By Mary Hernandez, Petrus Blog Contributor
Three Cheers for the Class Gift
The class gift tradition is widely recognized in educational circles. Schools have received benches, statues, fountains, trees, and other commemorative items from grateful grads. Many Catholic ministries have invited their graduates to consider participating in a monetary Class Gift. This type of Class Gift is one of the most significant ways for a graduate to leave a legacy, support future students who will find their home at the Catholic Center on campus, and participate in its mission. This initiative builds an automatic connection between the ministry and its alumni, leaves room for flexibility and growth, and naturally provides many opportunities for stewardship and alumni celebrations as giving milestones are reached. There is no downside to implementing a Class Gift in your ministry.
Teach Students to Give Early and Often
But why wait for the Class Gift? One meaningful goal of Catholic college ministries is to form the best possible parishioners for the future of the Church. A CARA1 study on the relationship between campus ministry involvement and engagement in Catholic behavior after college shows these Catholics are more likely to support the Church long term financially. But it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when we teach proper stewardship. We want students to learn to give early and often during their college careers. There is no need to wait to invite their support upon graduation.
While it doesn’t take long for a Development Officer to develop a sense of gratitude for every gift, recurring gifts are the gold standard for several reasons. So that is the benchmark to strive for when inviting students to give from what the Lord has given them.
If a student is not ready to commit to a recurring gift, a baby step would be to encourage them on the importance of sharing their gifts with the ministry in some way. For example, utilizing a text-to-give platform familiar to them is a good start, as is cash in the offertory basket. Although these gifts are typically anonymous, unpredictable, and do not cultivate regular donor commitment, they stretch the student’s giving muscle. Even more important, encouraging students to participate in the full life of the parish – in service, prayer, and regular participation in the sacraments – can open their hearts to give generously of their time and, eventually, their financial support.
Experience in working on a college campus with college students has taught us two main things about recurring giving donor beliefs among college students.
Combat this myth by leveraging the community aspect of the collective group of recurring givers. Aggie Catholic recurring givers at Texas A&M are part of the “Living Faith Society.” At the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, they are “Ragin’ Cajun Catholics Ministry Partners.” Good branding and a named giving society help to remind your recurring givers that they are part of something greater than themselves. The value of their gift, when combined with the entirety of the recurring giving community, is compounded and makes a big difference in the Ministry’s bottom line. It takes every donor and every gift in any amount to make a ministry successful. It is our job to help our student supporters be mindful of that.
Getting a 19-year-old to commit to plans on a Saturday night, much less a recurring gift is a challenge. So, we advertise it as such. Each fall, we hold a Ministry Partner Challenge. For as little as $5 a month, students can begin a recurring gift and become a Ministry Partner. Even though a $5 monthly gift amounts to one less cup of coffee, the fear of not having enough is a roadblock for many students and probably most adults. A few years ago, our previous Chaplain famously promised any student who began a monthly gift and later found themselves in some financial need to pay them back personally. It was like a little insurance policy. That fall, 33 students became Ministry Partners. Not one asked for a bailout. Not every Chaplain can duplicate that promise, but it does teach us to speak to the heart of the giver and remind them of the Lord’s promise of provision: “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” [MT 6:30] Giving is, first and foremost, an act of faith. It is an honor to work in development and have the opportunity to impart that truth to our young people.
Cultivate the Habit of Giving
When a student does make that act of faith and begins a recurring gift, it may be humble at the start. The goal here is not to focus on the amount of the gift but to cultivate the habit of giving. We should be at the ready with encouragement if they encounter bumps along the way. It only takes a few months for a student to realize that giving feels great! During their senior year, it is finally time to invite them to prayerfully discern joining the Class Gift. The lesson on stewardship continues when we encourage them to give generously in building the Kingdom. One Student at UL Lafayette began a monthly gift early in his college career. When it came time to join the Class Gift, the ask was natural, and he responded generously. “After spending the last four years at Wisdom as both a student and their media intern, I received so much love and support. I saw firsthand how monetary gifts transform into the fruit that we all see Wisdom cultivates. Since graduating in May and beginning my career, it was a no-brainer for my wife and me to start a monthly gift as part of the 2021 Class Gift initiative. We are thrilled to continue to be a part of Wisdom’s mission in this unique way!” - Joseph Kokenge
It is important to show gratitude to this vital community of student supporters. Host an annual reception in their honor. Send regular ministry updates to let them know how their recurring gift impacts the ministry. Recognize them in the annual report. There are many ways to thank them for their commitment. Finally, pray for them; they are the future of our Church!
“Even a seemingly small act of generosity can grow into something far beyond what we could ever ask or imagine.” Henri Nouwen, A Spirituality of Fundraising
Mary Hernandez is the Executive Director of Advancement at Our Lady of Wisdom Church & Catholic Student Center, Home of the Ragin’ Cajun Catholics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Joseph and Gillian Kokenge were monthly donors as students and upon graduation joined the 2021 Class Gift (they also got married!).