The Kindness of Strangers
The notion that someone you’ve never even met has given you a large amount of money takes a little while to get used to. For one group of U-M students, receiving such a gift from a stranger motivated them to pay it forward.
Originally founded as the Society of LSA Scholars in 2010, the group began volunteering and working to build community among scholarship students. Renamed Appreciate + Reciprocate (A+R) in 2011, the group began raising money for LSA’s Emergency Scholarship Fund. In spring 2013, they decided to do something bigger: endow a scholarship themselves.
“We started fundraising to create our own scholarship,” explains Avery Gleason (A.B. ’15), “because we wanted to make a bigger impact.”
The scholarship would be awarded based on need, academics, and community service. To endow a scholarship, they would need to raise $25,000, a daunting figure for a group that had previously raised only a few thousand dollars. And they needed to raise it in just two years.
Until this point, A+R had raised money through bake sales, bucketing on street corners, and hosting an annual benefit dinner. To get to $25,000, they would have to get creative.
“There was a lot of pressure,” recalls LSA junior Louisa Abbott, President of A+R.
When the annual Giving Blueday for 2015 rolled around, A+R launched a major campaign. They queued up hourly posts that included stories of scholarship students, and they encouraged donors to give at midnight to maximize their chances of having their donations matched. They also competed in student-group challenges, and reached out to family and friends for support.
“Dean Martin even tweeted he had made a donation to us on Giving Blueday, which was really encouraging,” says Anna Thompson (A.B. ’16). “I think the combination of preparation, personal outreach, and strong social media presence allowed us to be successful.” A+R ended up raising $8,450.
By the spring 2016 A+R benefit dinner, members of the group were nervous but optimistic about their chances of reaching their goal. At the end of the evening, they had raised $30,000, well past what they needed to endow the scholarship. “The dinner was a fundraiser and a celebration at the same time,” past A+R President Samantha Lemmen (A.B. ’16) says.
The very first A+R scholarship has been awarded to an LSA junior, and the fund will now generate an annual $1,000 award to give to one junior or senior. The group is now raising money to sponsor two students.
“I got to come to U-M because someone had invested in me,” Lemmen says. “Being able to take away some of the financial stress so a student can fully focus on being here was especially meaningful ”
“My scholarship made U-M a reality for me,” says Thompson, who chaired the scholarship fundraising effort. “A+R was the perfect way to give back for what I’d been given.”