Charitable donations at Cornell have increased in the past year, making Cornell the third highest fundraising institution in the nation behind Stanford and Harvard, according to the Council for Aid to Education.
“This is a tribute to our alums and their dedication to Cornell,” Charles Phlegar, Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, said.
While charitable contributions to colleges and universities declined 11.9 percent to $27.85 billion, contributions at Cornell rose 9.1 percent to $446.5 million, bringing Cornell up from the number eight spot. Cornell is one of only three institutions in the top 20 fundraisers to experience a positive change.
Phlegar said that most of this funding reflects a snapshot of the past, representing payments that are being made on pledges from past years. According to Phlegar, new pledges have been declining in the last 18 months.
“You have to understand that this reflects a bunch of different things that are happening,” he said.
Big donations, especially to capital, have been going down, Phlegar said. “Big gifts are made out of appreciated stocks, not income. If the stock market is down 40 percent, people are much less likely to give big donations.”
While large donations have been decreasing, the amount of money raised by the Cornell Annual Fund through calls to Alumni has been increasing. The annual fund raised a record-setting $24.4 million this year.
“I love to see this kind of statement of support and belief in Cornell,” Maya Gasuk, director of the Annual Fund, said.
The Cornell Annual Fund is for immediate use and does not support capital or the University's endowment. The funds go wherever the need is greatest, according to Gasuk.
This year, that means that most of the money is being used for financial aid.
The exact allocation of the funds isn’t published until June, but “It’s safe to say that financial aid is a huge priority for the annual fund,” Gasuk said.
Though three quarters of the donations to the Annual Fund are less than $250, there has been an outpouring in terms of the volume of support.
“I think people have been hearing what’s going on and want to support the University,” Gasuk said.
Kathy Houng ’10, one of the managers at the Annual Fund, supervises student callers as they get in touch with Alumni. She said that the structure of the call process has changed dramatically since she was a freshman making phone calls. The call center had half the number of computers and callers and they had no formalized script or call structure when she started in 2006. Now, the room is filled to capacity with 33 to 36 callers, and the calls are more perfectly orchestrated, she said.
“You have to tailor the conversation to whoever you’re talking to, and you have to make it about their experiences,” Houng said.
She tries to make alumni realize how valuable Cornell is to them, and in return she has received advice, networking advances and job opportunities.
“The alumni connection is something that’s so invaluable,” Houng said.
Cesar Ruflo ’09 also worked for the Annual Fund as a manager and caller.
“You’re a glorified telemarketer [when you work for the Annual Fund], but I loved it because of the people and because of the nature of the work,” Ruflo said.
One of Rulfo’s biggest contributions to the Annual Fund was the money that he raised as part of the Senior Class Campaign. Though the amount received from students was comparatively smaller than alumni donations, he said that the campaign gets seniors in the spirit of giving before they graduate.
Rulfo now works in New York City and is Vice President of the Class of 2009 Alumni Council. “I haven’t received a phone call from the annual fund yet, but I’m actually looking forward to it,” he said.
This spirit of giving at Cornell, particularly in light of the University's third place ranking, makes Charles Phlegar hopeful for what the future has in store.
“It’s a positive indication of what the future holds," he said. "The future of philanthropy at Cornell is very bright.”