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What Those Numbers Really Mean
They Wouldn’t Be What They Are Without Our Volunteers

By Michael Archibald

Admittedly, I work with numbers.  In my role as vice president for University advancement, I pay close attention to trends in dollars raised for the St. Lawrence Fund, which contributes of course to progress toward the $200 million goal of Momentum St. Lawrence; to the percentage of alumni who donate; to guest attendance at Saints Network events; to the number of podcasts produced; to placements in national media; to admission application and acceptance rates; and on and on.  Numbers help us understand the demand and attractiveness of our programs to high school students; numbers help us understand alumni satisfaction with their education.  Numbers also reflect real and necessary contribution to the University’s financial health. So numbers are meaningful.

But behind the numbers are the people and the stories that make St. Lawrence come alive.  And increasingly important to St. Lawrence’s vitality are the alumni, student, faculty, staff, parent and friend volunteers who energize our programs because they love us and believe in us.  In greater numbers, and with ever-more extraordinary effectiveness, volunteers make the difference for excellence. 

This Report of Appreciation has stories throughout about the accomplishments of volunteers.  I wish to add my recognition and acknowledgment of the outstanding service provided by them.  It’s a privilege to be associated with an institution that inspires such dedication and commitment from its alumni, its students, their parents, and the local and campus community. 

Consider the motivation of the thousands of volunteers who give their time and energy to events planning, fundraising, career advising, admissions recruiting and class reporting, to name just a few roles.  Why do they do it?

When I think of St. Lawrence the first thing I think of is great teaching and learning, academic opportunity and excellence. I believe, and many have told me, that volunteers have the same first thoughts.  I also believeand I’ve never met a Laurentian who disagrees—that what makes St. Lawrence so special and unique is the relationships that are discovered at St. Lawrence, and often sustained over decades and even lifetimes, relationships among students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The University is more than the beautiful buildings and campus.  It is the sum of these enduring relationships, this sense of community that provides a connectedness, meaning and opportunity in our lives.

Great teaching.  Great learning. Opportunity. Community.  Connections.  These values motivate exemplary volunteerism.  How do we ensure that these St. Lawrence values endure, so we continue to inspire volunteers, both seasoned and from a new generation, for decades ahead?

To answer that question, I consider where we’ve been and how far we’ve come in our quest to be among the very best liberal arts colleges in the nation.  In my 16 years associated with St. Lawrence I have seen a remarkable story unfold.  St. Lawrence is steeped in a rich history and institutional culture, defined by its small size and mission to provide outstanding liberal education. We have been most successful effecting change when it has been in the context of that historic institutional culture, not to be a new and dramatically different St. Lawrence but to become an ever better version of what we have always been. 

Our recent leaps of progress, especially in this last decade, through expanded study abroad opportunities, collaborative student/faculty undergraduate research and the development of oral and written communication programs across the curriculum, to name a few, all support the original defining purpose of what St. Lawrence University has always been.  

This Report of Appreciation, many past issues of the St. Lawrence magazine, our thick and rich Web site and President Sullivan’s regular communications by mail and throughout the nation have shared with you the accomplishments of which I speak.  How proud I am to say that in every area, volunteers have played key roles. Volunteers helped recruit the record-breaking number of applicants for the past two years in a row and convinced excellent students to select St. Lawrence.  Volunteers raised money for our Annual Fund so students’ financial aid could be generous. Volunteers raised funds for the facilities and program projects that enhance academic quality.

Volunteers, and all of us affiliated with St. Lawrence, want the progress to continue.  What will it take to motivate tomorrow’s volunteers to continue their work with us?

Volunteers expect St. Lawrence to recognize and address policy and fiscal issues with forthright clarity.  I raise one of those issues as an example.  Most of our competitor institutions have more financial flexibility (that means they have larger endowments, which provide larger interest income that can be used for annual program enhancements). Less money in the annual budget means less money for programs, for financial aid, for faculty salaries.  Less money means it’s harder to compete for accomplished and deserving students. Though our financial aid programs are among the most generous, because our endowment is relatively small, it is also the case that St. Lawrence students graduate with greater debt burdens than students from many of our sister institutions. If a student has a choice between St. Lawrence and another school and the St. Lawrence education means accepting a high debt burden…that’s a choice that many families find untenable.

And there’s a ripple effect.  New research links high debt loads with lack of alumni giving participation among young graduates nationally, which certainly squares with our challenges with recent graduates who, despite their gratitude for financial aid and an excellent education, often cannot find a way to begin giving even modestly. This is alarming, because history shows that graduates who begin giving early form the habit of lifelong giving and tend to give more as time passes--and that the opposite is also true.  So we are exacerbating the negative effects for the institution when we accept our endowment level as it is, rather than aggressively seeking endowment growth through new gifts. It affects us in admissions and it affects us in alumni philanthropy, two areas of intense volunteer involvement. 

Growth of the endowment is so critical that I chose to use it as an example of how volunteers serve St. Lawrence.  There is a stable of volunteers working on the campaign, Momentum St.Lawrence, focused largely on the augmentation of the endowment.  With their help, we’ll succeed in building the endowment so that it is of a scope more appropriate for an institution of St. Lawrence’s rich offerings and its stature. 
And I’m also confident that, over time, new St. Lawrence graduates will come to recognize the benefits and satisfaction derived from a lifelong connection to this place. It comes at different moments for different people: at Reunion; when children approach college age; at the time of a promotion or career accomplishment; even at retirement. Graduates reflect on the role St. Lawrence has played in their lives and decide it is good to be a part of the University, and then they give, thoughtfully and in whatever way they can. We can ask for no more than that.

What a special honor it is for me to be associated with St. Lawrence University and to work with individuals so committed to its purpose and success. This bond of mutual benefit and support, making opportunities for others, is what makes St. Lawrence so special. Thank you.

As the son of a Colby College English professor and academic dean, Michael Archibald grew up hanging around a college campus whenever he could. A Colby graduate, he has served St. Lawrence University in various leadership roles in advancement since 1991. This fall, Mike added "parent" to his list of St. Lawrence affiliations, as his oldest daughter, Grace, enrolled as a student in the Class of 2011.
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