Theta Chi fraternity spearheads initiative to ramp up alumni donation rate
Rutgers' Theta Chi fraternity, determined to bolster the University's lackluster alumni donation rate, is at the forefront of driving rates upward.
Of all the donation rates among the Big Ten institutions, Rutgers is in the bottom tier, with single-digit numbers, according to Rutgers Magazine. And just a couple hours west, Penn State has an alumni donation rate of 30 percent, according to the University's Alumni Association website.
With Rutgers' 8 percent alumni donation rate in mind, Theta Chi is hosting the second annual fundraising campaign, which raised more than $11,000 as of Sept. 17.
Fraternity President Orrin Main, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said current brothers reached out to Theta Chi alumni.
Glenn Long, alumni president and a class of 1972 graduate, said Theta Chi’s percentage of donating alumni was 14 percent two years ago, but with the initiation of this campaign, the number increased to 20 percent as of last year.
“Fraternities tend to (have a higher donation rate), because you have a more personal connection to your Rutgers experience,” Long said.
To persuade alumni to donate, current Theta Chi members created an incentive to donate — in the form of football tickets.
Class of 1971 graduate Ronald Wilson has season tickets to all Rutgers home football games and donated his tickets to the Washington State game, held on Sept. 12, and the homecoming game against Kansas State, on Sept. 26.
Wilson said he is in the Audi Rutgers Club, a luxury membership organization for Rutgers football fans, so these tickets are highly valued — customers are able to sit inside and purchase food and beverages during the game.
Younger alumni were eligible for winning the Washington State tickets, while “more mature” alumni were eligible for the homecoming seats, Long said.
Theta Chi received a considerably higher number of donations compared to the previous year with Wilson's incentive.
“If you want to measure success, last year in the first two months, we had 58 members (donate),” Wilson said. “This year it’s 116, 118 (members donate). So it’s a huge increase.”
The raffle concluded on Aug. 31, but the fraternity will continue raising money throughout the year and hope for 25 percent of all alumni to give donations. Main said the primary methods of raising money were through emailing, crowdsourcing and making alumni calls.
Despite the increase in donations, Theta Chi is dissatisfied with the indifference alumni have for giving back to their alma mater.
“You see all the big name schools, they all have so much endowment,” Main said. “I think that’s something that Rutgers as a whole can improve on.”
One big-name school, the University of Michigan, flaunts a sizable endowment. In 2013, the state university raked in an endowment of $8.4 billion, a number that far outpaced Rutgers' 2013 endowment of $783 million.
Rutgers' modest endowment, coupled with rising tuition costs for college education, places a strain on the average household putting a child through college.
Wilson said tuition when he was an undergraduate student at Rutgers was around $400, but the price of higher education skyrocketed over the last decade.
“In those days, the state paid about two-thirds of the cost of education, and now it’s less than one-third,” Wilson said.
This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Rutgers.
In Frank Bruni’s "Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania," he quotes a college advisor saying that a growing number of students are choosing to attend different universities because they are unable to attend their first choice because of money.
Wilson recalled his own financial experience with Rutgers. Although he received a state scholarship to the University, he came from a poor background and he was the first in his family to attend college.
“The state can’t be the key source (of financial aid) anymore,” he said. “It’s got to come from a lot of other outlets, and the alumni is one of them.”
All the money raised went to the Rutgers crowdfunding director, and from there the money was delegated to the different departments.
“It wasn’t so much where the money went within the various needs for fundraising,” Long said. “It was more to use this as a pilot program that could be replicated with other groups.”
Wilson calls this domino effect of donations “constructive peer pressure,” in that if one organization raises a certain amount of money, other organizations will follow in a friendly, yet competitive spirit.
“We want to create some momentum here,” Wilson said. “If you went to all the other fraternities and said ‘Wait a minute, Theta Chi is up to 25 percent, and you guys are at 15 percent,’ that might be encouragement to say ‘Hey, we could do better than those guys.’”
Long agrees that the fraternity should further empower young men to maintain strong character.
"The most important role we have is mentoring the young men in the chapter, giving them guidance not only career-wise but also life-wise,” he said. “You know, making them responsible for their actions when they screw up, being very supportive of the other boys when great things happen.”
One of those great things that the fraternity learned is giving back to the community.
“You look at the big inequities in terms of salaries out there, college education has been the big event in most people’s lives,” Wilson said. “If we keep making it so expensive, people in the lower echelons, which I came from, don’t have a shot. And this country works really well, because everybody has a shot."