Running a university isn’t cheap. Even with state funding and rising tuition costs, Cal Poly relies on donations from alumni and parents with the Cal Poly Fund.
Chris McBride, the Cal Poly Fund’s new director, said these donations are critical to the university’s success.
“It’s hard for students,” McBride said. “If we can ask parents and alumni to help out, we can ease the burden on the students.”
McBride, who worked in outreach, marketing and fundraising for the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center before moving to the alumni office five years ago, was named the new director of the Cal Poly Fund last week.
Every year, the Fund seeks millions of dollars in donations. One of the tools it uses is the Phonathon — where students call hundreds of parents and alumni asking for contributions.
One such alumnus is Patrick Bernard, a member of Cal Poly’s Class of 1990.
“When I was at the university, they called my parents,” Bernard said. “Now they call me.”
At first, after Bernard graduated with a degree in architectural engineering, he chose not to donate.
“I wasn’t exactly kind to those poor kids who had to call me,” Bernard said.
But in 2005, Bernard said he had a change of heart.
“I got my financial legs under me,” he said. “I realized that I could afford to support the institution that put me in that position today.”
Today, Bernard is kinder to the students who call: He donates yearly to his alma mater’s College of Architecture and Design.
“It feels good to know that I’m helping support those same labs that I worked in 20 years ago,” Bernard said. “Right now, most of the students in those labs would probably hate me for it, but they’ll thank me later.”
The labs that Bernard’s donations fund are only one possible option for donors. In fact, the Cal Poly Fund offers contributors a wide variety of recipients.
The online form allows patrons to decide if they want to donate to the Cal Poly Alumni Association, individual athletic programs, various student affairs and clubs, the Robert E. Kennedy Library, individual programs within the colleges or just the general fund.
McBride said the departments — not the Cal Poly Fund — decide how to spend the donations they are given.
Although it does spend money on fundraising efforts such as the Phonathon, according to the Cal Poly Fund’s website, the university spends only 12 cents on fundraising for every dollar it receives in donations.
Compared with the CSU average of 16 cents per dollar, Cal Poly’s fundraising efforts are quite efficient, McBride said.
However, with the recent recession, McBride said she has noticed a drop in the donations over the past few years.
“The economy has definitely hurt us,” she said. “It’s just something we’re going to have to combat moving forward.”
Even with contributions down, McBride has to find money from somewhere. This is why people who donate annually play an important role.
The Westman family makes a point to donate yearly. Aimee Westman’s son, Keith, graduated from Cal Poly in 2009 and she has donated ever since.
Aimee said there are two reasons she gets out her pocketbook to write a check to the university every year.
“First, I feel like we as a family owe something to Cal Poly,” she said. “I truly feel that my son got the best education he could available, and I want that to be true for current students too. The second reason is for Keith. He worked hard for his degree, and I want it to still mean something 10 years from now.”
According to McBride, many alumni donate in order to help maintain Cal Poly’s “high quality” of education. That means that later on, a degree from Cal Poly is still valuable.
“Our purpose is to support the university and support the students,” McBride said.