Students Donate over $1,400 to Westminster on Giving Tuesday, Akande Pledges 2-1 Match
BY JIM MALVEN
Students more than doubled the $600 goal set by Student Ambassadors by donating over $1,400 to the Westminster Fund last Tuesday as part of Giving Tuesday, an internationally recognized day of philanthropy held each year on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Giving Tuesday’s website states that the day is intended to start the “charitable season,” following the high consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
In addition to coordinating and planning Westminster’s Giving Tuesday, members of Student Ambassadors collected donations in Backer Dining Hall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and in JCI from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students could donate with cash or debit card and could receive a free T-shirt if they contributed at least $5. They could also write thank you notes to professors.
The organization had participated in previous Giving Tuesdays by requesting alumni donations and allowing students to write thank you notes, but this is the first year that they encouraged students to make monetary donations. The student donation idea came from Westminster President Benjamin Akande, who said that he wanted to get students to think about “the culture of giving back” before they graduate.
“Charity and making contributions isn’t something that you just start to do when you have money,” Akande said. “You start doing it when you find causes that you can relate to, and we think, as we celebrate the tradition of giving in the United States this day, we wanted to get our students prepared early, to start thinking about that.”
Akande added that he also wanted Westminster to join other institutions of higher education in engaging students in Giving Tuesday, saying that that is a common practice among colleges and universities in the United States.
Westminster’s new approach to Giving Tuesday comes amid what Akande called “unprecedented” financial challenges in a letter sent to alumni last week. The letter says that the college must raise $7 million by June 30, 2017 in order to stay on track with a “turnaround plan” for achieving financial stability by 2019. The letter also listed goals of improving student retention and increasing enrollment to 1,100.
“(P)reserving Westminster requires the support of our entire community,” it says.
The student portion of that community gave mixed feedback about the concept of donating to Westminster on Tuesday.
Jon Antel, ’18, who gave $5, said that student donation is an effective method of increasing the likelihood that current students will contribute financially as alumni.
“It is an excellent way to get students started in donating to the college, something critical to the college’s success,” he said.
Some students said that they were pleased to make donations because they felt that they should repay an institution that has given a lot to them.
“I personally get so much from Westminster, so I don’t see the problem with giving back to Westminster,” Celeste Cummings, ’19, said.
“Westminster has enabled me to grow academically, personally and professionally all at the same time,” Jeremy Hill, ’17, said. “I firmly believe that if I did not attend Westminster, I would be a markedly different person than I am today. I know that if I start to develop a habit of contributing, even a small amount, I will continue to donate as an alumnus in the following years. Westminster College thrives on donated money, and I want to be able to help my alma mater later in life.”
Karley Long, ’18, and Eric Woytus, ’19, who donated $5 and $10, respectively, both said that $5 (the minimum amount to acquire a T-shirt), was not much to ask for.
On the other hand, Via Bailey, ’18, said that she can hardly afford to donate money to Westminster with all the money that she pays in tuition and other Westminster-related expenses.
“I have already paid what feels like an arm and a leg to go to school here,” Bailey said. “I will be in debt ‘giving’ money to Westminster for much of the foreseeable future.”
Additionally, there has been conflicting information about what exactly the funds will be used for. Student Ambassador Adviser Sarah Munns sent a series of emails to students in the weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday, stating that the donations will be put into the Westminster Fund, where they will “support your fellow Blue Jays and all the future students who went the columns on their Westminster experience.” Flyers around campus list the fund’s specific categories as faculty, athletics, career services and scholarships, as does the event’s Facebook page. In one of her emails, Munns also includes “innovative academic programs.”
Akande, though, told classes on Tuesday that the donations will be used specifically to benefit faculty. In a Nov. 15 YouTube video, Akande suggests that the donations will go to the Westminster Fund, which includes faculty, yet he clarified in an interview that donations will go to faculty only. He added that the funds will be used specifically for sponsoring professional development seminars, where professors can share teaching techniques and research findings with their colleagues.
