Fueling the future of philanthropy

October 17, 2016 at 11:00 AM


I have been fundraising for Mount Holyoke for well over a decade, since the run-up to our 10th Reunion. Like many other students, I attended MHC with significant financial support, much of which was made possible by alumnae whom I never met. I am passionate about the process of ensuring that others will have the same or even better opportunities than I did those many years ago (The LYNK, anyone?).

At the same time, I wanted to work on a project that would help students materially and directly, and would keep us as alums connected even more closely with the College. Often, when a person doesn’t give to the College, it is because they no longer feel a close connection to MHC. If I could help change that, we might have an easier time getting our participation levels up.

green_althawr.jpgLeslie Green '94 with her "adopted" student, Nada Al-Thwar '19. Read more about their connection.

I thought back to the times when I studied and worked overseas, in Russia and the Netherlands. When we arrived in those countries, we were assigned a sponsor, who would answer our questions about the area and provide a welcome kit for us. This kit contained some of the basics we would need until we could be taken around to get our own groceries, get internet and mobile service established, and so on. I thought about the incoming first-year international students and wondered if we could reach out to some of them to offer the same service and support.

For a few years, I individually “sponsored” a student and enjoyed the experience. Then, wanting to “adopt” every student who came to Mount Holyoke, I realized that we could multiply this effort and bless the lives of many more students. With the informal help of the Dean of International Students, we reached out to all of the incoming international students this year and were able to pair up 45 students with 45 alumnae!  Students were invited to “opt in” to being paired with an alum. No mention was initially made of the gift basket that would be waiting for them when they arrived on campus after a long and tiring flight, making it a nice, welcome surprise!

evelyn.jpg"I'm so glad that I have had the opportunity to be part of this program. Evelyn's energy and enthusiasm are really contagious! She and her mother really appreciated how much easier it made her first few days. The experience has made me feel more connected to MHC and brought back great memories."  —Josephine '86
Pictured: Evelyn and her classmate enjoy Moutain Day 2016

The alums I have spoken with report feeling an increased connection to the College and a strong bond with their student. We have brainstormed as a group about how we can help students who are struggling with homesickness or stress, often enlisting each other or each others’ students to perform an act of kindness for them.

Another initiative I have worked on in the last year or so is the “Books for MHC” project. On campus last year, I was chatting with current students about the challenges of their first few weeks on campus. They mentioned the cost of books and I realized that this would be another opportunity to help. The popularity of GoFundMe and other fundraising vehicles show me that people want to help when the reason is clear and relatable.

Together with Kathy Rodi ’94, we approached alums on several Facebook groups, asking them to consider making a contribution to this cause. Our initial aim was to hand out $50 Odyssey gift cards. We ended up raising $775 from about a dozen alums and decided to give $75 gift cards to each of the ten nominees we learned about, leaving $25 as seed money for next year. Most of these gifts benefited juniors and seniors. The impact of this program isn’t as measurable yet, but we hope that students will remember how we supported them when they are asked to give back to The Mount Holyoke Fund.

We also make clear in both cases that expenditures towards these projects do not replace gifts to The Mount Holyoke Fund, don’t count for class participation numbers, and are not tax-deductible.

While these projects were never intended to be about fundraising, they have had some unexpected benefits.

Students learn more about what I do as a Head Class Agent by knowing me. When I’m working on raising gifts from 94 donors in one day for the FebruMary challenge, I post on Facebook, tag my friends on campus and let them know that the resources we raise support their current MHC experience. Once I’ve gotten to know a student well, I also explain that starting their senior year, they’ll be asked annually to give back. Mount Holyoke women “Look Forward and Give Back” and we can help them want to pay it forward by being in their corner now.

More info to get involved:
If you are interested in sponsoring an international student, contact Leslie at nativemainer@gmail.com. Read more about Leslie and her "adopted" student on the Alumnae Association website.

To donate to Books for MHC, send a donation by PayPal to booksformhc@gmail.com. Click on “Friends and Family” to prevent any fees from being deducted.

For more information on volunteering for Mount Holyoke, email us at mhcvolunteer@mtholyoke.edu.