More than 66,000 donors to Cornell gave a record-breaking $839 million in new gifts and commitments to the university in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Gifts came in from almost 44,000 alumni and students, plus parents, staff, faculty, and friends, and supported over 2,300 separate areas of the university.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the Cornell community gave generously to support student projects, student access funds, and the programs and experiences that make Cornell exceptional. Giving Day 2021 was a vital part of the year’s success, with 14,411 donors making gifts totaling $10,040,921 in 24 hours, breaking all past Cornell Giving Day records.
Hundreds of alumni also stepped up to support Cornell Promise scholarship funds, allowing the university to retain an overwhelming majority of its students during the pandemic—with 98% of undergraduates and 99% of graduate and professional students enrolled in November 2020.
“The 2021 academic year was unforgettable, as we learned, worked, and lived remotely,” said Fred Van Sickle, vice president for Alumni Affairs and Development. “Despite it all, the Cornell community rallied together to set a number of giving records across our campuses in their support of our students, faculty, and those we serve with our clinical care and research. The impact of this generosity will be felt across future generations.”
More than 41,000 donors contributed $55.67 million to current-use annual funds throughout the fiscal year—yet another broken record, by almost $10 million. Cornell also received the highest number of gifts at or above $25 million recorded in a single year, all contributing toward a transformational Cornell experience for current and future students.
“We are overwhelmed by the generous outpouring of support from our alumni, parents, and friends. Following a down year due to the impact of the global pandemic, our annual fund results significantly exceeded our expectations,” said Tom LaFalce ’94, acting director of Annual Giving Programs. “It was our best [annual fund] donor year in recent history, and we saw growth in the number of donors across all gift levels.”
Inspiring personal connections
Cornell’s Student Phoning Program operated remotely this year, due to campus COVID-19 guidelines. Student ambassadors working with the program made calls to alumni from their homes, and were able, despite the challenge, to have thousands of personal conversations with alumni.
“I used COVID as a talking point,” said Madeleine Calick ’22. “People tended to ask about what campus was like, so I really appreciated that.”
These conversations resulted not only in many gifts to Cornell, but to intergenerational connections that the students said they cherished.
“During one call, an alumna asked me about my interests, walked me through potential career paths and, most memorably, gave me her personal number and LinkedIn just in case I ever wanted to speak to her again,” Ethan Rubin ’23 shared. “This interaction was not a phenomenon—so many student callers end up with alumni mentors by the end of their shift.”
“I had this one call last semester; this woman was so sweet and I was about to wrap up the call but she asked where I was calling from,” said Madeleine Calick ’22. “Turns out we lived in the exact same place! Same house, same floor, even same bedroom. She told me where to find where she carved her name in the wood. I found it almost immediately. It was so special. I really felt generations of Cornellians behind me.”
Cornellians also made lasting connections over the past year through events, despite being unable to visit campus in person. Hundreds of online events throughout the year allowed over 90,500 Cornellians of all ages to connect back to the university and to one another.
Events like StayHomecoming and Virtual Reunion 2021 brought together Cornellians from around the globe, who otherwise might not have been able to join the festivities. These events also inspired alumni to support the university financially. Attendees at Virtual Reunion 2021 gave over $180,000 for undergraduate student scholarship support during the event registration process. Of those, 64 were first-time donors to the university.
“Gathering online for StayHomecoming was definitely different, but the Cornell Big Red spirit still shone through,” said Amanda Tripodi ’21.
“If there’s one thing we learned from the pandemic, it’s how wonderful it can be to connect with so many of you virtually,” Michelle Vaeth ’98, associate vice president of Alumni Affairs, said in a video to kick off Reunion weekend’s online events. “No matter how long it’s been or how far away you are, you can always come home to Cornell.”