How has unification affected alumni donations?

Students have likely wondered how the Vermont State University merger discussions and Castleton University’s new direction has impacted alumni donations.

If the Phonathon fund-raiser is an indication, it hasn’t.

The Phonathon happens once a year, but it’s a constant battle to stay on-top of the whereabouts and contact information of all of Castleton’s alumni, a housekeeping measure by most standards — but it’s so much more than that. It’s a process that allows alumni to directly connect with students — and gives the Castleton community insight into alumni sentiment.

“It brings them back to their experience — the sports, activities, fun, and social life. They like to reminisce about their favorite professors and classes. Alumni are very invested in the time they spent here,” said Carrie Savage, Director of Development & Alumni Affairs .

It also raises money.

Fortunately, despite the controversy and fear brought on by the unification, alumni still consider students’ approval of the Castleton experience to be the biggest motivation to their continued donations — and thus far alumni donations have continued to increase.

“During the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, we (the office staff) were the only ones doing the Phonathon calls. You can tell by the conversations that the alumni are really glad to finally hear from students again,” Savage said.

“The unification process has left most Spartans asking themselves what it’s going to mean to attend what was once Castleton University,” said senior Alyssa Shaw.

But recent alumni donations have targeted causes on campus that will improve the quality of life of students — an alumnus donated a One Button recording studio to the Business Department. And most notably, over $150,000 was raised in honor of Victoria Angis last November. This resulted in a $50,000 endowed scholarship and SOS staff, Diversity and Equity, and Green Campus each receiving donations of $10,000 — the Green Campus award is significant, as this donation marks their first major donation ever.

The school has gone through countless name changes, and students are reminded of this when they trek the campus walking-path toward Stafford Hall.

This time feels different though — this community can’t help feeling it’s losing an integral part of its identity. Castleton no longer having the same name of the town students have fallen so deeply in love with, has left the CU community questioning what the future holds.

“The only anomalous occurrence was that one guy — he was an older guy, he reminisced about how beautiful Vermont was … how he missed the skiing, backroads, woods and everything it has to offer. He really enjoyed the conversation. And eventually asked about how I felt about the unification,” said Tobias Duke, a senior working at the Alumni Relations Office.

Alumni have not generally raised concerns or halted donations because of their feelings on the unification, alumni officials said. Fourteen of the 18 alums Duke contacted simply stuck to the script, and continued to graciously pledge donations to the university, he said.

“I only had a couple of people who said they wouldn’t be able to donate. One was a recent graduate, and he was unemployed — and the others were just people we couldn’t reach at a good time,” Duke said.

The Alumni Relations Office, like the rest of the Castleton community, has proven tenacious and resilient when it matters most. During the COVID pandemic, it was make-or-break for everyone, their small office was no exception.

“And perhaps surprisingly, through a pandemic, and news of a major identity change, donations from alumni have only increased since 2019.”

Savage also described how the Alumni Relations team has adapted.

“We can show students that Castleton can offer the keys to a good life. During COVID, we adapted and made the shift to online programming. We were able to connect students, through Alumni panels, to alumni throughout the country, who previously would not have been able to attend an on-campus event,” she said.

The office could connect to anyone, they no longer had to worry as much about time zones and they could forget about travel costs entirely.
It continues to make use of virtual meetings to improve opportunities for students. This month they’ll hold a virtual Women in Healthcare Alumnae Panel in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Many alumni have the memory of the most recent name change from Castleton State College to University burning in their minds. And they feel similarly to how they did in 2015 — it seems too soon.

But most alumni just want to see Castleton students proud to call their alma mater home. And with all the college closings throughout the country, they feel Spartans should be glad given the economic prospects of the unification.

“Be open to opportunities. And take that leap. I speak to a CEO who says they could never have imagined being a CEO of a company while walking the halls of campus, attending courses,” Savage said as a parting remark, describing the best advice alumni give to all students.

Their best outcomes in life generally arose from taking that risk, that next step in life, Savage said.

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