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William & Mary experiences surge in philanthropy and community engagement

Amid a pandemic and year of unprecedented challenges, William & Mary experienced a surge in philanthropic giving and community-wide engagement. In the last 12 months, the university raised more than $61 million, resulting in one of the biggest fundraising years outside a university-wide campaign. One-third of all funds secured were for scholarships — providing essential support to students throughout the academic year in the midst of one of the worst economic recessions in the U.S.

William & Mary’s 2021 fiscal year-end numbers have just been finalized. What we discovered was quite remarkable, according to Vice President for University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ’99.

“We found that philanthropic support and robust engagement were significant factors in preventing greater impact from the pandemic on the university, particularly the impact on William & Mary’s financial foundation,” said Lambert.

A year after the conclusion of the most successful campaign to date — William & Mary’s $1 billion For the Bold campaign — the W&M community rallied together during an extraordinary worldwide crisis. The tail-end of the nine-year campaign was just the beginning of the pandemic.

Fiscal year 2021 (FY21) began on July 1, 2020, a time of deep uncertainty. The U.S. was still primarily in lockdown and COVID-19 cases were increasing exponentially. For W&M, there were many unknowns around in-person classes commencing in the fall and the impact of COVID-19 on the financial outlook of the university, said Lambert. It was a pivotal moment for William & Mary to determine what our future might look like, with the health and wellness of our entire community a top priority.

A steady stream of donations and support from 34,869 alumni, students, faculty, parents, staff and friends came in during the year and were mobilized to fuel important efforts and initiatives across the university. From teaching and learning, health and wellness, entrepreneurship and innovation, equity and inclusion, arts and athletics, tutoring and internships and beyond, private support was infused into the programs, places and people at William & Mary. Unrestricted giving, particularly resources from the Fund for William & Mary, was also critical.

“This past year, we saw extraordinary resiliency at William & Mary. Our grit and adaptability were powered by philanthropy and by kindness. Our goals were simple: to keep teaching, keep learning, while safeguarding our entire community to the best of our ability. Private support was essential to our swift and successful adaptation, as we took courses online and sustained in-person learning throughout the academic year,” said President Katherine Rowe.

“Our donors helped our students, faculty, staff and alumni — the university as a whole — overcome barriers and even flourish during a difficult year. We are deeply grateful.”

During the fiscal year the university launched a $55-million All In campaign for W&M Athletics to support its 23 Division I varsity teams, provide for future stability, enhance equity and bolster the entire athletics experience at W&M. A big component of the campaign is reimagining a new home for athletics, with a focus on constructing a new Sports Performance Center and revitalizing Kaplan Arena. Nearly $22 million was raised for athletics in FY21 alone.

“We witnessed the W&M family rallying behind Tribe Athletics this past year,” said Lambert. “It underscores the fact that athletics is an essential component of our entire academic enterprise and that our community is rising to support our athletes and the department.”

“Compassion distinguishes the William & Mary community. Last year proved that it is a lifelong trait of William & Mary graduates,” added Rowe. In FY21 the university saw a 2.8% increase in annual alumni giving from the previous year. William & Mary currently holds the No. 1 spot among public higher education institutions for undergraduate alumni participation — a position the university has held for several years in a row.

Every single gift, no matter how large, impacted every corner of campus, including both undergraduate and graduate programs, and proved invaluable for strengthening the financial foundation of W&M, said Lambert. In fact, gifts of $250 and less collectively added up to more than $2.7 million. Many of these gifts were made on the university’s biggest day of giving back and paying it forward — One Tribe One Day — in which W&M saw the most dollars ever raised.

There was also a significant uptick in the number, diversity and geographic distribution of alumni engaging with W&M — mostly virtually — including those participating in President Rowe’s Community Conversations. In FY21, thousands of alumni and students were connected with each other and the university through professional networking programs and platforms — providing job leads, internships and mentorship opportunities in the current economic climate.

The university has found that if it offers meaningful, fun and life-enhancing programming and opportunities online, alumni, parents and friends will come. This helps explain the 72% increase from FY20 to FY21 in alumni registration for events.

“It has been magnificent to see what we once thought was impossible become possible over the last year,” said Lambert. “Philanthropy and engagement are the glue that has held our community together and allowed us to make gains during a time of challenge.”

“If anything, what I’ve seen is that when we go All In together, we are stronger and ready to overcome any obstacle that might come our way.”