The Rice Annual Fund aims to raise $10,000 this year through the Rice Owls Give Back campaign using incentives worth over $1,000 for each of the 11 residential college, according to assistant director Brittany Phillips.
So far, they have raised $6,500 through the campaign, which targets undergraduate donations. Phillips said that while specific dollar amounts are important, student participation rates are the primary focus as they are instrumental for the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings. Last academic year, Phillips said the Rice Owls Give Back campaign raised over $8,000.
According to Jack Vielhauer, the other Rice Annual Fund assistant director, the program is striving for 25 percent participation for freshman, 40 percent for sophomores, 55 percent for juniors and 70 percent for seniors this year. Currently, overall student participation is at 29 percent while senior participation is at 39 percent. Last academic year, 54 percent of seniors donated.
“We set benchmarks for all the classes, but we do look to the senior class a bit more for giving,” Vielauer said.
According to Phillips, the seniors’ gifts affect U.S. News and World Report’s ranking while the other classes’ do not.
“[Rice Annual Fund] runs on a fiscal year, from July 1 to June 20, so seniors graduate before the end of the fiscal year and so they are counted as ‘alumni’ when they donate,” Phillips said.
According to Phillips, the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings essentially count each donation from an alumnus as a ‘vote of satisfaction’ toward their institution.
“It shows that the alumni believe in [their institution] and no matter the dollar amount, it could be a dollar, a million dollars, it’s a vote of satisfaction,” Phillips said.
Vielhauer said apathy is often a challenge in increasing student participation.
“Many students have a concern about where their donation money goes once they donate, but they can allocate those numbers to whatever organization they are involved with on campus,” Vielhauer said.
Student Association Internal Vice President Sara Meadow said Rice Owls Give Back effectively incentivized student-giving through free t-shirts, Coffeehouse drinks, and the ability to choose what programs the donation is given.
“College wish lists” are part of how the Rice Annual Fund incentivizes student participation. Rice Annual Fund awards each college a prize once they reach a certain number of donors. For 50 donors, the college receives a $100 prize. For 100 donors, the college receives a $300 prize and for 150 donors, a $600 prize. Each college selects specific items that they wish to receive should they reach the donor benchmarks.
The Annual Fund promises to reward $1,000 worth of prizes to each college should they reach at least 150 donors. If each college has 150 donors, the annual fund will give $1,100 worth of prizes. According to Phillips, the prizes are paid for through the Annual Fund’s budget.
According to Sarah Berton, a Student Philanthropy Committee volunteer at Martel, these prizes have been the most effective incentive. If Martel College reaches the Rice Annual Fund’s benchmarks and achieves 150 donors, their prizes include lights for the quad, a Nintendo Switch and a massage chair.
“[It’s] a pretty immediate way that students can be rewarded for giving, and it stirs up some college pride and rivalry, which is always effective in getting students to give,” Berton said.
Lovett College senior Amy Tao, however, said the prizes could encourage students to give minimal amounts, making incentivized giving ineffective.
“I can see how people might take advantage of [the system’s] loopholes to win a prize for their college and end up making the whole incentive counterproductive,” Tao said.
Phillips said the Rice Owls Give Back campaign is effective due in large part to active SPC volunteers. Volunteers are trained to address specific questions such as, “Why should I give back when I already pay tuition?”
“The more active [the volunteers] have been, the more increases we have seen in [participation] stats,” Phillips said.
According to Jones Sophomore Kyle Bartsch, when he volunteered to collect donations, he asked coordinators at Jones if any amount would count towards donor participation.
“They said yes so I grabbed my coin jar and offered it to people who maybe didn’t have money to give [and] when I showed I was offering to give them money, a lot of people decided to just give their own— [coordinators at Jones] let the less than $1 amounts count toward the prize, some [students] decided to just donate a penny, nickel, or dime, and others chose to donate 5-10 dollars,” Bartsch said.
Berton, a Martel College junior, said students don’t always understand the importance of giving back to the university while they are still at Rice.
“It is a challenge to convince them that giving their money is a worthwhile cause [but] giving back to Rice is so important because it allows us students to not only show our appreciation for our school, but also demonstrate our commitment to maintaining and improving all that Rice has to offer,” Berton said.
Vielhauer said that apart from rankings and prizes, student-giving fosters Rice’s strong culture of alumni giving.
“One way of staying connected when [students] graduate is through giving back financially—so by giving now, it’s a way to create a precedent, every dollar counts—as a vote, towards any campus account—we have to break down the stigma that a dollar doesn’t do anything and get students to understand that you truly are helping,” Vielhauer said.