Web Exclusives: Rally 'Round the Cannon -- Princeton history
by Gregg Lange '70

December 12, 2007:
The father of Annual Giving
Launching AG was one of Harold Helm ’20’s many Princeton roles

By Gregg Lange ’70

The opening bell of the new comprehensive fundraising campaign rang Nov. 9, with demonstrations of Princeton’s academic prowess, much furious athletic and extracurricular activity, tidal waves of orange and black, and great partying (hey, this is Princeton, right?) reinforcing the usual Yale weekend hoopla.

While the University continues to face huge challenges (enumerated exhaustively in colorful campaign literature) trying to retain and extend its seemingly conflicting roles of important research institution and the country’s (world’s?) premiere undergraduate teaching college, it serves well to remember how astonishingly far it has come financially in a very short time. The endowment of $14.8 billion now provides 37 percent of Princeton’s operating income. That’s a huge change from just 25 years ago, when in December 1982 it was valued at $1 billion for the first time. That’s correct (for us non-econ. majors): Thanks to very effective management and breathtaking generosity, capital holdings are up 1,380 percent in 25 years, or 11.1 percent compounded annually after spending 4 or 5 percent on operations. We should all do so well.

But that’s not the number that currently impresses me (no cheap date, I). Nope, what leaves me speechless is last year’s $49 million Annual Giving drive. (On average, every living undergraduate alum donated $727, every donating one $1,244.) In one year. The Class of ’82, in laying waste to prior records, donated $7,233 per living classmate. You have to check twice to be sure the decimal place is right. Since the existing record was surpassed by 21 percent and the campaign goal of $42.5 million was exceeded by 15 percent, I think we can safely guess that even the happiest of the development office Happy Warriors was taken aback.

So let’s pause to say thanks to Harold Helm ’20.

He’s the guy who “volunteered” (wouldn’t you love to really know?) to chair the first AG campaign in 1940, and to go public in PAW with a personal appeal to every alum to give to Princeton every year. Just write a check, big or small (he was a fanatic on participation, regardless of amount), no questions asked, thanks-here’s-your hat-have-a-great-day. This required prenegotiation with a batch of classes who had various donation programs already under way, including the reigning favorite: a whole-life insurance deal that resulted in a named-class 20th reunion gift to the University, much spiffier than just a receipt for the IRS.

While hitting up alumni was not a new idea – Yale had been making organized solicitations since 1890, and Dartmouth started a version of AG in 1916 – Princeton really only got the ball rolling in 1936 with the President’s Program, an organized effort to solicit wealthy grads to fund a new library, expand the School of Public and International Affairs, get music and religion departments under way and expand scholarship aid. In 1938 discussion began of a broad appeal for operating funds, spearheaded by trustees Chauncey Belknap ’12 and Edward Duffield 1892. The President’s Program was reorganized as the Princeton University Fund, a predecessor to the development office, in 1940 and Annual Giving was a fundamental component. Enter Helm.

Let’s consider the challenges of the situation. Aside from the novelty of the proposition and the entrenched behavior of the classes, the external environment wasn’t exactly conducive to shoveling in unrestricted dough. The Depression still cast its shadow over the economic landscape, and there was this small matter of another major European war sucking the attention from anything less cataclysmic. In only the second year of AG, Helm and his hearty band had to create a pitch that made the argument for donating your $25 or whatever to Princeton instead of buying U.S. war bonds while we were at war with Germany and Japan. This included what has to be the only non-orange-and-black mailer in Princeton fundraising history – a red, white, and blue flier making the case for the patriotism inherent in giving to Princeton. The results speak for themselves: After a first year of $80,000 from 18 percent of the alumni in 1941, at the end of the war in 1945 it was up to $187,000 from 38 percent.

Helm’s success in AG led to greater responsibilities and crucial achievements. He chaired the Princeton trustees for 10 years (including the first formal $53 million capital campaign), as well as the 1956 search committee for Bob Goheen ’40 *48 and the trustees’ Committee on Coeducation in 1968. Goheen called him without question the most helpful trustee during his time as president. When they spruced up McCosh 50, hallowed locus of Princeton academia, they renamed it for Harold Helm.

Now, Princeton wouldn’t be itself without the Peter Lewis ’55s, the Meg Whitman ’77s and the Gordon Wu ’58s; big gifts for big dreams are powerful and irreplaceable. God bless them. But the 38,849 of us who chipped in for AG last year as essentially an act of faith, with no control over its use, represent the throwoff on about $1 billion worth of endowment – not exactly chopped liver, except maybe for the nice canapés at the campaign kickoff dinner. This doesn’t go unnoticed by the trustees; five years of AG is carefully included in each capital campaign so that hopefully everybody feels a part. The huge tribute plaque to the last billion-dollar campaign hanging in Frist covers a hundred square feet and includes 58,358 names – randomly.

So here’s to us, too. Belknap and Duffield saw these possibilities, and Helm brought them to life, but every year we each make them real again. P

Lange '70Gregg Lange '70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.