Long has the Bates Student lamented about the college’s endowment compared to our NESCAC peers. Like this: just this June, the Bowdoin Investments Office released a financial report valuing their endowment at a staggering $1.4 billion—Bates reported $264 million as of 2014.
Bates’s strong commitment to financial aid, in conjunction with the low endowment, leads to what is called a high fee dependency. Most of the money that Bates pulls in comes from students and parents, making the endowment closely tied to tuition, annual giving, and other fundraising campaigns.
The market returns on an endowment only average around eight percent, with three percent taken off for inflation adjustments. At Bates, five percent of the endowment flows directly into the operating budget. This curse of the low endowment and high cost of a liberal arts education could be discussed ad nauseam, which is why The Bates Student is looking at the other side.
An unprecedented trend has been set by President Spencer and the Office of Advancement. Since 2010, the endowment has increased almost 33 percent, with annual giving taking the lead in contributions. Last year recorded $21.6 million in gifts, an increase of 35 percent over 2013-14, making it the second straight year where gifts increased by over 30 percent.
There are many ways to give to Bates, helping potential donors assess the best option for them. The Bates Fund, the largest channel, raised $6.36 million from parents, alumni and friends in 2015. Other options include giving societies targeted at specific initiatives and even a young alumni program to help establish annual donation habits.
President Spencer and vice president of college advancement, Sarah Pearson ’75, anchor their strategy in establishing long-term, meaningful connections. “What are we doing as an institution that excites people,” President Spencer said. She hopes to build consistency in relationships and trust in the institution.
Pearson, a Bates graduate herself, has experienced both sides of Bates’s advancement campaigns. Pearson states that donor connections are “relational and not just transactional.”
“Think first about how to communicate, and then how to engage,” Pearson said. “One of the measures [of engagement], of course, is giving, but also who reads Clayton’s emails, who reads the magazine.”
Part of this increase in engagement stems from the increase in alumni and Bates-related events across the country. Regional events drew more than 1,000 attendees. Nearly 400 people attended an event at the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, making it one of most highly-attended off-campus Bates event ever.
Events such as Bates in the City do not even ask for donations, but are simply for establishing alumni networks and positive relationships with the college, and what Bates means to them in Boston, or Seattle. “We are not marketing nostalgia,” President Spencer said, “but what you love about Bates and how Bates is positioned in a leading world.”
These relationships allow alumni to keep a finger on the pulse of Bates. Pearson often uses these events to educate alumni on new school initiatives, or how Bates is committed to maintaining good values, while providing the best education possible. “Alumni want to know what Bates is about right now,” Pearson said. She also conducts a survey 48 hours after events to gauge approval ratings, with usually “85 percent and above say[ing] that they approve of the direction of the school.”
Bates alumni are even connecting remotely. The Bates website won two national awards for the redesign to make the site more user friendly. The college has also taken social media by storm to convey information in a different format. Instagram (@batescollege), Twitter (@BatesCollege) and even Snapchat have been added to the marketing strategy of the college.
But how are current students seeing these gifts? Students can see the numbers, read the articles and watch their Instagram feeds, but what are the tangible results? Most obvious is the construction of the two new dorms across Campus Ave. Chase Hall renovations like the OIE and the Den are all results on annual giving and fundraising campaigns, as well as practitioner taught Short Term courses and Late at Bates activities. These funds also helped the school provide 289 purposeful work internships this summer, giving more students the opportunity to pursue previously unpaid work.
Spencer and Pearson, along with their colleagues in advancement, are pushing the school out into the open and back into the lives of alumni and friends. The duo are committed to strengthening people’s connections to Bates and remind them what it feels like to engage with such a lively place. As Spencer phrased it: “People want to join a winning team,” and Bates is winning.