Skip to main content

Cornell sees record-breaking year for alumni giving, engagement

More than 66,000 donors gave a record-breaking $839 million in new gifts and commitments to the university for the 2020-21 fiscal year, contributing to transformative Cornell experiences for current and future students.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, gifts came in from almost 44,000 alumni and students, plus parents, staff, faculty and friends, supporting more than 2,300 separate areas of the university.

The Cornell community gave generously to support student projects, student access funds, programs and experiences. Giving Day 2021 was a vital part of the year’s success, with 14,411 donors making gifts totaling $10,040,921 in 24 hours, breaking all past Cornell Giving Day records.

Hundreds of alumni also stepped up to support Cornell Promise scholarship funds, allowing the university to retain an overwhelming majority of its students during the pandemic – with 98% of undergraduates and 99% of graduate and professional students enrolled in November 2020.

“The 2021 academic year was unforgettable, as we learned, worked and lived remotely,” said Fred Van Sickle, vice president for Alumni Affairs and Development. “Despite it all, the Cornell community rallied together to set a number of giving records across our campuses in their support of our students, faculty and those we serve with our clinical care and research. The impact of this generosity will be felt across future generations.”

More than 41,000 donors contributed $55.67 million to current-use annual funds throughout the fiscal year – almost $10 million above the record. Cornell also received the highest number of gifts at or above $25 million recorded in a single year.

“We are overwhelmed by the generous outpouring of support from our alumni, parents and friends. Following a down year due to the impact of the global pandemic, our annual fund results significantly exceeded our expectations,” said Tom LaFalce ’94, acting director of Annual Giving Programs. “It was our best [annual fund] donor year in recent history, and we saw growth in the number of donors across all gift levels.”

Cornell’s Student Phoning Program operated remotely this year, due to campus COVID-19 guidelines. Student ambassadors working with the program made calls to alumni from their homes, and were able to have thousands of personal conversations with alumni.

“I used COVID as a talking point,” said Madeleine Calick ’22. “People tended to ask about what campus was like, so I really appreciated that.”

These conversations resulted not only in many gifts to Cornell, but to intergenerational connections that the students said they cherished.

“During one call, an alumna asked me about my interests, walked me through potential career paths and, most memorably, gave me her personal number and LinkedIn just in case I ever wanted to speak to her again,” Ethan Rubin ’23 said. “This interaction was not a phenomenon – so many student callers end up with alumni mentors by the end of their shift.”

Calick said one call revealed that she and the alumna had lived in the same house in Ithaca.

“Same house, same floor, even same bedroom,” Calick said. “She told me where to find where she carved her name in the wood. I found it almost immediately. It was so special. I really felt generations of Cornellians behind me.”

Despite being unable to visit campus in person, more than 90,500 Cornellians of all ages connected to the university and one another through hundreds of online events.

StayHomecoming and Virtual Reunion 2021 brought together Cornellians from around the globe who otherwise might not have been able to join. Reunion attendees gave more than $180,000 for undergraduate student scholarship support during the event registration process. Of those, 64 were first-time donors to the university.

“Gathering online for StayHomecoming was definitely different, but the Cornell Big Red spirit still shone through,” said Amanda Tripodi ’21.

“If there’s one thing we learned from the pandemic, it’s how wonderful it can be to connect with so many of you virtually,” Michelle Vaeth ’98, associate vice president of Alumni Affairs, said in a video to kickoff Reunion weekend’s online events. “No matter how long it’s been or how far away you are, you can always come home to Cornell.”

Kaitlin Provost is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.

Media Contact

Abby Butler