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Alumni giving efforts at Lake Forest College bucking national trend

While national philanthropic trends in alumni giving show that participation has declined at colleges and universities across the nation in recent years, alumni support at Lake Forest College is an exception to the trend.

Students on campus have called the city their home for more than 150 years. At commencement each year, hundreds of degree-seeking individuals will form a new bond with the college as alumni.

Kimberly Feigh, vice president of the annual fund and alumni development at Lake Forest College, said that despite the recession they’ve been seeing an upward trend in participation.

“Lake Forest College has been bucking the national trend and the national trend has been going down,” she said. “The last 5 years we’ve been increasing.”

According to the college’s data, they closed their books for the fiscal year that ended May 2015 with a historical high of 3,119 donors.

Officials were tracking for more growth as Lake Forest College closed the month of December.

According to Feigh, the goal is to reach 30% alumni participation by the fiscal year ending in May 2019.

Contributions first go toward areas of greatest need on campus matriculating to athletics, scholarships, career services, campus facilities, among others, Feigh said.

Feigh pointed out that there are many reasons that alumni feel compelled to give back as they do.

“I think a lot of what we would attribute our involvement to is enthusiasm,” she said.

Alumni often come back to campus providing current students with connections to jobs, serving as volunteers and more.

Lake Forest College has introduced a number of new initiatives to entice their alumni, as well.

In 2014, the Forester Career Network was launched allowing students to have access to more than 400 connections.

In another new developments, the Young Alumni Talent Network saw expansion when school officials piloted the outreach effort in 4 new markets, including San Francisco, Boston, New York and Washington D.C.

The effort to engage alumni is important as students look forward to commencement, but the process starts long before they receive their caps and gowns.

“We work really hard to engage students while they’re here,” Feigh said.

Homecoming is one of several ways the college aims to entice students to giveback and get involved.

“We revamped Homecoming and tripled our audience,” she said of last year’s celebration. “Alumni enthusiasm and engagement are high.”

Harvey D. Cain, a graduate from the class of ’52, embarked on a 3,000-mile cross country journey, in an effort to boost alumni support and enthusiasm leading up to Homecoming 2015.

In a video posted to the college’s Facebook account, Cain delivered a challenge to his fellow classmates and current students, asking them to make a donation for every mile traveled while biking from his hometown in Sacramento to Homecoming at Lake Forest College.

“I’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm it received,” he said. “Most of the praise goes to the alumni department. I’d like to think I was the catalyst.”

“With this ride, I wanted to renew interest among [alumni] and anyone else interested in Lake Forest College,” Cain said. “My goal was to increase interest in alumni giving. That is a number that can be improved with redirection. I think that what happens is students come out feeling burdened by all the usual things—tuition, rent, bills. Having the pleasure of giving back to the institution helps them.”

Each year at the annual celebration, current students set a participation goal for their class gift, in which they aim to work toward until totals are tallied.

“They communicate that peer to peer to determine what mark they would like to leave on campus,” Feigh said. “Students are asked individually about where the money goes.”

She added that what’s unique is that students can put their money toward things that have meaning to them.

Victoria Angel Hagan, a graduate from the class of ’88, spends time giving back to her alma mater as president of the alumni board at Lake Forest College.

“The fact that Lake Forest College is a small liberal arts college with a small close-knit community made me feel compelled to giveback,” she said. “The personal attention has been a big factor for me.”

She said one of main reasons she gives back to the college is reflecting back on how great her experience had been.

“I would really hope Lake Forest and the surrounding areas take advantage of the many programs,” Hagan said. “They offer course work in the humanities, foreign languages, and the arts. I would hope the Lake Forest community takes advantage of what’s around them.”

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