Continuing Senior Gift Traditions During COVID-19

Posted on 05/20/2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had a profound impact on college and university students throughout the world, it has had a particular effect on the Class of 2020. For most of them, farewells to friends have been rushed, graduation ceremonies and celebrations moved online, and final days on campus cut short. On top of that, the Class of 2020 will enter the job market amid great economic uncertainty and with levels of employment at a modern high. No doubt, commencement certainly feels different this year. 

Among the many disruptions for the Class of 2020 have been senior class giving campaigns, which are a common tradition at colleges and universities. As part of their transition to alumni, members of the graduating class are asked to make a donation to their school. While these gifts are often very modest in terms of amount, school advancement programs view them as an important part of the philanthropic education process. These campaigns help students understand the role of alumni financial support at the institution—something they hopefully will continue each year when they are alumni.

While most institutions cancelled their senior class solicitation efforts this year, some got creative and found ways to continue the tradition a little differently. One example is the University of Miami. Under normal circumstances, Miami students who donate to the senior class gift would receive a special commemorative tassel to wear at graduation to highlight the fact that they made a gift. Although the pandemic put a halt to student appeals, the advancement team has organized a special fundraising campaign in honor of the senior class.

The campaign is targeted at alumni as part of the university’s fiscal-year-end fundraising drive. Prospects are asked to make a gift to the Student Relief Fund, which has become a new and high priority for the university during this time. Along with their online gift, each donor is asked to submit a personal note of congratulations and encouragement, which is then sent to a student along with the tassel that the student would have received if they had made a donation of their own to the senior class campaign.  

The campaign, which has been branded “The Canes Tassel Challenge,” has a goal of generating 4,500 donors to honor the 4,500 members of the Class of 2020. It’s being promoted through social media, digital advertising, and student phonathon callers—many of whom are creating personal video appeals to donors. When the 4,500 donor goal is hit, it will unlock an additional bonus gift of $100,000 for the university. 

While the current climate may have disrupted the standard programs for educational institutions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to stop their operations altogether. Innovative advancement programs are finding ways to pivot and accomplish their goals a bit differently—especially when it comes to things that are most important. Taking care of students and teaching them about the importance of alumni support are certainly on that list.


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