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St. Olaf refocuses annual giving fund

By Kari VanDerVeen
October 13, 2011

Annual giving has long been a tradition at St. Olaf College.

In 1991 the college created Partners in Annual Giving, a program to increase awareness about the importance of supporting St. Olaf through an annual gift. For years the program made important strides in increasing participation in annual giving, with donors providing unrestricted gifts that were used by the college to support priorities such as financial aid and building maintenance.

Yet in recent years giving to the program has been holding steady, and donor participation is on the decline. This philanthropic trend echoes what is happening nationwide. Many nonprofit organizations have moved toward giving donors the ability to support their specific passions. In response, this fall St. Olaf replaced Partners in Annual Giving with the St. Olaf Fund.

The new St. Olaf Fund will continue to provide support for the college's greatest needs, but it will also provide donors with greater flexibility. Donors can now specify a particular program, department, or initiative they'd like their annual gift to support. "People like to see where their money goes, see it in action," says St. Olaf Director of Annual Giving Tracy Fossum. "You can do that now."

An alumna with fond memories of her time on the cross country team, for example, can now direct her annual gift toward the team and know that it will support today's student-athletes. Or an alumnus who found his vocation with the help of the Center for Experiential Learning can direct his annual gift to the program to ensure it has adequate resources to assist current students.

And, Fossum stresses, donors without a strong preference can choose to have their annual gifts support the greatest needs on campus. "Gifts for current college priorities are still essential to the St. Olaf experience. This isn't an attempt to downplay their importance," she says. "Rather, we are trying to enhance the giving experience overall by offering people a choice."

Fossum hopes these changes will engage more donors and renew enthusiasm for giving to St. Olaf. The St. Olaf Fund aims to raise $4 million this fiscal year, a significant increase from the $3.6 million in annual gifts the college received last year. The St. Olaf Fund Board — a group of dedicated alumni leaders who have embraced this new vision for annual giving — is spearheading the effort alongside a team of more than 600 volunteers.

"We are continually seeking ways to make the St. Olaf of tomorrow even more vibrant than it is today," Fossum says. "The St. Olaf Fund takes the support of alumni, parents, and friends one step further and allows the college to do that. Our volunteers have enthusiastically embraced the change and are excited to work together to yield positive results."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or