When The Columns asked Munns about the inconsistency, she said the funds will go specifically to faculty.
“Those are very expensive propositions,” Akande said. “What we want to do is give our faculty a chance to be able to participate in something like that and also for them to engage in multi-disciplinary research that would probably involve travel, involve all sorts of additional costs, and the results of that research will benefit students in the classroom.”
On a survey question asking students how certain they are that they know exactly where student donations made on Giving Tuesday will go, with 5 being the most certain, 61 respondents averaged a score of 3.05. On a question asking about where funds will go, most answers reflected Munns,’ the flyers’ and the Facebook page’s explanations, but some reflected Akande’s. Many students did not leave their name.
“I was a bit unsure of exactly how this money would be allocated, but Dr. Akande seemed very passionate about how beneficial the money could be for our professors,” Woytus said.
Long commented, “Akande came and spoke in my class and said the goal was to give the money to 100 percent benefit faculty.”
Mikaela Rettke, ’19, said that the money will go towards “scholarships, athletics, academic programs and faculty.”
Despite some confusion about allocation of funds and some opposition to donating, students still gave more than double the Ambassadors’ goal. Munns said that the group did not know how much money students would be willing to donate, so she and the executive members conceived a formula to calculate a fundraising objective. She said that they divided Westminster’s student body (roughly 1,000 students) in half and added 100 to get 600 dollars.
Within the first 20 minutes of campaigning, the Ambassadors were a quarter of the way to their goal, having accepted $150. They received the remaining 75 percent by 1 p.m., with three hours remaining in the donation. By the end of the Giving Tuesday drive, they had $1,402.23.
Approximately one-fifth of the donations were provided by Westminster’s Delta Tau Delta chapter. Each of the chapter’s 54 members contributed $5, for a total of $270.
The chapter’s president, Blake Harris, ’18, said that he brought up the idea of 100 percent participation in a chapter meeting and that it “took off from there.”
“I am extremely proud of how quickly our guys committed to donate,” Harris said.
Akande said that he was “very impressed” by the organization’s donation.
“They have 100 percent contribution, and I want to shine a spotlight on that,” he said. “That’s true leadership.”
In addition to current students, Westminster alumni continued the tradition of giving back to their alma mater on Giving Tuesday. In fact, three Westminster Delta Tau Delta alumni matched the donation amounts of the chapter’s active members, Harris said.
Akande, too, vowed to match donations made by students on Tuesday.
However, despite saying that he would match donations dollar for dollar in the aforementioned video and saying the same thing to classes he visited on Tuesday, Akande has since decided to give double the amount of money raised by students. Akande said that he made the decision out of personal conviction and because he was impressed by the “level of giving” of the student body.
“I am excited about the opportunity to match the money raised to 2-1,” he said.
Reflecting on the event, junior Alec Bise, Student Ambassadors’ vice president of internal development, said that he “could not be more proud.”
“We had a lot of people, more than expected,” said Bise, who collected donations in JCI from 12:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. “We reached over our goal; everyone’s been super nice, super happy to donate.”
Antel commented, “Overall I am happy that the Student Ambassadors reached and exceeded their goal. Having the president match the donations was a fun way for students to get involved in donating for their first time. It was also good to see President Akande come to our classes Tuesday morning to give us a personal reminder.”
Akande said that Giving Tuesday was “all positive,” and Munns called it “super successful.”
Munns also said that the event would not have been possible without Burns and Bise as well as Student Ambassadors Sam McHaney and Kaitlin Fitzpatrick. She added that social media posts leading up to the event also made it successful.
Munns said that the Student Ambassadors do not yet have a monetary goal for next year’s Giving Tuesday and will discuss those plans in the future.
“I think what we’ve done thus far is exactly what we will continue to do; we will probably just enhance,” she said.
Akande said that he will discuss the event with students and “see where the ideas take us.”