Inspiring. This is the word the Osher Foundation senior program officer David Blazevich used to describe member response to this year’s campaign for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University. By the end of spring semester, 115 Osher members and friends had made gifts to support one of five Osher program funds. This record number of participants is more than double the number of donors who contributed to Osher at TU programs in 2016.

There are 123 Osher Institutes across the nation and all have been gifted an endowment by the Osher Foundation to provide a sustaining source of income to supplement membership fees. Wanting to incentivize institutes to build upon this bedrock support in 2017 the Osher Foundation began to award capacity grants to seed or grow a culture of giving across its institutes. A vibrant culture of giving, the Osher Foundation’s trustees believe, will nurture growth and program excellence beyond which the endowment alone can provide. In response to this call to action, the Philanthropy Committee, chaired by Ruth Spivak, worked in partnership with Jackie Gratz and Tracy Jacobs, director and assistant director at that time, as well as the TU Development Office to develop a strategy to deepen member engagement, raise awareness of the impact of philanthropy, and increase the number of donors to Osher at TU.

Developing strategies for deeper member engagement

A first capacity grant made it possible to put this strategy in action. We were able to show our members how important they are to us through capacity grant funded member appreciation concerts, receptions and seminars – setting a high bar for celebratory gatherings and special programs. We encouraged member retention by enhancing winter and summer programming with capacity-grant funding for refreshments and faculty honoraria. We used capacity grant funded posters to tell the origin stories and purpose of the various Osher at TU funds which nourish programming and honor or memorialize Osher friends and faculty. Twice a year solicitations authored by member-donors offered their peers an opportunity to join them in supporting Osher at TU. Our progress has earned us a second capacity grant!

When our members respond with gifts, they signal to the Osher Foundation that our institute is worthy of its continued support and contribute to a more vibrant Osher. This second capacity grant will allow us to continue member engagement events and special programs such as the “Wills, Probate, and Planning” seminar, expand our pallet of offerings through co-sponsored programs with campus proper, and explore the impact of enhanced university integration on member retention and donor behavior. Gifts to the Osher Excellence Fund or one of the other four Osher Funds will enrich program offerings for members through classroom technology upgrades, faculty honoraria, and subsidies for co-curricular excursions among other investments that deepen member enjoyment. Through the Osher Foundation’s Capacity grant initiative and the member support it leverages, we have the ability to invest in Osher for tomorrow and in the here and now.

Increasing member investments

In announcing the second capacity grant to Osher at TU, the Osher Foundation also shared that the program has been expanded such that institutes can apply for up to five years of capacity grant support. In each year that we apply, we must demonstrate increased investment by our members through greater numbers participating in our annual campaign and/or declarations of planned gifts. We are grateful to all those who stepped forward in FY2019 to make a gift in support of Osher at TU and look forward to growing this group in FY2020. Together, Osher at TU members can assure a robust future for our institute.

Osher member and TU Development professional Kathleen Hider will serve as the point of contact for any questions about the many ways that members can contribute, at whatever level matches their inclination and resources.