Students Go MAD for Madison

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By James Irwin ('06)

Erika Magnuson (’14) is a media arts and design major. She’s a President’s list student, works as a freelance graphic designer and is interning this summer in the digital division at Gannett, a company best known for owning and operating America's second-largest newspaper, USA Today.

Erika is bright, talented and driven. Aside from a SMAD scholarship she earned this past spring, she and her family — like most at JMU — are paying full-ticket price for her education.

Erika is like a lot of JMU students.

And Erika is a JMU donor.

Alleviating a financial burden for others

Of the 19,927 students enrolled at Madison during the 2012-13 academic year, 261* are university donors. Erika Magnuson and 260 of her friends believe that number can, and should, increase.

They are student donors for a variety of reasons. At the top: a belief that student and alumni donors can enhance financial aid opportunities and position JMU for long-term success.

“There are many students like me who don’t qualify for financial aid but have a hard time affording college,” Magnuson says. “I want to be part of alleviating the financial burden placed on members of the JMU family.”

Philanthropy, according to Taylor Schwalbach (’09), assistant director in JMU’s Office of Annual Giving, is the bedrock of financial aid growth at universities across the country. What many students don’t realize, Magnuson says, is how much power they wield when it comes to changing JMU’s 7% alumni giving rate — a number that ranks below fellow state institutions Virginia (23%), William & Mary (22%) and Virginia Tech (11%). With more than 4,100 students graduating from JMU each year, student donors who become alumni donors can increase the alumni giving rate from the ground up.

“If there were ever a time for giving back, it’s now,” says Matt Wisniewski (’13), former president of Student Ambassadors. “I firmly believe [giving back] is vital to the future of our beloved alma mater. Without support, it won’t be the same school we’ve come to love so dearly.”

Going MAD for Madison

In 2013, the alumni relations and annual giving offices teamed up to launch a “Go MAD for Madison” campaign, aimed to empower students as donors, and also demonstrate the value of individual donations. Central to the campaign is the awareness of how funding works at Madison.

Academic support, research and student financial aid are funded by four areas (state, tuition, grants and private funding). Twelve years ago, state funding accounted for 46% of this budget at JMU; today that number is 29%. Grants are specific and often project-oriented, leaving tuition and private fundraising to shoulder the balance. Erika Magnuson’s donation means the university improves without raising tuition to fund every improvement.

“I think one thing we really wanted to do was inform students,” says Alan Maynard (’06), assistant director in the JMU alumni office. “In order for big things to happen at JMU — whether it’s scholarships or program growth — funding needs to come from somewhere.”

So, why students?

Magnuson admits she didn't understand the concept of student giving at first, especially when students already pay tuition.

“It seemed like a joke,” she says.

It wasn't. Private donations provide a fund source that can change a life. Madison Forever Scholarships, 100% funded by private gifts, provides assistance to students who face emergency financial need. It saved the academic lives of 103 students in 2011-12.

“It’s something all students can get behind,” Maynard said. “I think the reason that particular fund has been so successful is donors can see the impact of their gift.”

It was Madison Forever that caught Magnuson’s attention. And she realized that contributing would require her only to sacrifice a cup of coffee a month, thanks to a recurring payment plan through the university.

“If more JMU students started with giving, even $5, we may begin to really see the differences,” Magnuson said. “We can keep our friends in school. We can alleviate student debt. We can keep programs running and make them larger.”

Student donations, Schwalbach says, will increase as knowledge of the need increases. The “Go MAD” campaign increased student donors by more than 100% in 2013. In March, the JMU Alumni Association announced a $100,000 matching gift commitment to President Jonathan Alger’s Madison Forever Vision Fund. In early May, prior to graduation, more than 40 students, including Magnuson and Wisniewski, joined Alger at a special student donor reception. On commencement Saturday, College of Business speaker Don Rainey (’82) issued his own matching gift challenge to new graduates, up to $10,000.

Awareness, they all say, is a critical step toward action.

“Every single dollar counts,” Wisniewski says.

*Numbers as of 6/12/13

Published: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Last Updated: Friday, September 8, 2017

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