Web Exclusives: Rally 'Round the Cannon -- Princeton history
by Gregg Lange '70
December 12, 2007:
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
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.
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.