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2013 Stories

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Oct 18, 2013

JMU alumni rise to the Challenge

By James Irwin ('06)

It's a form of grassroots philanthropy — sort of like political candidates who raise money through satellite headquarters — and it goes by a number of titles: crowd funding, peer-to-peer, the ground game. It is a major way to raise funds and awareness for a cause.

And it's arrived at a JMU alumni chapter near you.

The program is called the JMU Alumni Chapter Challenge. Its premise is simple: pool JMU alumni, volunteers and advocates in 20 regions worldwide into a single campaign that raises money for the university (any gift, of any amount, to any fund counts). An alum's donation is tracked based on place of residence and counts toward the chapter nearest that location (so, a JMU graduate living in Midlothian, Va. counts as a member of the Richmond Chapter).

From July 1, 2013 until May 31, 2014, JMU alumni worldwide will represent their local chapters by making gifts to the university, with prizes — and bragging rights — on the line.

"We've never really done something like this on a national level," said Amanda Leech ('09), Assistant Director in the JMU Office of Alumni Relations. "It's a natural fit that our alumni leaders would be promoting this to their alumni groups. They already are trusted providers of information to alumni in their communities."

Challenge accepted

Alumni within a 30-mile radius of the 20 participating chapters are included in the Chapter Challenge (that's more than 76,000 JMU alumni!). So, how do you participate? Simple:

1. Check out the JMU Alumni Chapter Challenge online

2. Make a gift to JMU (choose your fund)

3. Check out the monthly standings

4. Tweet about the JMU Alumni Chapter Challenge

The goal, Leech says, is to raise funds for JMU, awareness of philanthropic needs in higher education, and to increase JMU's alumni giving participation. In 2012-13, 8,509 JMU alumni made a donation to Madison — the highest total in the history of the university. A unique element of the Chapter Challenge is there are no target funds; the donor chooses the allocation. There are more than 2,000 destinations to select from, and the freedom to choose where the money goes is something that resonates with alumni, says Kristen Malzone ('07), President of the New York/New Jersey Chapter. Malzone has been using events as a platform to communicate about the Chapter Challenge, raffling off items to donors and playing up the idea of competition.

"Having an opportunity for a donor to select where the money goes has been something I've mentioned whenever I've talked about [the Chapter Challenge]," she said. "And, of course, New Yorkers are pretty competitive."

They are competitive in Richmond, too. Last year, the chapter had one of the highest alumni giving percentages in the country (10.9%).

"The bottom line here is to raise money for JMU, and get more people involved and create a better understanding of why it's important to give back," said Allison Smith ('08), giving chair for the Richmond Chapter. "There's a real buzz here around the competition this creates. And designating where the money goes really resonates with people. It makes their gift unique, knowing it goes back to something they really care about."

Ultimately, Smith said, the Chapter Challenge is designed to help private donations become a major fund source for the university, benefitting scholarships, programs and financial aid.

"JMU can't meet its financial needs on tuition alone," Smith said. "Alumni want to give back. There's an excitement here about how we can improve, because when you give back, it helps the university."