There are two sides to every ledger sheet: the money going out and the money coming in. Money goes out of Knox via a thousand different streams: faculty and staff salaries, electric bills, upgrading fire safety features in the residence halls, producing this magazine you're reading right now. But money comes into Knox via two channels only: tuition dollars and donations.
Star donors are the largely unacknowledged heroes of Knox College. It’s time to give them their due.
This fall, the list price of a Knox education will top $56,000 a year, including room and board. As hard as it may be to believe, that sum does not cover the actual cost of delivering a Knox education. (For one thing, fully 96 percent of students receive financial aid and/or scholarships, often adding up to more than $30,000 a year.) As a result, Knox relies on donor support for about 17 percent of its operating budget. Every donor and every gift is vitally important to our mission, but those donors who can be counted on to keep giving year after year? They provide stability in even the most financially uncertain times.
The most loyal of these are the alumni we call Stars.
1. THERE'S ONLY ONE WAY TO BECOME A STAR
First, you have to attend Knox College. Next, you need to make a gift to the College at least once a year after you graduate1. It's easy to be a Star when you're a recent graduate—the Class of 2017, for instance, currently boasts 206 Stars, all of whom took part in the class's senior giving project. After just a couple of years, however, those numbers drop precipitously. The Class of 2010 includes just 47 Stars. The Class of 1999 has just 23. The Class of 1978 has only one. Forget to make a gift to Knox one year, and your Star is gone forever. Wait to start giving to Knox until after you've established yourself in your career, and, as much as your generosity will be appreciated, we regret to inform you that you cannot become a Star. You can't even marry into Star status; if you give jointly with your spouse but don't have a Star of your own, unfortunately, you don't get to share theirs.
1There are a handful of Star donors who left Knox before graduation but continue to make a gift every year. Now that's dedication.
2. THE STAR DONOR INDEX
★ Number of Star donors: 1,447, or 19 percent of last year's donors
★ Star donor with the longest tenure: Barbara Sinclair Glick '46 (72 years)
★ Percentage of the Class of 2017 who are Star donors: 74.1
★ Percentage of the Class of 2010 who are Star donors: 14.5
★ Percentage of the Class of 1990 who are Star donors: 6.9
★ Smallest gift from a Star donor: $1
★ Median gift from a Star donor: $72
★ Largest gift from a Star donor: $5 million
★ Number of Star donors who have given more than $1 million to Knox: 6 (thank you!)
3. A TALE OF TWO SUPERSTARS
Dick '57 and Joan Whitney Whitcomb '56 were both business administration majors at Knox when they met in the mid-1950s. After graduation, they reconnected in Chicago and married. Dick took a job with U.S. Gypsum, a career that eventually brought the couple to Atlanta, where their family still lives today. In 1970, he decided it was time to become his own boss—"I had always been kind of a rebel"—and co-founded Gypsum Management and Supply. The early days were exciting but tough. "There were times when Joan would say to me, 'Is it okay to buy groceries this week?'"
Throughout the years, the Whitcombs kept giving to Knox. "For a long time, I couldn't do anything much," he remembers. "I wasn't making any money. But once I did, I decided Knox was one of the places I wanted to support." The couple funded scholarships for business and economics students, contributed to the renovation of Alumni Hall, and, in 2015, donated more than $5 million to support the construction of the Whitcomb Art Center.
"Joan is probably a little more excited about the building than I am. She has always loved art, and she served on the boards of the High Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia." She also traveled to Europe each year to visit museums there. "I'll admit, that's not really where my interest lies," laughs Dick. "I think the only time I've been to the High Museum was to stock sheet rock. So, really, the building's for Joan as well as for Knox."
4. FOUR ALUMNI WHO WILL GO TO ANY LENGTH TO KEEP THEIR STARS
"Even though I did not graduate from Knox (I got my degree from a college in Texas), it has always had a special place in my heart. I have lived in Texas for more than 40 years now and consider it my home, but I still have fond memories of Illinois and Knox."
-June Dodd Edwards '57
"I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, and if I believe in this institution and if I believe in the strength of alumni giving, then I need to lead by example and I need to show my classmates that it's meaningful to be a donor, and even though we're young, even though we may not have deep pockets, we can still make change."
-Tim Schmeling '11
THE TEAM PLAYER
"I came to Knox to play basketball in 1985 for Tim Heimann '70, and I enjoyed my career. I think it's important, as a former athlete, that we feel like we're teammates to the current student-athletes."
-David Anderson '89
"The Star isn't really anything. It doesn't come with any benefits or perks like a United Airlines lounge membership or anything like that. But honestly, I have it, and I just want to keep seeing that star next to my name."
-Graham Troyer-Joy '08
5. THREE PEOPLE WHO GAVE UP THEIR STARS (BUT STILL LOVE KNOX COLLEGE)
A lot of people graduate as Star donors, but many don't keep their status longer than a single year. Others will keep giving for a year or two—but then something happens. We asked a few recently lapsed Stars what had changed for them.
(Note: We're sharing their comments anonymously, because it's not our intention to publicly admonish anyone who chooses not to give.)
THE GRADUATE STUDENT
"I had a lot of other personal expenses. I was working for AmeriCorps, got married in the summer, and most of our finances went into planning our wedding. And then shortly after our wedding, I started graduate school."
THE NEWLY SELF-SUFFICIENT
"I moved out of my parents' house and into my own apartment and giving to the alma mater dropped in priority. Additionally, I felt that if I couldn't make a substantial donation, then I shouldn't make one at all."2
THE PHILANTHROPIST WITH CONFLICTING PRIORITIES
"Right now, all my extra funds are going to support emergency homeless shelters in the city where I live."
2This bears repeating: Any gift to Knox—even a single dollar—will not only maintain Star status, but will also be deeply appreciated.
6. AN INSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE ON STARS
Mel Arney held a variety of titles during her 26 years at Knox, but the one most alumni know her by is "Star Keeper of Knox College." It's how she used to sign her reminders letting people know their Star status was in danger of lapsing. Not that she'd let any Star go without a fight. Every year on June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, she'd arrive at work with a pile of $1 bills. If a Star donor had donated regularly in years past, she'd donate a dollar on their behalf, then send a note letting them know she'd bought them a second chance.3
"The thing about Stars, they weren't the biggest donors, but, over the years, we got to know them as well as, and sometimes better than, we knew the people who made large gifts. We knew when they had moved or were overseas or were getting married."
A particular favorite of hers was Talal Jabari '99. One year, the filmmaker, living in Palestine, was unable to get his contribution to the United States because his town was under bombardment and mail service was unreliable (Knox didn't yet accept online donations). "He emailed me and said, 'Please please let me keep my Star.' I put a dollar in, and a couple of weeks later, his donation arrived. I always told people, if Talal can make his gift from a war zone, then you can make your gift, too!"
Though Mel retired from Knox in early 2015, the tradition of buying second chances for Star donors continues within the Office of Advancement.
3To keep their Star, second-chancers have to make two gifts before the end of the next fiscal year.