With Conn’s most ambitious campaign ever now in its public phase, we asked Kimberly Verstandig, Vice President for College Advancement and Interim Vice President for Communications, about campaigns in higher education—how they work, what certain campaign terminology means and what she tells those considering making a gift.
CC: What is a campaign?
Kimberly Verstandig: A campaign is a partnership between alumni, parents, friends and the institution to strengthen the college by investing in strategic goals. The Defy Boundaries campaign, for example, prioritizes teaching and learning, student life, career prep, athletics, and financial strength—needs that go beyond the capacities of the regular operating budget or other revenue sources.
CC: Why do we have campaigns?
KV: Campaigns are a means for the community to invest in ambitious goals that help a college more fully live up to its mission. For Conn, the core of the Defy Boundaries campaign is the student experience. By concentrating fundraising around it, the campaign creates direct pathways through which donors can most impactfully invest in that core mission. Campaigns also help unite campus communities around a common goal, which is certainly essential to this campaign at Conn.
CC: What is an endowment?
KV: In a sense, an endowment is a college’s enduring guarantee that it will meet its goals in education, research and service. The funds supporters give to it are invested to generate interest over time, not unlike a permanent savings account. That principal is meant to be protected in perpetuity, as a lasting resource for the college, and the interest those funds generate is used to invest in people and programs as time unfolds and new college goals and needs emerge.
CC: What is the annual fund?
KV: It is the money that supporters contribute during the year that provides immediate resources to advance the work of the college. We call our annual fund the Connecticut College Fund. Every year, gifts to it support everything from scholarships and financial aid to facilities maintenance, technology upgrades and research. The faculty and staff could not do their work in the classroom, the lab, the arts, athletics, residence halls or literally any aspect of campus life without these gifts.
CC: What does “participation” mean, and why does it matter?
KV: It refers to the percentage of alumni who contribute gifts of any amount to their alma mater in a given year. It is a key component of a successful campaign because it shows an alumni community’s shared commitment to current and future students. Because of that reality, it is also used as an important component in ranking colleges, such as by U.S. News & World Report. In Conn’s case, a strong annual participation figure delivers a vote of confidence in the exceptional liberal arts education that is at the core of our mission.
CC: If something at the College is not a campaign priority, does that mean the campaign won’t raise money for it?
KV: No. At the College, there are always opportunities for donors to support areas that they are passionate about, regardless of whether those are named campaign priorities. Defy Boundaries has fundraising emphases that are critically important, but they are by no means the limit of how donors can make Conn better.
CC: How is the money donated to a campaign used?
KV: Gifts are used in many ways that depend on the type of gift and what donors specify about its use. Annual fund gifts are typically used for priority and timely needs. Donors who make endowment gifts can do so in various ways, such as outright contributions, bequests or other planned gifts. Donors to endowments often specify that the applicable earned interest from those resources must support a priority of special importance to them—it could be financial aid, faculty initiatives, the arts, campus beauty or buildings, athletics, study abroad, and so on.
CC: Does my gift to the Connecticut College Fund or in honor of my Reunion count for the campaign?
KV: Yes. All gifts made to the College during the campaign go toward the Defy Boundaries total.
CC: Why is financial aid and scholarship funding such a major priority of this campaign?
KV: Because it is the only way we can continue to attract and admit the world’s finest students, regardless of their financial background or ability to pay. This is among the many reasons that Rob and Karen Hale’s Scholarship Challenge is so important—it doubles every financial aid gift above $250,000, turning their $10 million gift to financial aid into twice that amount.
CC: Do donors get something from the College in return for giving?
KV: Like any nonprofit, the College is prohibited by law from providing donors significant material gifts in return for donations. What I always try to share with anyone thinking about a gift is that it is one of the best ways to make our world better. Conn strives to educate students who are going to change the world—how they grow, the skills they develop, how they become leaders who help to build better communities and businesses and a better society. Everyone who supports Conn makes that possible.