For almost 10 years, I watched the class gift program at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University grow from an idea to a major source of new endowment funding. The backbone of class gifts are the senior class agents. They are the gentle, passionate warriors who go out and ask their peers to join them in pledging a monthly gift. They teach their peers that by joining together, these “small” gifts grow into something that can have a major impact.
What makes these agents tick? Why are they so effective? I thought I’d ask two “stars,” and add my two cents about what I’ve observed over time.
I’d like to introduce these class agents from St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University:
Chris Haberberger, Class of 2016 is a graduate of the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. Chris was a Business Honors and Management major, and today is a grad student pursuing a Master in Human Resource Management at A&M.
Will Doubrava, also Class of 2016, graduated with a degree in Agricultural Leadership and Development. Today he is a fleet manager for JB Hunt.
What do they have to say about their experiences as senior class gift agents?
Why did you become a class agent?
Chris: I wanted to give back to a place that had given me so much.
Will: I wanted to be involved one last time at St. Mary’s as a student.
Mary’s Comments: I have no idea how many class agents I’ve interacted with throughout the years, but Chris and Will echo THE main motivations. They love the organization and/or had a transformational experience. They see their senior year, when they face saying goodbye, as a time to show their appreciation. They want to make sure that what they experienced is available to those who come after them. In addition, the Class Gift program is way to grow the bonds of fellowship and comradery with other students, and to keep in touch with the organization after graduation.
What were the challenges of being a class agent?
Will: I learned how difficult it is to commit and get others to commit financially when the future is uncertain.
Chris: Time, I really wish we had more time to create a wider exposure to our senior class to build towards a larger gift.
Mary’s Comments: Will expressed a common uneasiness students have—making commitments. He learned and taught others how to consider what is important, even when we don’t know what the future will bring—and we never do. Class agents ask their peers to consider what is important to them, to prioritize their actions, and answer the question: Will generosity and gratitude be part of my financial decisions? This is a new question for most young adults. Even when somebody declined to participate in the Class Gift, Will planted the seed for future giving.
Will’s response also highlights another lesson. He was a great class agent, but sometimes his peers said “no.” Will learned how to receive and respect the “no” and persevere toward the “yes” from others. What a great life-lesson! We rarely achieve our career, personal, and relationship goals without getting outside of our comfort zones and taking some risks. Being a class agent teaches this. It gives the experience of creating a case and a common bond through shared values with another, and asking for a commitment.
In his approach to reaching out to fellow students, Chris also highlighted another common challenge college students experience—managing time—there is never enough. Yet, he was a leader in a successful fundraising program. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Even if the lack of time kept Chris from doing everything possible to build the Class of 2016’s gift, he did a lot—and accomplished much more than if he had never tried at all.
What were the rewards?
Will: Fulfilling our goal of $66,000 was incredible, and getting to attend the appreciation dinner was also great.
Chris: The ability to learn the fundraising skills and see how those can transfer over to other parts of my life was invaluable. Additionally, having the ability to give over $60,000 back to St. Mary’s was the greatest gift I could have been a part of.
Mary’s Comments: Both Chris and Will felt joy in their achievement. They’ve gained a confidence that will serve them well in the future. My Class Gift suggests a signature event for the class agents and those who pledged to celebrate together. I’ve been to these events. They are a lot of fun, and can get a bit emotional. Seniors know they will be moving on and moving away from many of their college friends. The event is a time to share memories and be with each other during the last few days of college.
On a more practical note, this event also offers a kind of “deadline” for getting others to commit. It’s an incentive for those who are “on the fence” to make a decision in time to enjoy the celebration.
What would you say to somebody who is considering becoming a class agent?
Chris and Will: Do it!
Mary’s Comments: While you might think that a good class agent should be an extrovert who isn’t afraid of “selling,” that’s not necessarily true. Good class agents have all kinds of personalities. Some enjoy throwing a big, loud party to ask for the gifts, while others like a more personal approach over coffee. Part of the training process for class agents involves helping them understand their own way of relating to others, and encouraging them to build a dedicated community among themselves. That way, they can learn from and help each other, working together to reach their fundraising goal.
One more thing. . .
Let’s dig a little deeper and think about how being a class agent has affected Chris and Will. Will is already pursuing his career and Chris’ academic days are numbered. They have learned that much of the good accomplished in the world depends on funding. They have experienced success in helping an organization that they both care about. They have been empowered by developing some great skills that will serve them well wherever they end up, and they’ll leave college motivated to use these skills to make the world a better place.
Chances are, based on my observations through the years, Will and Chris will continue to be benefactors, even after their Class Gift pledge is fulfilled.
Being class agents prepared them to be future leaders in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and faith communities. Not only did they raise a lot of money, they raised a lot of virtue by being examples of gratitude and generosity among their fellow students. Who knows what good that continues to inspire?
Thank you, Chris and Will, and all class agents for the good you do!
Mary P. Walker is the founder of Charity Architect, a consulting organization that educates and empowers nonprofits to go out and do more good in the world.