Thoughts from the Embers: Evaluating finances

During her installation address, President Teresa Amott announced the formation of the Campaign Advisory Committee, which has been charged with formulating a capital campaign by March 2013.

While Knox’s financial situation is the most stable that it’s been in a long time, nearly every one of our challenges, from attracting top students to not being fried alive in the dorms in late May, has roots in our financial situation. Therefore, here are a few suggestions for the committee as it prepares to convene on Sept. 27.

Twelve years ago, Knox was in a state of financial chaos. Endowment spending had reached unsustainable levels, and the college was on the verge of falling victim to the vast disparities between its expenses and its income. Fortunately, the efforts of then-President Roger Taylor and other members of the Knox community helped bring spending under control. But it came with a price: painful cuts across the board, perhaps most notably to faculty salaries. We may bask in our comparative financial impregnability, but the college has a long way to go towards creating a solid financial foundation.

Since Knox’s recent past has taught us that waiting will not solve our problems, the first suggestion is that the committee should plan to move ahead as quickly as possible and perhaps even beat its deadline. A capital campaign is a visible commitment to building the base we need as new challenges continue to present themselves. It is a sign to prospective students that this is an institution that acknowledges its situation and is actively working to improve it. Most importantly, it is a promise to current members of the Knox community that the college is doing its best to rectify low salaries, aged facilities and the tight spaces in which we go about our daily lives.

Fundraising, of course, inherently presents a challenge of its own: donors must have an incentive to give, and without seeing evidence that Knox is a college worth giving to, funds will not appear. This is a vicious cycle that we can and must break. For a college of its size and financial resources, Knox students are incredibly accomplished. From the Growing Galesburg program to the research presented at the Horizons showcases earlier this month, funding from Knox (and, subsequently, from donors) has enabled us to explore our passions, further our careers and better our community.

Hence a second suggestion: publicizing our accomplishments must be a central part of the campaign in order to assure potential donors that this campus is already thriving and will only be enhanced by their gifts. This will require more frequent (and timely) updating of the website with a focus on telling students’ stories. It will be just as imperative to showcase new initiatives on campus, even small things such as replacing the aged wood on the Gizmo patio with brick. Each improvement and achievement is an indicator of potential, which can in turn show potential donors that this is a place in which they will see a return on their investments.

Finally, in order for our funding stream to be sustainable, we must continue to cultivate our pool of donors. So here’s one last suggestion: retaining pride in Knox and conveying that pride whenever possible. Current students who have confidence in the future of their college and its ability to provide for its constituents will be more inclined to help boost that ability through donations. Moreover, potential donors who see Knoxians enthused about their college are more likely to translate that enthusiasm into funding. Going forward, let’s remember the financial hardships that the college has faced over the past decade, but let’s also be mindful that the capital campaign, if well-executed, is a way to fix them.

TKS Editorial Board

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