Giving With Purpose: Meditations on My Mellon Immersive at the Rackham Development Fund

Written by Jallicia Jolly, Doctoral Student, American Culture

When I used to think of fundraising and philanthropy at the university level, I thought of transactions. I viewed these as largely unidirectional. A vacant monetary exchange from which passion and excitement were contingent upon the receipt of a “gift,” which ideally should be commensurate with the cost of a four-year college experience ($$$!). My Mellon Immersive experience with the Rackham Development Office expanded my understanding of what “giving” means at the university level.

Most graduate students in some way have benefited from the funding of donors and alums. From our spirited explorations of the archives to our nomadic ventures to the “field,” we have received much support for our local and global professional endeavors. Much of this can be attributed to the engagements of the Development Office, which leverages resources and cultivates relationships conducive to academic and social support, professional development, and network-building among students, the university community, and donors.

My time with the Development Office staff was extremely informative. As demonstrated in the posts’ pithy title, it strengthened my understanding of the importance of purposeful giving. The office’s multi-pronged strategy for fundraising incorporates various, ongoing engagements with alums, donors, and potential donors. Not only does this include connecting current students to gift-givers, but it also requires relationship-building that centers understanding donors’ interests and values to develop opportunities that facilitate meaningful giving.

At the core of these multiplex engagements with donors and potential donors are personalized connections that allow gift-givers to learn more about the impact of their giving. I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon organized by the office for The Barbour Scholars – a prestigious award offering funding to female graduate students from Asia since 1917. The fund secures an impressive legacy at the university as it continues to support women in positions that contribute to the political, educational, industrial, and social development in their home countries, as well as in their scholarly fields in the United States.

Learning more about the mechanisms of philanthropy and fundraising was fascinating. Celebrating the achievements of the eight 2016/2017 Barbour Scholars was inspiring. This Mellon Immersive was a valuable teaching experience that strengthened my desire to continue exploring the possibilities of university-community relations.

As I pondered the meaning of giving within my own life, one question remains salient: What does it mean to “give with purpose” for those of us living and working in elite, insular, academic spaces? This question has growing significance in the wake of growing social insecurity, political instability, and psychological toll. Whether we give our time, dollars, and/or lives, it must be purposeful, engaged, and invested in improving the quality of lives of those beyond our comfort borders. For, we all reap the benefits of embracing our collective responsibilities to the improvement of lives and communities within and beyond the borders of our universities.

I highly recommend the Mellon Immersives for graduate students interested in getting a taste of different careers and exposure to new skills and competencies critical for humanities scholarship and practice. As a humanities Ph.D. student, it further emphasized the importance of developing and articulating transferrable skills that are relevant to a wide range of careers. As noted by Sidonie Smith, the challenges facing higher education demand that we expand the 21st-century doctoral education in ways that can teach us how to apply our talents and disposition for leadership and intellectual inquiry to the world.

I would add, the challenges facing our world require that we practice meaningful giving in our professional and personal lives.