No Homecoming, no problem?

Complaints from alumni donors still occurring, but University statistics show an increase in donations

Last year’s Spring Reunion saw 44 classes return. 46 classes have registered for the 2011 event. The last Fall Homecoming in 2008 attracted 80 classes to campus.
Image supplied by: Journal file photo
Last year’s Spring Reunion saw 44 classes return. 46 classes have registered for the 2011 event. The last Fall Homecoming in 2008 attracted 80 classes to campus.

Mike van de Water used to be one of the largest Queen’s benefactors in the United Kingdom–then Homecoming was cancelled.

“I flatly told them if they’re not managing money well and they’re not reinstating Homecoming —I’m not giving them anything,” van de Water, Comm ’91, said. “They haven’t called since.”

Van de Water is one of 12 members in a Facebook group titled “Queen’s Alumni Who Won’t be Donating on Account of the Homecoming Fiasco.” He contributed around $2,000 annually to Queen’s until 2008 when a combination of the Clark Hall Pub closure, spending on the Queen’s Centre and a decision from then-Principal Tom Williams that cancelled Homecoming caused him to withdraw his donation.

According to administrators working with Queen’s fundraising, this attitude among alumni-donors is fading. Principal Woolf ’s decision to extend the Homecoming cancellation hasn’t had the same effect as Williams’ decision did in 2008.

Queen’s Telefundraising Services employs students to call alumni and solicit donations. Telefundraising Supervisor Jackie Lewis, ArtSci ’11, said the callers were fielding complaints similar

to van de Water’s in the wake of the 2008 cancellation decision, but such comments haven’t reemerged following Woolf’s announcement in November.

“There was obviously an uproar the original time it was cancelled, but this time around we haven’t heard the concerns nearly on the same scale,” she said, adding that the announcement was made in late November and few calls were made before the Christmas break.

“I guess people have forgotten about it,” she said.

Telefundraising is one of several fundraising initiatives employed by the Queen’s Office of Advancement. Lewis said concerns about Homecoming aren’t necessarily protesting its cancellations.

“You’d be surprised. We get a lot of calls that spin it the other way and they’re upset that Homecoming may still happen again,” she said. “It’s pretty much as frequent … to now hear those who are concerned still that the reputation of Queen’s is tarnished.”

Currently Telefundraising only fields about one Homecoming-related complaint from alumni every week. Those complaints are directed to Judith Brown, associate vice principal (alumni relations).

Queen’s fundraising efforts raised $65.3 million in 2008, dropping to $29.4 million in 2009

and rising to $53.9 million last year. Brown attributed the fluctuations to the 2008 market meltdown, not alumni disjointed over the loss of fall Homecoming.

“There are always trends in our fundraising and the trend that we are fortunate enough to be observing right now is an increase,” Brown said. “We have more donors year over year.”

Fundraising at Queen’s is divided into major donations consisting of gifts larger than $25,000 and smaller annual donations. Major donations made up $38.9 million of last year’s fundraising total, while annual giving totaled $6.6 million—making protests like van de Water’s withholding of his $2,000 annual donation relatively unnoticable. Van de Water said the absence of “rank-and-file” donations like his are difficult to find, but still present.

Brown said there’s a conclusion to be drawn from alumni reactions to Williams’ initial decision in 2008 and Woolf’s extension.

“When Homecoming was initially suspended by then-principal Williams, we heard from alumni. I responded to over 1,000 emails from alumni and the majority of them were supportive of the decision,” Brown said.

“Given that the extension decision generated very little response from alumni—as compared certainly with the

initial decision that was made by Principal Williams—I think alumni understand the general rationale for the decision, so whether or not they are disappointed, they understand there was a safety concern.”

Brown said orders for Telefundraising to call parents on the day of Woolf’s announcement were an effort to ensure callers were equipped to field questions

on the cancellation. “We did ask the callers to phone

parents,” she said. “I don’t know whether they didn’t phone alumni. But yes, we did want students to know and to have the background that they needed to answer any questions that alumni might have about that decision.”

Callers were informed on Homecoming alternatives like the Spring Reunion and MiniU, both of which are scheduled for May 27-29. Judy Griffiths, alumni relations manager of reunions and events, made presentations to Telefundraising staff to give insight on the alternative events available to alumni.

Griffiths told the Journal that Homecoming was an effective way to engage alumni.

“It’s probably the most engaging experience,” she said. “They get to reconnect with each other and with the University. There’s no correlation between that and giving, but one would assume that if they’re engaged that the chance of them giving is greater.

“Our goal is to engage alumni in the life and work of the University so that they will stay connected and give of their time as volunteers, give

of their talents as experts in their field and give of their resources which may be giving money.”

Spring Reunion drew 37 alumni classes in its inaugural run in 2009. Attendance at last year’s event rose to 1,000 people with 44 classes reuniting. Forty-six classes have registered for this year’s event. The last fall Homecoming in 2008 drew 80 classes and an estimated 6,000 people.

Griffiths said the Homecoming cancellation hasn’t affected Alumni Relations’ ability to establish relationships with alumni.

“Those numbers [not attending Spring Reunion] are returning in other ways,” she said.

“Overall the number of alumni doing reunions has not changed, but the number of events we offer for alumni grows every year. We do them on campus, we do them in the branches, we do them world wide. We engage with thousands of alumni every year.”

Mike van de Water will travel from his Ottawa-area home to attend Spring Reunion.

“I’ll go because that’s probably the only time I’m going to see my fellow graduates, but it’s going to suck,” he said, adding that Spring Reunion lacks the interaction with students available during Fall Homecoming.

He said he predicts a decrease in alumni donations if the cancellation of Homecoming continues to be extended.

“The students who’ve never seen a Homecoming: When they get out into the work force, how much money do you think they’re going to donate?”

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