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Donors Double Down

Gift matching initiative raises $95 million for scholarships

Faced with a growing need for financial aid to ensure that talented students from diverse backgrounds can receive a great education regardless of their means, Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco—who was a financial aid student during his undergraduate career—issued a challenge in 2012. The university would match donations of $100,000 or more to create new endowed scholarships, or gifts of $100,000 or more to existing scholarships, thereby doubling their value and impact.

The Financial Aid Initiative, which officially wrapped on June 30, was a hit. Hundreds of donors participated, contributing a total of $95 million, surpassing the $90 million goal.

"This was a really important priority for me, and will help increase diversity across the university," says Monaco. "Diversity drives excellence in our academic mission. Having students who come from different backgrounds with different perspectives enriches everyone in our community."

Monaco attributed the fundraising success to two factors: donors knowing that they had the opportunity to change the lives of talented students and the incentive of a matching gift. The initiative marked the first time that Tufts has allocated unrestricted funds from its endowment to make one-to-one gift matches.

"Having the university match donors' contributions motivated people who already recognized the value of financial aid and encouraged new donors to step up," says Jeffrey Winey, senior director of principal gifts and university initiatives. "The match doubles the amount of the funds in perpetuity, so their gifts will have an even greater impact."

Endowed scholarships function kind of like a savings account. The principal is invested, and students receive support from the income generated from that investment. Because the principal remains untouched, these gifts keep on giving—forever. "These endowed scholarships will be enduring gifts to generations of students to come," Monaco says.

Donors from schools across Tufts embraced the challenge. Alumni, friends of the university, and faculty contributed, supporting areas important to them, such as enhancing primary-care training for physicians to address underserved populations, providing international studies education to students from the rural Midwest, and supporting doctoral studies in biochemical and molecular nutrition. Although most new scholarships were established by individuals, a few gifts came from groups of donors, including one from the Tufts University Dental Alumni Association, whose members individually might not have qualified for the match, but as a unit established a $500,000 fund to assist dental students. It was the largest gift by an alumni association in university history.

Andrew Gestrich, V17, was teaching public school in Hawaii when he started volunteering at a veterinary hospital to road-test a possible career change. He discovered he liked the challenge of caring for less-common species. He attends Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine thanks to a Financial Aid Initiative scholarship established by the New England Farm and Garden Association. The scholarship "provides flexibility, and it makes it easier for me to make career decisions about how I can contribute to the field rather than only worrying about the bottom line," says Gestrich, the married father of a 2-year-old.

Although the Financial Aid Initiative made great strides in addressing an ever-present need, Winey says support for students will continue to be a university priority. "Though we surpassed our goal, gifts for financial aid remain vitally important to diversifying the student body at Tufts," he says. "The great thing about this initiative is that it has increased the amount of financial aid available to our students and raised greater awareness of this continuing need within the Tufts community."