Syracuse University Magazine


Student Philanthropy Council members (from left) Erik Bortz ’12, Chelsea Damberg ’12, Matt Cohn ’12, and Jess Cunnington ’13 show off the blazers specially designed for them by renowned fashion designer Henry Grethel ’54.

Creating a Culture of Giving Back

Helene Kahn ’10 was a junior when she attended a trustee dinner as a representative of the Student Association. When asked about her career plans, she replied, “I’m interested in fund raising.” Kahn was just the sort of young person SU was looking for to help create a culture of philanthropy on campus, so immediately after graduation she started work as a development associate in the Office of Development. Her charge was to lay the groundwork for the next generation of philanthropists among students and young alumni. “I always knew I wanted to be involved in the philanthropic world because of my parents’ work with nonprofit organizations,” Kahn says.

Kahn began by benchmarking best practices at other universities that are actively working to instill a campus culture of philanthropy. Realizing interactions with students and young alumni must be peer to peer, she recruited 14 students with a commitment to SU to serve on the newly formed Student Philanthropy Council (SPC). Council members learn about the University’s history, vision, and goals in preparation for spreading awareness among students, interacting with the Board of Trustees, attending alumni events, and hosting the annual scholarship luncheon during Orange Central. “It’s easy to connect with alumni because you always have something in common with them,” says SPC chair Chelsea Damberg ’12, whose grandfather attended SU on the G.I. Bill. “Why donors decide to give to SU, or why they support a scholarship in a particular field, reminds me of why I want to give back.” 

In an effort to ensure SPC members could be easily identified as campus leaders, Kahn approached celebrated American designer Henry Grethel ’54 with the idea of designing blazers specifically for them. Donating his time and services, Grethel created stunning navy blue blazers with orange piping—custom made for each student. Council members made quite an impression when they wore their new blazers for the first time at the trustee installation ceremony last fall.  “People kept asking me where they could buy one,” Kahn says. “I told them the blazers are not for sale because they were designed exclusively for SPC members as a badge of honor.” Damberg says she was excited to learn she gets to keep her blazer after graduation. “My blazer is going with me to the grave!” she says.

Last spring, SPC launched a postcard and social media campaign to heighten student awareness that tuition covers only 80 percent of the University’s operating costs for the academic year, and the remaining 20 percent must be covered by gifts from donors. Postcards with such messages as “Did you know in 2010 that more than 30,000 people gave to SU to ensure you have the best educational experience possible?” blanketed campus and similar fact-based tweets went viral. SPC member Nykeba Corinaldi ’11 says they had to figure out a way to approach students with a positive message that would overcome their negativity about the high cost of tuition. “College is expensive and students have more debt now than ever,” Corinaldi says. “That’s why we explain to them the importance of philanthropy.”

Kahn acknowledges the SPC program’s success will be difficult to measure until today’s students become tomorrow’s donors. “We’re planting a lot of seeds, watering them, and watching them sprout,” she says. Corinaldi, who graduated in December and is now part of Generation Orange, believes everyone should try to give their time, treasure, or talent to something they are passionate about. “I love Syracuse,” she says. “I will forever bleed Orange.”                                                                  —Christine Yackel