The Class of 2012 rises to the Senior Gift Drive challenge.

By Julie Dreese

When the Senior Gift Drive challenged the University’s fraternities and sororities to a fundraising competition last fall, they delivered. “The results were great. Forty-eight percent made gifts to Bucknell, with one fraternity actually reaching 100 percent participation of its senior members,” says Alyssa Haglund ’12, Greek co-chair of the gift drive.

Fraternity winner Delta Upsilon got creative by asking DU alumni to match the brothers’ donations, which were earmarked for the John Zeller ’41 Memorial Scholarship Fund. The sorority winner was Alpha Chi Omega. “They had an outstanding participation rate,” says Geoff Hallett ’10, Bucknell’s manager of Student Philanthropy and Recent Graduate Giving.

For nearly 30 years, the student-run Senior Gift Drive has educated seniors on the importance of financially supporting the University — both as students and alumni. It functions in short bursts during the academic year, focusing on different interest groups each semester. The small gifts collected from seniors, which average around $20, can be applied to the donor’s area of choice, including their academic department, athletic team or scholarship program — or any part of Bucknell that is especially meaningful to them.

“For many generations before us, and certainly throughout our time at Bucknell, alumni and parents have given back to make our experiences as great as they are,” Haglund says. “We want to help continue this circle of giving by instilling this tradition in the graduating seniors. It is now our turn to ensure that current and future Bucknellians receive the same, if not better, experience as we had.”

Connecting with seniors before they leave campus is essential to continuing a lifelong relationship with Bucknell, says Hallett, who co-chaired the Senior Gift Drive for the Class of 2010. Most consistent lifetime supporters of the University are alumni who made their first gift within a year of graduation, he says, adding that many of them made their first gift to Bucknell during their Senior Gift Drive.

“The students graduating today are the future of the University,” Hallett says. “We want to help them understand the importance of giving back and establish the habit now, to make Bucknell more financially secure and allow the University to continue helping students achieve success.”

This year, 40 seniors on the Senior Gift Drive Committee are rallying the participation of individual seniors and affinity groups on campus. They measure success by student participation, not by money raised. This year’s goal is 70 percent participation; as of February, 34 percent of the class had made a gift.

“This success speaks volumes about the senior class and the dedication to Bucknell. The seniors recognize the importance of giving, and are committed to making their own efforts to improve on the excellence of the University,” says Wes Pyron ’12, who co-chairs the Senior Gift Drive with Grace Beauseigneur ’12.

Cordy Elkins ’08 co-chaired the drive for her class and also worked as a student caller. “I think that people really don’t understand how much Bucknell costs and how much their tuition doesn’t pay for,” says Elkins, who is a recruiting assistant for Bain & Co. in Boston. “Sometimes I hear my classmates say, ‘I’m in grad school. I have all these loans. Can’t this wait five years?’ But you know what? Someone made it happen for you, and now you have the opportunity to make it happen for someone else.” She still gives back to the University, both financially and by serving as president of the Bucknell Club of Boston. “I give all of my gifts to the [unrestricted] Bucknell Fund because, as a student caller, I learned so much about where the need is the greatest,” she says.

The Senior Gift Drive sometimes faces the challenge of being confused with the Senior Class Tribute. The class tribute is a one-time gift presented to the University through Bucknell Student Government. Recent class gifts included the benches on the engineering quad in 2009, the ceiling banners for the new bookstore in 2010 and the tile Bison mosaic in the Elaine Langone Center Student Hearth Space in 2011. “Each class leaves its legacy with Bucknell, but the Senior Gift Drive aims to continue this legacy throughout the rest of our lives as alumni,” says Haglund.

The Student Philanthropy Group, another campus organization, focuses on raising awareness of the importance of lifetime Bucknell support rather than on raising money. “Our main objective is to educate students on the matter, but we also work with professors, as they are an integral part of a student’s Bucknell experience,” says Kathleen Lenox ’13, past president. “We simply want our peers to know where their money goes, if they do donate.”

John Hunter, associate professor of comparative humanities and SPG faculty adviser, supports the group’s mission. “Millions of dollars of the University’s annual budget come from alumni gifts. I try to spread the word about [the SPG] among the faculty and administration,” he says. “Faculty members want more money for need-based financial aid, and for interesting activities for their students. If the Student Philanthropy Group succeeds in their aims, then the whole University benefits, so I want my colleagues to recognize and support these students.”

This semester the SPG will host a Philanthropy Week, which will include a series of contests and activities that show students how alumni gifts help create the Bucknell experience. “Our hope is that if students know about the $11 million that is donated each year to the Annual Fund, and understand how those donations enhance Bucknell, then they will be more likely to donate when they graduate,” says Lenox.

Hunter notes that even the smallest gifts have lifetime benefits. “When students make Bucknell stronger financially, they benefit themselves as well as their successors. The stronger Bucknell’s profile is, the more recognition its degrees will have in the world.”

Members of the Class of 2012 can get more information or donate online at Follow the Senior Gift Drive on Twitter @BUSeniorGift12.