‘Our Time is Now’ campaign broke college record for philanthropy and set future generations up for success.
The results from “Our Time is Now: The Campaign for Alma College” answered a big question posed at the start of the campaign, eight years ago.
Could the college reach its goal of raising $120 million to enhance the endowment, strengthen programs and modernize facilities?
The answer is a resounding yes — and then some. The total of $125.2 million, as of the date of the campaign’s conclusion on June 30, exceeds its goal and crushes the modern Alma College record of $37.3 million, set by the college’s previous campaign, “Open Windows,” which ended in 2009. More than 9,400 donors contributed to the campaign, led by the college Board of Trustees, which donated more than $40 million by itself.
“The success of this campaign is an incredible boost of confidence for Alma in its present state and a tremendous affirmation in its future,” said Eric Blackhurst ’83, chair of the college’s Board of Trustees. “This extraordinary outcome provides a tangible example of how Alma College is well suited to continue expanding opportunities for the students of tomorrow, and serves as a safeguard for the challenges to higher education that lie ahead.”
President Jeff Abernathy echoed the sentiment of optimism and gratitude. “This astonishing show of support is a ringing endorsement of the timeless values, family-oriented culture, personalized approach, outstanding academic programs and phenomenal people who have transformed students’ lives for more than 130 years,” he said.
‘The Scots have forever altered Alma’s trajectory’
The college launched the ambitious “Our Time is Now” campaign in 2013 with a stated objective of providing a financial engine to drive its strategic plan at the time, “Vision 2020,” which was instituted soon after Abernathy’s arrival on campus as president. The campaign sought to meet objectives spanning overarching areas including annual giving, endowment, facilities and other donor priorities.
The “quiet phase” of the campaign spanned six years and resulted in gifts totaling $105 million — 88 percent of the originally stated goal. Those donations resulted in the completion of 11 major priorities and projects, including the Gerstacker Science and Technology Suite, the Hatcher Wrestling Room, the Sherman Strength and Conditioning Facility, Greek scholar houses and the Wright Leppien Opera House.
Donors also enhanced the college’s endowment by establishing 29 newly named, endowed funds and fortifying dozens of existing endowed funds. An additional 170 donors created enduring legacies by including the college in their estate plans.
“I have long believed that Alma College has enormous potential and that President Abernathy’s important and ambitious agenda would require unprecedented philanthropic support,” said Matt vandenBerg ’02, formerly the vice president for advancement and external relations, who in January 2021 moved on to become president of Presbyterian College, in South Carolina.
“Alma’s alumni, parents and friends have repeatedly stepped up during these last several years and have fully funded every single major campaign priority. Put simply, the Scots have forever altered Alma’s trajectory and made the institution an even better place for students, the community and the world.”
Campaign volunteers credited staff in Alma’s Advancement Office with working hard to ensure the success of the campaign. With a relentless focus on building relationships and boosting confidence among the campus community, the team was able to show many people who had donated smaller sums to Alma in the past that they could feel good about making bigger gifts — and that they should, too.
“Fundraising and organization is the strength of those in the Advancement Office. They really know what they’re doing. This was an ambitious campaign, but they knew what they had to do, so they broke it down into pieces of smaller, achievable goals that could be put together to come up with a great plan. I think our very generous donors saw that and realized they can make a difference — they can give students the same wonderful experiences they had,” said Nancy Colina, a longtime supporter of Alma College, parent of two Alma alumni and co-chair of the campaign, with husband John.
“I think donors realized that the world is changing, and with it, education is changing as well. As we’ve grown, we’ve come to understand there are better ways to reach students than we had previously. I think Alma is too good to be left behind, and I’m pleased to see so many agreed with that sentiment,” said John Colina, a trustee emeritus who served on the Board of Trustees for nearly 20 years.
The campaign also benefited from the creation of the Alma College Ambassador Program, a comprehensive effort to organize, support and promote all types of volunteerism, instituted in 2015. The program began with an initial goal of engaging 150 volunteers; it now counts more than 5,000 in its ranks.
“This is a very inclusive campaign,” said Senior Director of Alumni and Family Engagement Bill Arnold ’91. “There are many ways that friends, family and alumni became part of the college through this campaign, whether they were million-dollar donors or volunteers making phone calls. The Ambassador Program has been crucial to the success of the campaign in that it helped welcome a broader group to become involved with Alma College.”
Major puzzle pieces fall into place
In 2019, the college entered the “public phase” of the campaign with two main objectives. The first was to raise funds to support the construction of a new Learning Commons facility. The Learning Commons would transform the college’s current library, built more than 55 years ago and suffering from a range of maintenance challenges, into a distinctive symbol of academic excellence that enriches campus and the student experience. The new Learning Commons facility, when built, will serve as a hub of activity, providing versatile, open spaces for learning, socializing, dining, and collaborating.
“Raising this money for the Learning Commons puts our library on par or above every other liberal arts college in the state, as well as in line with the modern library system,” said John Wilson ’90, a member of the college Board of Trustees and chair of the Learning Commons fundraising committee.
“The new Learning Commons will also house the MJJ Smith Hall of Fame, a celebration of the accomplishments of Alma’s most prominent and successful graduates. Named after one of the most legendary professors in Alma history, the Hall of Fame will serve as a tribute to students who have ‘punched above their weight class’ for many years, and the faculty and staff who enabled them to reach such heights,” Wilson added.
The second objective was to raise money to support the renovation of Dunning Memorial Chapel, Alma College’s most beloved and iconic facility. Given its age — more than 80 years old — and continued extensive use, the chapel has fallen into disrepair. The renovated chapel will bring Alma into the 21st century while ensuring that its Presbyterian roots stay strong and firm. It will serve as a valuable instrument of campus spiritual life that students of all faith backgrounds need now, and will continue to need well into the future.
“This campaign included a historic participation by the Presbyterian churches in our synod, particularly with respect to the renovation in the chapel,” said Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life Andrew Pomerville ’01. “This project is symbolic of the college’s recommitment not only to spiritual life on campus and its Presbyterian roots, but also its dedication to being the college for the Michigan presbyteries. It is an affirmation of the connectedness between the Presbyterian churches of Michigan and Alma College — a recognition that we are ‘their’ college.”
Added Richard Heuschele ’59, trustee emeritus, who was chair of the chapel fundraising committee: “I give a lot of credit to Andrew Pomerville, who has gotten students excited about spiritual life on campus. He had many ideas for ways to keep the church relevant to the next generation of students, and provided enthusiastic support to the campaign.”
Looking to the future
Now that the big question has been answered, another one remains: What can the fundraising arm of Alma College do for an encore? The college’s next campaign has not yet been announced, but Abernathy expects that when it is, it will focus on two areas: renovating the Dow Digital Science Center, and buttressing the college’s endowment.
For now, the campus community is taking a moment to pause and reflect, with gratitude, on an amazingly successful campaign, which lays the foundation of the college for many years to come.
“We are deeply grateful to the enormous number of staff, faculty, students, volunteer leaders and donors who helped make this campaign the biggest in the history of Alma College,” Abernathy said. “This has been a truly transformative campaign and it would not have been possible without the generosity and dedication of so many.”