Giving from the heart

Trinity community steps up amid health crisis

By Tess Dudek-Rolon

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to upend life across the globe last spring, higher-education institutions faced existential questions about their futures. Trinity College, like its peers, reevaluated carefully laid plans for institutional strategy, including fundraising priorities, to adapt to the changes sparked by the coronavirus.

Of particular concern was how the college could help its students and their families, many of whom have seen a significant change in their financial situations. Fortunately, in the months following the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, alumni, parents, and friends joined together to donate more than $5 million to help their fellow Bantams.

As the pandemic unfolded, Trinity’s previously established Student Emergency and Equity Fund (SEEF) became a critical lifeline. The fund addresses the reality that even the cost of a bus ticket home can be crippling to some students.

Bettina Cecilia Gonzalez ’16 is one of the young alumni who gave to the fund. “I was thinking about how it would have been for me as a student at this time. I was a low-income student. I wouldn’t know where to go or how to scrape the funds to get somewhere if I had to immediately leave the college,” says Gonzalez. “I wanted to step up and do what I can for students who might have the same worries.”

Like Gonzalez, other alumni were interested in making an impact where it mattered most. “Philanthropy is about coming together around the college and around each other,” says Jennifer Blum ’88. Blum is a founding member of the Marjorie Butcher Circle (MBC), formed in 2019 to enhance the role of women in philanthropy at the college and honoring the college’s first female tenured professor. “Trinity shaped a lot of us,” she says. Blum and the MBC, which is eager to support students and young alumni, recognized how COVID-19 has made things especially hard for these two groups. “I don’t think you could pick a better time to have a leadership organization like the Marjorie Butcher Circle. Philanthropy is about acting for good and with purpose, in addition to being about raising funds,” Blum says. “There is no question this is a transformational time in higher education, for this circle and for alumni in general. If the MBC can bring new ideas on philanthropy and purpose to the college, then it will be hugely successful.”

New Trinity Trustee Henry D’Auria ’83 is an ardent believer in the power of philanthropy, particularly in times of crisis. “Philanthropy is an outgrowth of whatever passions you have, and now is the time to make your passion known,” he says. As Trinity pivoted to remote learning and began short- and long-term planning for post-coronavirus education, some leadership donors like D’Auria directed their giving to current-use financial aid.

“Financial aid was a priority for me even before COVID-19,” says D’Auria. “I think it’s important to build schools that attract diverse candidates, and with the rapid rise of the cost of higher education, being able to supplement family income with financial aid is even more important. Being able to ensure that the next generation gets access to such a strong education is critical in this period when our nation and the world’s competitiveness requires using every person better.”

The Trinity community’s support came in gifts large and small, from those wishing to secure the long-term outlook for students and those who simply saw a need to help students get through a difficult semester. Paul Sullivan ’95, the “Wealth Matters” columnist for The New York Times and a former member of the Trinity College Board of Fellows, says, “People who are thinking about giving divide it into two buckets—the first is philanthropy, and the second is charity.” Philanthropy, he explains, includes the long-term gifts people make to build their legacy. Charity, in contrast, is a response to a crisis or immediate need.

This past spring, Trinity students benefited from both, with the SEEF providing urgent resources students needed, and the long-term vision of donors who chose to bolster financial aid funds offering continuing resources for students to pursue their liberal arts education in fulfillment of the college’s mission.

Trinity College Alumni Association President Eric Estes ’91, vice president for campus life at Brown University, knows that the surge of generosity couldn’t have come at a better time. “Working in higher education, I know firsthand the unprecedented challenges faced by students and their families in this difficult moment,” he says. “They need our support more than ever so that all students can thrive inside and outside of the classroom at Trinity. That’s why I decided to give.”