The York Annual Fund is one special organisation that this year, as in previous years, has been working hard to bridge the financial gap for the hardest hit students at York through special bursaries. They are a registered charity run by the Development and Alumni Relations Office, who through generous donations from alumni, last year provided £33,750 for Entrance bursaries for 50 students. This year, they are on course to raise 50 Achieving Excellence Bursaries of £1,050 for next year’s incoming students.
However, their work stretches far beyond helping individual students, with many more York students benefiting from grants to societies and sports clubs. In 2010/11, £58,189 worth of grants were raised for York societies and £28,485 for sports clubs. They’ve approved requests for grants from £100 for a society banner through to £4,000 in 2011 for YUSU Volunteering’s Kids’ Camp.
Beyond the large sums of cash raised though are the people who make these donations possible. Much of the money is collected from alumni bi-annually in autumn and summer telethon campaigns, at the heart of which are 26 students.
For Ellie Haines, a post-graduate student and one of two callroom supervisors, this is her seventh telethon campaign.
“Every shift brings with it a number of different challenges and unusual situations, but these make the job what it is,” Haines said.
“For me, the most inspiring calls are the ones in which the caller speaks to someone who starts the call by expressing that they are not really in a financial situation to give, but ends, having been reminded of their time at York by one of our student callers, wanting to give a gift to the University. It is far easier for these people to say no than to say yes, but despite their financial difficulties they feel that contributing to the York Annual Fund really is worthwhile.”
Haines herself has overseen how much of a difference York Annual Fund grants can make as Director of the 2012 Spring Festival, which she says without generous support from the Fund, elements of the Festival could not have taken place.
The telethons were started in 1998 and have been run continuously since 2007. They appeal to alumni, according to Hilary Blake, Annual Fund Officer, because: “Having a conversation with a current student takes alumni back to their student days and gives them a chance to reflect on the path that their time at York started them out on.”
It is an enjoyable opportunity for many alumni, some of whom may have not returned to York in 30 years. Blake added: “It also makes them more aware of the challenges that current students are facing and the ways they can help.” Many attended York before students had to pay tuition fees.
Calling alumni isn’t all about the money though, it’s about re-connecting old students with their former University, and giving them a chance to get involved again – whether they want to attend a reunion, a University careers event or reconnect with friends over the University’s online professional networks.
Blake recalled receiving an email from an alumnus a few weeks ago. Having answered a call from one particular student last summer, he’s now re-connected with some people he studied with over 30 years ago and has been involved in York’s professional networks. Having decided to come to the Annual Alumni Reunion Weekend, he asked to meet the student caller in person to thank her for getting him involved again.
Of course, the calls also offer alumni a chance to depart pearls of wisdom to currents students.
Nick Skeavington, a third year History and Philosophy student, said: “I have had some really strong careers advice including information from a man who worked for lots of major airlines and now works as a freelance consultant in the aviation industry offering to introduce me to people and take a look through my CV.
“Ultimately, I think it is important to have student involvement [in the telethon] because the activities and bursaries supported by the York Annual Fund directly impact students so it seems right that they play a role in raising that money.”
While giving back to York may not be the first thing on some graduating students’ minds, a special graduation appeal is being launched this year, with Tim Ellis, YUSU President, and other graduating students having already pledged to make a small donation of £10.