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By James Irwin ('06)
More than 500 alumni, volunteers, donors and JMU staff came together at Bull Run Park on Sept. 30, to attend MetroDukes Crabfest, with proceeds going to the JMU Alumni Association MetroDukes Chapter scholarship fund.
Crabfest, established in 1995 by JMU alumni Mike (’94) and Sam Jones (’91), is an annual event held in the Washington D.C. and Richmond areas featuring live music, all-you-can-eat crabs and family entertainment. On average, the two crabfest events — held in JMU’s two largest alumni areas — combine to raise $5,000 annually for local student scholarships.
“One of the biggest things we’re trying to do is bring a lot of alumni together and see the big picture,” said Stephanie Marino (’08), MetroDukes Chapter president. “Being involved with your university can be a very rewarding thing.”
Of emphasis at the 2012 event was JMU’s need for more alumni donors — active investors who make gifts in addition to attending proceeds events like Crabfest. Currently, only 7% of JMU alumni donate financially to JMU, which puts stress on the university to keep tuition at a reasonable level.
“It’s important for attendees to know that a portion of the proceeds goes to scholarships,” alumni donor Brandon Sweeney (’07) said of Crabfest. “And yes, coming to these events makes a difference, but we need to raise more than the $5,000 we raise at Crabfest events. We have to make sure that alums understand how important giving back is.”
JMU Alumni Association president Jamie Jones Miller (’99) believes Crabfest can serve as a springboard for alumni involvement.
“We have a lot of great students in Virginia, and all around the country, who are looking to get into JMU, and there is no greater service that our alumni can do than to open the door for that to happen,” she said. We’re looking for alumni to be involved in a multitude of ways, and [giving] is one of them.”
Miller, a political science major at JMU, said being an alumni donor and volunteer is a rewarding experience because she helps create a better Madison Experience for the next Jamie Miller. Alumni Association president-elect Larry Caudle (’82) said alumni involvement also is meaningful for the alum.
“Coming back to school, and getting involved in real meaningful ways, like mentoring, to me that’s something alumni get a lot out of,” he said. “A common reaction I get is: ‘I had no idea how much I’d enjoy coming back and helping students.’”
Shirley McKinley (’58) is one of those graduates who reconnected with the university as a donor. The Bluestone Society member also frequently attends Madison College reunion events.
“I know [giving] is difficult,” she said. “But I think it’s very rewarding, and as you develop the ability to give more you should do that. I’m very proud of my giving.
“I think anyone who is a JMU alum and visits the campus will see their money is being well spent.”
What the MetroDukes and the university continue to do is build public awareness that alumni donors are needed. The real impact of an event like Crabfest, Miller says, is that it brings so many alumni together at once.
“It just takes one new donor to help raise that percentage,” she said.
That’s a new way of looking at the problem for younger alumni, who, by virtue of JMU’s increased class sizes, make up more than half of JMU’s alumni population. More than 71,000 of JMU’s 109,000 alumni (65%) graduated between 1990 and 2012. Those 23 graduating classes have a combined alumni giving rate of 4.5%. In 2012, only one class year of those 23 — the Class of 1992 — had more than 200 total donors.
Many younger alumni are under the impression their gifts won’t matter because the check won’t be big. Lisa Mees (’12), only five months removed from graduation, believes the focus instead should be on their passion for Madison.
“I hope people realize JMU needs us,” Mees said. “If you make a small gift every year it does make a big difference.”
Donors shape Madison’s future in hundreds of ways. Mary King (’73), a special education teacher for 37 years in Fairfax County, donates to the Julie Simon Special Education Scholarship. Sweeney is a Duke Club member. Miller gives to the Madison Forever fund, established to help current students with financial hardships remain in school. McKinley contributes to student scholarships and the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.
All help make JMU better.
“Get connected and go to the website,” King said. “Together we can help future students.”
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