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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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Jonathan Cole (left), Tammy Blackburn and Todd Summer presented at the CSU’s Auxiliary Organization Association earlier this month. Jonathan Cole (left), Tammy Blackburn and Todd Summer presented at the CSU’s Auxiliary Organization Association earlier this month.

The Power of Creativity

SDSU’s student philanthropy program serves as a blueprint for the CSU system.
By Tobin Vaughn

“I’m so proud of our campus. Our students have really taken it upon themselves to give back to the university.”

Since its inception in 2014, SDSU’s Legacy Giving student philanthropy program has become a model for the California State University (CSU) system. In just more than two years, the program has raised more than $135,000 for student scholarships and received more than 8,250 donations from SDSU students.

Based on the idea that many small donations can add up to a large amount of support, Legacy Giving is a program in which students are provided opportunities to make a donation of at least $10 to help build reserves and endowments for student scholarships. The funds are organized by class years and will remain a legacy of each individual graduating class in perpetuity, allowing alumni to continue to build their class’s endowment throughout a lifetime.

The program works because diverse entities ranging from Associated Students (A.S.) and SDSU Alumni to the SDSU Bookstore and Student Services collaborate to help encourage and support a culture of philanthropy on campus. This spirit of cooperation and the success it has bred have been noted by other CSU campuses seeking to establish or bolster similar programs.

Honest and encouraging

At the CSU’s Auxiliary Organization Association (AOA) annual conference held earlier this month in San Diego, two dozen representatives from other CSU campuses attended a panel presentation on SDSU’s Legacy Giving program. Former SDSU A.S. President Jonathan Cole (’15), Aztec Shops CEO Todd Summer and SDSU Director of Development Technology Tammy Blackburn (’94, ’01) discussed the challenges involved in implementing new programs and the campus partnerships necessary to help them succeed.

“We wanted to be both honest and encouraging,” Blackburn said. “It took us a while to develop the relationships and the infrastructure to build a successful student philanthropy program at SDSU, but our message is that this is something that can definitely be duplicated on other campuses.”

A clear blueprint

Many of the seminar attendees from other universities said their campuses have student philanthropy programs that are less developed than SDSU’s, which features tabling days throughout the year, periodic bookstore discounts, stewardship events and a mobile app designed exclusively for student donors. Michael Losquadro, the chief operating officer and secretary of CSU Long Beach’s 49er Foundation, was asked after the seminar about his takeaway from the presentation.

“The power of the creativity of this team,” Losquadro said. “This team is dedicated and creative, and wants to address an issue that all of us are grappling with: how to increase our participation rate. We have some of the elements that were described here today, but nowhere near as well built-out as what was just described."

Venesia Thompson-Ramsay is chief financial officer for the San Francisco State University Foundation and is chief of operations for University Advancement at SFSU. What she gleaned from the presentation, she said, is that SDSU seems to have successfully overcome the “silo system” of non-cooperation among campus entities that plagues many other universities.

“I think relationships and collaboration are key,” she said. "We clearly see the connections with Alumni Relations and Enrollment (offices) now. We knew these things theoretically, we’ve talked about them, but this is a clear example of how we can get it done. This is clearly a blueprint and it makes me excited to go back (to SFSU) and share what I have heard.”

Fostering a culture of philanthropy

Current A.S. President Jamie Miller was in the audience during the presentation, and said she likes the idea of helping other CSU campuses foster a culture of philanthropy like SDSU’s.

“I’m so proud of our campus,” Miller said. "Our students have really taken it upon themselves to give back to the university. For us to be a model for other campuses is absolutely amazing and I think sharing our ideas and best practices is important."

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education observes Student Engagement and Philanthropy Month during February. A goal of SDSU’s Legacy Giving program is 3,750 student donors this semester.

The program will award its first scholarships this spring. Seven SDSU students will receive scholarships valued at $1,500 each.