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By Vanessa Greco

Ryerson has five years to convince former students to invest in its multimillion-dollar future.

Next May, the university plans to launch a five-year fundraising campaign. To reach a projected goal of $150 million, Ryerson hopes to sway past students to open their pocketbooks.

Generations of students have come and gone, but only seven per cent of Ryerson donations come from alumni. Proportionally, this means alumni contribute the least of all Ryerson donor groups, according to a Board of Governors presentation last November.

Instead, most of Ryerson’s donation money — 62 per cent — comes from a few wealthy friends. Benefactors like Harry Rosen, Ted Rogers and Jack Cockwell have all written large cheques to Ryerson for university development.

“In the last campaign, our major money was collected from friends who believe in this institution,” said Adam Kahan, vice president of university advancement. “Right now, working on the number of alumni donations is a goal. We want to engage them.”

At the University of Toronto, it seems former students are more than willing to dole out cash for their alma mater. Over half of its donation money — 51 per cent — comes from alumni, making them U of T’s largest contributing group.

“The scale is different. U of T is graduating a much greater number of alumni each year,” Kahan said, adding that Ryerson has only been a university since 1993.

Pamela Shanks, executive director of development, said that since many students commute, it’s more difficult for alumni to feel connected to Ryerson.

“The number of alumni that contribute are like a thermometer of how our graduates feel about their school,” said Shanks. “Their donations kind of validate their relationship with Ryerson.”

In 2004, Ryerson hired Dan White, an alumni relations consultant, to evaluate the university. The former director of the alumni council at Princeton University, believes much of the alumni disconnect at Ryerson has to do with the generation that got away.

“For 20 years there was not an alumni association at Ryerson,” said White. “They had an office, events and publications. But there was no extensive outreach to that generation.”

Ryerson heeded several of White’s recommendations and a strategic plan was developed to improve alumni relations at the university.

Tyler Forkes would help prepare this strategic plan. Prior to 2006, he said his position as executive director of alumni relations did not exist.

“Our efforts in alumni relations had been quite modest up till then,” he said. “We’ve nearly rebuilt the office from square one and are starting to see some really good results.”

Ryerson’s Office of University Advancement currently releases a bi-annual magazine and an electronic newsletter four times a year.

Forkes is not discouraged by the currently low number of alumni donations. He calls the next fundraiser a “great opportunity” and believes alumni support will grow steadily.

“If we can maintain our outstanding corporate support and increase the amount of alumni giving over time, then that bodes well for Ryerson,” said Forkes.

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