April 19 will be the ninth Day of Giving for Wabash College. This year’s theme, Giant Shoulders, aligns well with the College emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrating that the greater Wabash community will continue to stand united and build back stronger.
The Day of Giving started in 2014 when the College raised $465,421 in one day. Last year, that amount almost tripled to $1,375,279. This progress didn’t happen in a vacuum, as the Advancement office continues to grow and improve the Day of Giving every year. This year’s theme, Giant Shoulders, enables people who give to also submit tributes to people who have helped them during their Wabash career. “So, the really great thing that we will be doing this year is telling stories, telling the Wabash story, or telling your Wabash story,” Hugh Vandivier ’91, Associate Director of Annual Giving, said.
Almost everyone at Wabash has an origin story of someone who helped them on their way. For Vandivier, it was the then Swimming Coach Gail Pebworth who told him that he would be able to swim at Wabash after he underperformed at sectionals. “And, then, when I came here for Honors Scholars Weekend, which we used to do in March, I met a guy by the name of Ken Ogorek ’87,” Vandivier said. “He was a very engaging kind of guy, and he sat me down and said, ‘Look, because I’m sure they haven’t told you, there’s a lot that you’re going to get from Wabash that’s on the mission stuff, but here’s how it really is […]. And, so, I’ve tried to emulate him as I’ve talked to prospective students, to students on campus and tried to engage or try to pay that forward.”
“I’m sitting at the desk of one of my mentors,” Michelle Janssen, Dean for College Advancement, said. “He was the Dean of Advancement here during Andy Ford’s presidency, and his name was Paul Pribbenow. Paul is now the President at Augsburg College in the Twin Cities and I’m actually sitting at his desk and I stand on his shoulders because he and President Ford made the commitment to really focus on philanthropy in a very amplified way.”
Present-day students also have faculty and upperclassmen mentors who have helped them on their way. For Reagan Perkins ’22, Associate Professor of Rhetoric Jeff Drury was a key person in his life as a student, helping him become a better writer and serving as his advisor. “I had him in EQ freshman year, and he started to edit my papers and help me out with that and how to write better,” Perkins said. “And I’ll never forget the second class I wrote with him. I took the feedback with him on a paper I wrote for him, because he pointed out some error and his comment was, ‘I thought we went over this in EQ.’ […] So, he’s done a good job of helping me grow throughout my four years.”
This is a huge part of why students should give, as they can pay forward the support they have received and become the giant shoulders for the classes under them. “I think it’s important for students to give mainly so that alums can give more money,” Perkins said. It’s not as important how much students give – it’s more that the student giving percentage is high because then, these alums sitting on large chunks of cash will see, ‘Okay. If even students are giving, now I will give.” In many ways, every gift counts, and the smallest amount anyone can give on this day is $4.19, which is less than a 20 oz milkshake from the Brew.
Also, part of Wabash’s strength in philanthropy comes from building these kinds of habits early. “If we can get an alum to give for three years in a row, [he will give] for life,” Janssen said. “Because once you start that pattern of giving and engagement with alma mater […] that’s just a part of your habits as an alumnus. And, so, trying to get somebody to give for the first time one their 50th reunion, that’s a tough sell. […] And, so, the Day of Giving starts your pattern as an alumnus.”
And those patterns continue to show, time and time again, through the results the Advancement office gets year after year. Wabash has the #1 alumni network in the United States and one of the top 10 alumni giving percentages in the country. Last fiscal year, Wabash managed to raise $1669.03/student on the Day of Giving and continued to raise record amounts even during the COVID-19 pandemic years.
All of this is happening at the same time that many colleges are shutting their doors. “We’re small and mighty in so many ways, and so we lead the country in alumni giving and that’s hugely important for the health and vitality of the school,” Janssen said. “When you see these colleges that are closing and struggling and you peel back the layer, you see that their alumni are typically not supportive.”
Wabash is also approaching the end of the Giant Steps campaign, which serves to prepare the College before entering the home stretch towards the bicentennial in 2032. The campaign will end with the next fiscal year on June 30, 2023. All gifts in this and next year’s Day of Giving and the fiscal year, in general, will count towards the campaign. “We’ve still got some things we want to accomplish […], and we’re still laser-focused on securing scholarship support,” Janssen said. “We’re focused in our office at continuing to talk with donors about support for financial aid […] so that we can ensure that people who want to access this life-changing Wabash education can do so without financial constraints.”
In many ways, the Day of Giving is one of those few key moments at Wabash, such as Monon Bell, Homecoming, the Celebration of Student Research, and Pan-Hel, where the entire Wabash community comes together to make this tiny liberal arts college stand out through its resolute strength. In fact, Wabash leverages that strength of the student body through the Sons of Wabash, like Perkins, who become ambassadors to the alumni.
This year, the Day of Giving will also have a luncheon that only current seniors have been able to experience previously. The luncheon will be 11.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Knowling Fieldhouse and will have a buffet lunch and many activities. “So, there will be giveaways – so students will get a Day of Giving t-shirt like we always do,” Natalie Hurt, Special Events Coordinator for Advancement, said. “And then we’ll have some other surprises on hand that they’ll receive. They’ll have the opportunity to make their gift via some iPad stations and laptop stations over there. And then they’ll have a couple of games. We’re going to have a Giant Shoulders competition […], there will be a pie-in-the-face competition where you’ll get the opportunity to vote on some of your folks here at the College who maybe you want to give them a little pie in the face. There will also be an inflatable human foosball that students will get to participate in […], and there will be some photo opportunities. […] We are encouraging all the fraternities, all the independents, all faculty and staff to come down.”