to give spec­ified annual dona­tions for a span of ten years. Within the club, there are levels ranging from tra­di­tional to diamond mem­bership.
Ewer said the President’s Club sees 60 to 70 parents join per year, and cur­rently has more than 5,500 total members.
Imprimis, which reaches more than 5 million people, attracts plenty of donors, Ewer said.
“Those people like us because we don’t take any federal money,” Ewers said. “It’s absolutely integral to every­thing that we do that we don’t take federal and state money.”
Johnson agreed that donors see Hillsdale as a solid icon for con­ser­v­ative ideals, and choose to donate to the college when the political atmos­phere seems over­whelming.
“In a cam­paign year it’s chal­lenging that people’s phil­an­thropic dollars are spread thin,” she said. “But people see Hillsdale as solid and steady. They trust Hillsdale.”
Johnson said that the college tries to be good stewards to its gen­erous donors in two ways: In respon­sibly spending the money, and in reporting back to the donor on how the money was spent. But even before taking those steps, Johnson said expressing grat­itude always comes first.
The college hosts events that bring the donors to campus. Then the college makes an effort to introduce the donors to stu­dents.
“All we ever hear is how impressed people are with the quality of the stu­dents at Hillsdale, and it gives them hope for the future,” Johnson said.
Ewers said that although President’s Club members receive ben­efits like exclusive dinners and front row seating at com­mencement, the ultimate priv­ilege is part­nering with the college.
“They get the honor and the priv­ilege to be able to help fund what we would con­sider the country’s future leaders, great statesmen and women,” Ewers said. “People want to give to some­thing that has a lasting and upright legacy. I think Hillsdale College is that.”
Student Activ­ities Board and the Financial Aid Office partner up each fall to host the Day of Thanks event where stu­dents can write thank-you letters to their per­sonal schol­arship donors. Director of Student Activ­ities Anthony Manno said the event serves mul­tiple pur­poses.
“It’s a way to educate stu­dents on the College’s financial history and donor gen­erosity while also pro­viding a tan­gible way for campus to express their grat­itude,” Manno said. “The Day of Thanks will remain an important part of our culture because it serves as a reminder to everyone that we all have a many people for whom to be thankful.”
Ewers said she often tells parents to encourage their children to be grateful.
“Can you imagine if a student walked up to a potential donor, who was just on campus seeing if what we’re doing, and shook their hand and thanked them?” Ewers said. “If they weren’t a donor, they would be soon.”