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Student outreach program surpasses goal

Amanda Berkson-Brand

The Mills College Telephone Outreach Program set a record when it surpassed its fundraising goals for the 2007-2008 school year, raising $560,978 as of Feb. 7, 2008, according to Danielle Brown, assistant director of the program.

T.O.P. is a branch of the Annual Fund, which is a sector of the Office of Institutional Advancement.

The callers, comprised of Mills students, call alumnae and parents in efforts to secure donations. To date, 1,917 donors have supported Mills this academic year through the T.O.P.

The callers surpassed the goal of $400,000, and the program has set a new target of $750,000. Brown said T.O.P. has typically raised $250,000 -$300,000 annually.

Brown attributes part of the reason the program raised more money to its new contract with IDC, a Nevada telecommunications firm that helped craft the $400,000 goal. According to its Web site,, IDC has served over 210 colleges and universities in donor-centered fund-raising and student calling initiatives.

According to Brown, most of the money T.O.P. has raised will go toward student scholarships for both current and incoming students, beginning Fall 2008. “That’s our number one goal,” she said.

Mills Director of Student Administrative Services, David Gin, echoed Brown’s sentiment. “Everywhere I go, I like to advocate for [unrestricted funds to go toward] scholarships,” he said. “But that’s determined more by senior management than I.”

He added that the College makes financial aid “a priority.”

Unrestricted funds are donations to the College that don’t specify where the money should be spent, and often go into an account called Mills’ Greatest Need. Donors also have the option of creating named scholarships, in which they can place restrictions on what qualifications a student must meet to receive the scholarship.

According to Sarah Malashock, associate director of the Annual Fund, named scholarships can be endowed, which means that only the interest accrued by that money is given out each year.

Or, money is given through the Annual Fund in $5,000 to $10,000 increments, in which the full amount is handed out for a one-time use the next fiscal year.

Gin said Mills financial aid is comprised of funds raised through the Annual Fund, interest from the Mills endowment, and funds from the current operating budget.
According to Gin, the total financial aid awarded to full-time students amounted to over 13 million dollars this school year, and that amount increases every year.

He stressed that as such, money raised from the T.O.P. is still a fraction of total aid given.

The fundraising program has remained successful despite fears of an economic downturn and the possible United States recession, which might make raising scholarship funds even more important.

Brown says that economic troubles concern most fundraising professionals, but the program is sensitive to people’s budgets, and often asks for quarterly donations.

“We really try to stress that importance. Even though the economy may be getting hurt right now, Mills still needs the support because [the economy is] also hurting students. And it’s making it harder for them to afford college, so they need more support from outside sources,” said Brown.

Not all the money raised can be used immediately – the College must wait until it actually has money in its hands. That is why the program is pushing the use of credit cards, which allows them to get money more quickly.

According to Brown, donations on credit cards are up from 20 percent last year to 30-40 percent this year-with a total of $206,743.

T.O.P. is currently comprised of 25 students, but Brown says she is aiming for 30.

Of those, Sophomore Aarthi Sekar was just promoted to a Student Leadership position, raising over $75,000 on her own, according to Brown.

Sekar said that T.O.P. has a great atmosphere. “It’s a good way to connect with alumna and find out things about Mills from the past,” she said.

Sekar said asking for donations isn’t difficult. “The women we reach have a really special connection with Mills,” Sekar said. “Being able to support [an all-women’s college] gives them pride.”