Yasin Abbak's Facebook post on June 27.
Yasin Abbak’s Facebook post on June 27.

It wasn’t until 48 hours before the deadline that John Holden ’98 and Cara Townsend ’05, both on staff at Drew’s Alumni House, realized the goal was within reach. “I was worried it wasn’t going to happen,” recalls Holden. “Then, all of a sudden, it was like winning at a slot machine!”

Holden’s analogy describes what it was like at Alumni House on Friday, June 28, just two days before the end of Drew’s fiscal year, as the online giving site lit up with donations from alumni of the College of Liberal Arts who were responding to the “99 Days Challenge.”

Over the preceding weeks, alumni had rallied around this challenge in a way not seen before at Drew. Working with the staff at Alumni House, alumni volunteers took the lead in reaching out to classmates through Facebook and other digital platforms. Katya Valasek ’04 posted yearbook photos on Facebook and invited her classmates into the process by tagging them. Yasin Abbak ’09 posted the challenge countdown webpage, publicly announced his gift, and urged alumni to step up. Amy McHugh ’10 used Facebook to ask her Drew friends to redirect $5 to Drew, and then went old-school by collecting cash gifts from them at happy hour. Steph Mazarella ’02 included email in her outreach about giving in memory of several classmates.

Other alumni, not even formal volunteers, jumped in to help.  Jennifer Hudon ’07 felt inspired to not only make a gift but also Tweet about it. Rob Benacchio ’98, Kirsten Wheaton Black ’98, Emily Litman ’99 and Mike Lonardo ’98 started their own “99 for 99 Challenge” on Facebook, promising to donate $99 each if 99 alumni responded. Talking about her motivation on the Drew Alumni LinkedIn page, Wheaton Black explained that Drew “can’t excel until alumni do their part as well.”

“The alumni became powerful ambassadors for giving,” remarked Townsend. “They did an excellent job of communicating that any amount counts and why participation matters so much.” Townsend was also amazed by the number of alumni who contacted Alumni House in the final days of the challenge anxious to know if the goal had been reached. Not only did alumni meet the challenge, they exceeded it.  As of June 30, 2013, 25 percent of all college alumni made a gift to Drew during the fiscal year. This was the first up-tick in alumni giving in over a decade and a welcome harbinger of alumni pride and commitment. –Barbara Price

About the “99 Days Challenge”

Harkening back to the long-standing undergrad tradition of marking the 99th night before graduation, a group of alumni leaders got together and on March 24 issued a challenge to their fellow graduates: if at least 24 percent of alumni would contribute to Drew, they would donate $50,000.