The 1970 100%: Making the Impossible Possible

October 28, 2015

When the books closed on Sewanee Annual Fund 2015, the Class of 1970 surpassed its goal of raising $100,000 for the 45th Reunion, with 100% of the class members having made a contribution. According to the reunion gift chair, Jock Tonissen, C’70, that success is due to the hard work of volunteers who comprise a quarter of the class count.

In a recent conversation about the reunion gift, Tonissen was quick to mention volunteers. In fact, his very first answer for the success of the reunion gift program was giving credit to the volunteers. Then he followed up a conversation by sending a list of those who had helped to make sure they were credited by name--an impressive group. [click here for the list]

“I’ve been doing this since 1980, and a lot of people are tired of hearing from me about giving to Sewanee,” he said. “We wanted people to hear from people with which they had something in common. Frat brothers called each other. People called their friends. Everyone who volunteered called just a few people, but we were able to reach the entire class. Making these personal connections was good for all of us and good for making the goal.

“For example, we have two classmates who are college librarians--one at Sweetbriar and one at Columbia University. We had one call the other. Our class has ten priests and one of them is a bishop. When the bishop calls, the priests respond. I don’t think it has to do with hierarchy: only respect for the bishop.”

Tonissen is also careful to praise Sewanee staff members Kim Conkell as well as Jean Summers and Director of Development Terri Williams. “Kim cheerfully returned my phone calls every day and kept me up to date on progress.  Jean helped us design a postcard, which we sent monthly to everyone, and that really helped. Terri has been there throughout, making sure the volunteers have what they need.” And he also credits former Sewanee staffer Beeler Brush, C’68, for putting the volunteer system in place. 

For Tonissen, being the class representative is a labor of love, and he has dedicated considerable time and resources to the work ever since he began in 1980. He keeps up-to-date contact information on the class and uses Facebook to find classmates whose address has been lost. He makes sure that class notes get into the Sewanee Magazine, and he does marketing, through a YSR calendar, which he sent to everyone in the class as well as luggage tags and bumper stickers to encourage people to give. “I think it is important to be grateful, and I send a personal thank you note for every gift.”

Tonissen also believes in asking everyone for a gift, regardless of whether a classmate finished at Sewanee. “We like to re-engage with people who left. Sometimes we have a good laugh about the circumstances, and very often being asked to leave Sewanee was a turning point for the better in someone’s life. People in all kinds of circumstances are grateful to Sewanee and look back on their experiences with gratitude.

“Over the years our class participation has continued to improve,” said Tonissen. “This compound interest from the volunteers allowed us to concentrate on new donors. This year 22 individuals who had never participated before contributed, allowing us to reach 100%.”

One innovation pioneered by the Class of 1970 for their 45th reunion was to create a special gift society, “The 1970 Society,” for classmates who contributed $5,000 or above. “That worked really well,” says Tonissen. “We had fourteen classmates respond, which did a lot for us meeting our goal. We really hope this idea will catch on and that other classes will adopt this approach.” Tonissen has named Alan Biddle the charter member of The 1970 Society. He was the first to make a contribution. “Alan wrote his check on Founders’ Day,” Tonissen said. “He does that every year--a great connection to Sewanee.” See the 1970 Society here. 

For Tonissen, this labor of love is less about the money than it is about holding on to the relationships that were so vibrant when the Class of 1970 was graduating. “We are a really interesting and accomplished group,” he says. “Working on the annual fund has also helped me make new friends, people I didn’t know that well when I was in school. This work is a real joy for many reasons.”

“Tonissen’s gift for making connections and honoring the contributions of everyone is surely a key ingredient in the generous contributions made by the members of the Class of 1970 over the years,” said Jay Fisher. “We are so grateful to him and to all our volunteers for helping make the Sewanee Annual Fund a meaningful part of strengthening this University we all love.”