Paying it Forwards

Keble College

I’ve operated in a “pay it forwards” technology entrepreneur world for about 15 years now, but there is no getting away from the things I gained from my University years at Keble College, Oxford.

My room in Keble, early 1980s
My room in Keble, early 1980s

With a vibrant group of Keble Entrepreneurs, regular Gaudy Dinners, and year group reunions, I have been back to see what help I can give quite a lot recently. A sort of paying it forwards by giving back. The formal methods of fund raising have all been in change for a while, and I’m enjoying helping in the small ways that I can. Having spent a very thought-provoking and detailed day at the alumni year group event at Keble the other weekend, I am left impressed by just how much progress has been made in terms of funding the college, and more importantly, the students at the college. Obviously, there was coffee.

Keble coffee
Keble coffee

But more importantly, there were inspiring stories from young people who were really helped by what old members can do.

Talbot Fund

It will not have escaped the attention of most people that the college is making direct approaches to old members to ask them to give a little to the Talbot Fund, preferably on a continuous giving basis. The amount that is being asked for, at £10 a month is still only “a Starbucks coffee a week” to do something of real and last value for a community of real worth”. I’m pretty sure that I would happily buy a coffee for any of the students that I met at the event, and any of the academic staff at Keble. I would cheerfully convert the cost of a cup of coffee into a lasting physical change that will benefit Keble for decades to come.

Keble new Ackland Site
Keble new Acland Site

Some background

It is clear that a lot of progress has been made in terms of the vision of what the Keble community actually is, what it does, and what it stands for. Many of the early points that inclined parts of the audience against the notion of directly appealing to friends and old members have been carefully reassessed. The messages that are being suggested are effective and personal. Keble is not an American college, and its old members are unlikely to behave in the same way that Yale Harvard members behave in terms of philanthropy. Most of us are English, and share that natural English reserve and reticence.

Keble Liddon Quad
Keble Liddon Quad

Despite that reticence, the world has changed, young people at Keble really do need the help of old members in many, many ways. Keble itself has always relied on charitable giving, and that is one of its major strengths: it represents the sum of the historic wishes of those who attended, and of those who founded it.

Why give?

My take on the day was that a unique feature is Keble’s ability to encourage and deliver on the promise of social mobility; a factor that is of incredible value in a world that is becoming less socially mobile and more socially divided. I am also delighted that the college is not a “basket case” asking for alms, but a vibrant educational operation that genuinely helps itself commercial, financially and politically. Alumni giving is going to provide additional support where it is most needed. It is not just falling into a leaking bucket. Indeed, most members will be unaware of the huge progress that has been made in improving and renovating the infrastructure of Keble (hall, rooms, and chapel). I would suggest some before and after images and video would be worthwhile to express the huge progress made. I know that there are proposals to do just this, in order to make clear to a wide audience just how impressive the improvements have been.

What is being asked of old members?

At present, slightly under 50% of all known old members, have given money to the college since records for the Talbot Fund began. That is around 3,600 people. Two very generous old members have offered £25,000 each to create a £50,000 prize fund should the college be able to achieve 50% participation (plus one person) by the middle of this summer. The target is therefore to bring the total up to 4,121 donors. And we are very nearly there. Having reached that point, this will make the donors the majority, and is likely to increase the peer pressure on future donors to give. The mentality of giving is strongly activated by that signal, and this is something which is roundly to be applauded. Equally strongly felt is the signal that 82% of current leavers (2013 Finalists), those who are most affected by fees, loans and the employment market, have already made their first gifts. I find that pretty humbling. During the day the attendees learned that there is “no 1 reason to give, but mixtures of 7 reasons”, which, coupled with the need to treat each future donor individually, puts the onus on anybody asking for funding from old members to encourage and deepen relationships inside and outside the community of givers.

Keble Hayward Quad
Keble Hayward Quad

The facts appear to support a hypothesis that people with a connection give more and more frequently. There was a lot of discussion as to whether it was possible to encourage “non-event” visiting for old members, their friends and families with the embedded aim of deepening connections? Just dropping in for coffee? A quick visit? Evensong? A drink at the bar? We also looked at ways in which old members who are running small companies or personal consultancies, can be encouraged or enabled to give in a tax efficient way through their companies?

How will it work

There will be 5 quick steps:

  1. activating the alumni groups so they can get to work
  2. send telethon teams to work for a week from 15th to 29th March
  3. share 50:50 message from May through year group reps
  4. clear up in June and convert outstanding promises to donations
  5. report on success in July

What can year groups do

In effect each year group needs to find around 4 new donors per year. So, all that remains is for me to discover what is the most effective method of reaching 12 people from my year group? Arrange a punting day? Beer event? One to one meetings? Most importantly, we can deepen relationships with each other, with our peers, with philanthropists we know and with the college.

How to give

Donation links are easy to remember, whether you are an old member of Keble, or just a philanthropic giver who feels it important to support social mobility, high quality education and English traditions. Credit Card           Paperless Direct Debit Say I sent you.