Alumni stand by Cornell in challenging times

Students walking on campus in fall 2019

Alumni, parents, and friends came together to support Cornell students and stay connected during fiscal year 2020 despite numerous challenging factors, including a global pandemic and economic crisis.

The university received $712 million in new gifts and commitments—the third-highest total ever raised at Cornell in a single year—from over 39,000 donors. This included $43 million in university annual funds, which provide the necessary and flexible support Cornell relies on each year. Cornell’s sixth Giving Day was a notable part of this success, with a total of $7,053,386 raised from 10,145 donors in just 24 hours.

I have never before been more gratified to give to Cornell, and I have heard from many other alumni, parents and friends who feel the same.
—Gary Davis ’76, co-vice chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees and chairman of the committee on development

“We closed our unprecedented 2020 year with outstanding engagement and fundraising results,” says Fred Van Sickle, vice president for Alumni Affairs and Development (AAD). “Those numbers are only possible because of our great Cornell community and each donor, volunteer, and staff member who committed to our shared goals.”

Despite the unusual circumstances and the cancellation of many in-person events, Cornellians of all ages stayed connected to each other and the university, and engaged in new ways.

Responding to the times

When the Ithaca campus closed its doors temporarily in March, students scrambled to get home. Alumni and friends came together to support Cornell’s access funds, to help students with unexpected costs like plane tickets. These gifts helped students who were facing financial challenges to get home safely and continue their studies remotely. Alumni also increased their giving to funds aimed at supporting Cornell’s efforts to build a strong, diverse community with an emphasis on equity and inclusion.

“I have always been a firm believer in the impact that philanthropy has on our students, faculty and programs,” says Gary Davis ’76, co-vice chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees and chairman of the committee on development. “But the challenges we have faced as a society and a university this past year have made that support even more critical as we’ve worked to ensure the well-being of our community, the access for our students regardless of financial situation, the continued pursuit of the educational mission for our students and faculty, and the investment in research and outreach to address our most pressing societal issues.”

An outpouring of support

Many groups rallied to help, including the President’s Council of Cornell Women (PCCW). PCCW members directed all of their spring 2020 current-use fundraising efforts to the Access Fund in Student and Campus Life, raising enough to award a $50,000 grant to the fund this fall, in support of first-generation and low-income students.

“In this time of great pivots, we all are navigating through challenges with innovation and creativity. Cornell proved to stand out as a leader,” says Karen Stewart ’86, PCCW chairperson. “PCCW supports that leadership by shifting our year-end fundraising efforts towards Cornell students, helping them to succeed in learning in this new virtual environment. We are committing $50,000 to the Access Fund, which allows the university to provide meaningful support immediately in this pandemic.”

Supporting Cornell’s students continues to be a fundraising focus for fiscal year 2021, as many students face increased financial burdens during the pandemic. The Cornell Promise campaign aims to help all undergraduate students complete their studies at Cornell, regardless of their financial situation.

“I have never before been more gratified to give to Cornell and I have heard from many other alumni, parents and friends who feel the same,” adds Davis.

Engaging in new ways

Over 88,000 alumni engaged with the university in fiscal year 2020, including 18,500 digital event attendees from early March through June 30, at over 100 unique online educational programs, meetings, and social events.

Cornell’s first Virtual Reunion attracted over 7,000 Cornellians and their families. Attendees spoke highly of this pivot from the traditional on-campus event and were especially grateful for a series of digital programs aimed at starting community conversations focused on social justice, equity, and inclusion.

In this time of great pivots, we all are navigating through challenges with innovation and creativity. Cornell proved to stand out as a leader.
—Karen Stewart ’86, PCCW chairperson

This type of engagement with Cornell is expected to continue throughout fiscal year 2021 as alumni look for ways to stay connected with each other and the university in meaningful and safe ways.

“We enter fiscal year 2021 with formidable challenges,” Fred Van Sickle says, “but I am confident we will come together to achieve meaningful results for Cornell.”

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