By Michael Boss
The College of Idaho Student Philanthropy Council was formed in January 2006 after the college received a $30,000 grant from the Seagraves Family Foundation to promote philanthropy on campus.
Eight students ranging from freshmen to seniors formed the first council, established bylaws, and distributed grant applications to nonprofit organizations across the Treasure Valley. Their goal was to fund projects that would have a benefit in the community and, if possible, provide an intangible benefit to the college.
In its first year, the Student Philanthropy Council received 25 grant applications requesting a total of $250,000. The council narrowed the group to 10 finalists and interviewed representatives from those groups. After interviews, the council awarded $29,500 to five different groups that included the Caldwell Farmer’s Market, music scholarships for Nampa students, the Treasure Valley Reading Foundation, and an academy aimed at gang prevention.
The council also organized a “thank you” letter campaign to acknowledge alumni, family, faculty, staff members and friends for their support of the college. That year more than 600 students participated during the weeklong campaign, writing over 1,400 letters.
Recognizing that student philanthropy should also benefit the college itself, the College of Idaho Student Philanthropy created “Tuition Free Day,” an effort by the council to demonstrate to students that tuition only covers 30 percent of the college’s operating costs, and that to keep the school open for the rest of the year, fundraising is essential.
Activities included hanging price tag-shaped posters around campus including the prices of buildings, classes, books, computers, maintenance and other expenses. Professors and staff also wore nametags supporting Tuition Free Day. Two popular professors hosted a “Price is Right”-style game show and asked students to guess what it cost to run different parts of the campus.
With the Seagraves Family Foundation renewing its $30,000 grant in 2007, the College of Idaho Student Philanthropy Council was able to benefit programs ranging from a new van for Caldwell Meals on Wheels to field trips for the Boys and Girls Club of Nampa, scholarships and emergency food aid for a childcare program serving low-income families, and the delivery of approximately 25,000 free books to low-income families across the Treasure Valley.
In 2008, the Seagraves Family Foundation posed a challenge to the Student Philanthropy Council: if the council raised $30,000, the foundation would match that with another $30,000 to form a Student Philanthropy Council Endowment, the earnings of which could be awarded as grants in years ahead. The students accepted the challenge, and while continuing their thank you letter campaign and Free Tuition Day, set out to raise the money.
By the fall of 2009, through donations from parents and the residue of an estate gift to the college, the students were able to inform the Seagraves Family Foundation that their part of the endowment had been secured. The Seagraves Family Foundation then forwarded their $30,000, forming a $60,000 Student Philanthropy Endowment, the earnings of which were awarded in the spring of 2010.
Along with its impact in the broader community, the efforts of the College of Idaho Student Philanthropy Council have also had a positive impact of giving to their alma mater.
“Four years ago, around 60 to 70 percent of graduating seniors made a senior gift to the college,” said Barry Fujishin, director of development for College of Idaho. “This year, 95 percent of graduating seniors made a gift, and we have seen our overall alumni giving increase from 14 percent five years ago to around 30 percent today, largely because of increased participation by recent graduates.”
Michael Boss is a Treasure Valley-based freelance writer.