Ben Pate ‘22

Staff Writer

Due to Davidson’s commitment to fully meet the needs of students, donations and fundraising are absolutely critical to the daily functions of the college; in Davidson’s 2019 Fiscal Year, real tuition paid by students and their families covers only 58.3% of the college’s total operating costs. The rest of the budget has to come from somewhere, and Davidson’s annual fundraising campaign plays a big part in closing that gap. 

Last fiscal year concluded a five-year fundraising campaign for Davidson titled “Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World.” In fiscal year 2019, Davidson raised $106 million, making it the most successful year in Davidson fundraising history. Included in that time frame were two particularly sizable gifts. The Duke Endowment pledged $24 million  and Richard Halton ‘77 donated $25 million, both towards scholarships. Halton expressed his belief in the college, saying in a statement, “The cure for cancer, the cure for AIDS, the next Facebook, these could very well come from Davidson. I want our gift to help students take advantage of all the resources offered by the College and help make the experience more affordable for them.” Over the course of the campaign, the college hoped to raise $425 million; ultimately, the drive raised $555 million. 

At the beginning of Game Changers, goals were divided into percentages of the total money raised. For example, 50% of the money raised would go towards various scholarships, 40% towards building new facilities such as the Wall Academic Center, and 5% towards internship opportunities and preparing students to lead. This broad goal setting is intentionally opposed to the traditional strategy of smaller target goals for certain pre-planned projects.

Eileen Keeley, Vice President for College Relations, said of the campaign, “we needed to give ourselves flexibility, because we know what we need now is not what we’re going to need by the time we’re done with this campaign.” Similarly, Brad Martin, Associate Vice President for Development, added, “[Game Changers] was more focused on the goals we’re trying to achieve, and then finding the opportunities within those goals over the duration of the campaign.” 

One example of the flexibility of the campaign is the new Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. When the campaign started, Martin noted, the college had not even purchased the building in which the Hub is currently housed. As the idea for the space developed, flexible planning allowed the college to turn an idea into reality. 

Of course, these types of impacts would not be possible without the donations from alumni and other donors. According to Martin, alumni giving accounts for over 50% of the total money raised from Game Changers. Over the course of Game Changers, 75% of alumni gave at least once, a statistic Martin describes as “off the charts” compared to other colleges and universities. Just last year, for instance, 55.8% of Davidson alumni gave to the college, which placed it among the top rates in the country. 

College faculty and staff  propel this continued success too, as Keeley stated: “The president plays an important role in both vision setting and actually soliciting gifts, but we have faculty and staff who, through the relationships they’re forming with alumni or parents or donors, are inspiring people to support [student’s and faculty’s] work.”

Martin recognizes the additional importance of emphasizing student experiences: “We really try to show the impact of giving […] Students coming out and talking about the opportunities that they’ve had and what they plan to do post-Davidson — I don’t think there’s been a greater motivation for most of our donors.” Keeley adds that donors are often “so impressed by students, and are also inspired to want to do something to help make sure that Davidson can continue to attract really talented kids from all socio-economic means and make sure that Davidson prepares them to have an impact in the world.”

Keeley describes this constant willingness to give as a “culture of philanthropy” which forms from “some combination of gratitude for what they experienced and the people who made Davidson what it was for them, and the belief that their gifts can make a difference for current students and future students.” 

Because of these types of success stories, which are the purpose of the Game Changers campaign, the College is able to offer additional programs that other schools may not have access to. Martin says that because of the tremendous amount of donations to the college, “we’re able to extend what we would be able to do” on a day-to-day basis. Keeley adds that donations “allow us to have the types of programs that make Davidson distinctive.”

Keeley and Martin both say that scholarships are generally  the most important area of giving because, according to Keeley, “everyone is touched by it. [Students’] friends, their teammates, their classmates, their professors who benefit from having them in the class” and the entire Davidson community benefits from having the college in the shape it is today, which would be impossible without the generous commitment to scholarships. 

The foundation for future donors is built on campus, according to Keeley.  She said, “We’re really lucky that we have an extraordinarily committed alumni group, that our parents are so supportive, and that faculty and staff are completely bought in. They want Davidson to do well and they are inspiring future donors in their classes, and we do not take that for granted, because not every school is like that.”