Students focus on the reasons for philanthropy to TU—not the dollar amounts
Towson University students are at the forefront of an initiative that just earned the university a prestigious international award.
The name of the award is wordy—the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education Silver Award for Fundraising, Emerging Programs category—but its meaning is simple: TU’s student philanthropy program is one of the best new fundraising programs in higher education.
The effort, Gold and Black Giving Back, was created by the Office of Development and is spearheaded by a student group called the TU Presidential Ambassadors. Selected through an application and interview process, the volunteer ambassadors educate other students on why TU needs their philanthropic support while they’re still in school.
“We revamped the PA program for students to understand what philanthropy means at Towson and to ask them to give back to the causes that directly impact their life as a student,” said TU Director of the Annual Campaign Brittany Shaff. “It also [helps them] understand why it’s important to thank donors for their philanthropy.”
Since students don’t typically have much money, the award-winning student philanthropy program is much more about education and participation than dollars contributed. Statistically, the earlier an individual becomes a philanthropist, the more likely they are to continue being a philanthropist. For TU, more students who understand need and give small donations now translates to more alumni who give in any amount later on. That, Shaff said, is essential to TU’s growth.
Students have responded well. In two years, student donor participation has jumped 2,000 percent. That makes Gold and Black Giving Back the fastest-growing student philanthropy program in the country. The success is partly because the TU program reaches out to all TU students. Most institutions, Shaff said, focus on graduating seniors.
“I want students to understand that they can give any place on campus—their major, athletics, study abroad, student initiatives and leadership opportunities, whatever is meaningful to them—when they’re a freshman,” Shaff explained. “Last year, TU had gifts of $20 or less totaling $176,000. Those are [the cost of] lattes and burritos and pizzas and movie tickets, making a major impact on campus.”
Tuition and state funding only cover about 60 percent of the cost of a student’s time at TU—a fact that tends to surprise a lot of people, including Presidential Ambassador Amanda Carroll ’17.
“I assumed that TU was fully funded by the state because it is a state school,” said Carroll. “In reality, it takes donors to help bridge the gap to ensure that programs, departments, and scholarships can continue on campus.”
Carroll is at TU on scholarships, but said she had never considered how those scholarships were funded before she became a PA. Now, she said, she understands the effect donors have, and how much TU needs them.
“Without donors, Towson as we know it would be much different, with far fewer opportunities,” she said. “Getting students to understand that donors have a direct impact on them turns on a proverbial lightbulb that helps them understand and begin to think about how they will pay it forward and invest in TU for future generations of students.”
CASE’s honor in the Emerging Programs category is for institutions whose programs were implemented in the last five years or were recently reinvigorated. The judging was based on whether the program could serve as a model for other institutions, demonstrated solid planning and results, showed creativity and innovation, understood the target audience, reflected strategic resource management, and supported the mission of the institution. Out of 19 entries, TU’s program was the only one in the United States, and one of only two in the world, to receive an award.
The PAs, including Carroll, were honored by CASE’s Association of Student Advancement Programs back in March for their work in driving the Gold and Black Giving Back effort.
“This award is recognition of our accomplishments so far, but also an indicator of continued success to come,” Carroll said. “I cannot wait to see how this program will continue to grow, and the successes that PAs [will] continue to achieve.”
Participation this past fiscal year stood at about a thousand students. Shaff says her goal is to increase participation by 50 percent this fiscal year.