“As I look around at the students in Phelps dining hall, ninety-two percent of them are on scholarship. That money didn’t grow on the trees in the pine grove. That money was given by somebody.” This is Bob Johnson, a Hope Alumni working for development and alumni engagement. “When I was a sophomore at Hope, I was thinking that the tuition I was paying was paying for everything. Not true. The tuition I was paying was covering about two-thirds to three-quarters of total expense for running the college. There’s a huge system of paying the bills at a place like Hope.” Johnson cites a large source Hope’s income as coming from gifts to the college. “Alumni is number one [in terms of giving]. Parents would be number two. We have parents that are very generous to the college. They appreciate the education provided at Hope.”
Of course, this subject was far from Johnson’s mind until he began working at Hope years later. “My brother knew a guy who was a retired fundraiser at Hope. My brother said, ‘you should meet this guy and talk to him about Hope.’ I did, and three months later, I was working there, raising money.” Johnson detailed the many changes Hope has undertaken since his initial time as a student at the institution. “Since then, we’ve added majors that are very tangible majors, namely nursing and engineering; Those are newer programs here. They’re not really all that typical for a liberal arts college. Most of the MIAA (Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association) schools don’t have those majors. It brings us in the neighborhood of one hundred and twenty-five students per class.” Johnson references student need as the source of this change. “We had students who would graduate from Hope and then go to nursing school, and we thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we look at starting a nursing school?’ We started one in conjunction with Calvin, so we could share some faculty and hire full time faculty in those first couple years. Likewise, we did not offer an engineering degree, but we had students who wanted to be engineers. There was what was known as a three-two program. A student would take three years at Hope getting his basics then transfer and get his engineering degree for two more years. [Now] those students are getting jobs. Some of them are going to grad school, but most of them are getting job offers right now. So that’s a good piece of growth.”
While Johnson cited other reasons for Hope’s growth, namely the quality of Holland and Hope’s facilities, he emphasized Hope’s faith growth as the other main reason for its development. “In my day, in the late seventies, the mandatory thing had been dropped. Twenty-five students at chapel would be the norm. Now roughly half the student body is involved in campus ministries” Moreover, faith plays a large role in the alumni that Johnson’s works with because “there are a lot of hope alumnae who give to Hope somewhat because of the faith factor as a decision in their process.” This belief in a faith that life is more than about oneself leads to the changes on Hope’s campus happening today. But how does Johnson work with alumni to plan these changes? He responded to that question as such: “When someone makes a gift of one hundred bucks that goes to the general Hope fund, but if you make a gift of six figures we talk about ‘how would you like to use that?’ We make sure their desires are legal and kosher, and that we can carry out their desires. If they say they wanted a red-haired lefthanded philosophy major, we say ‘Well maybe we can’t award that every year. We might have that student every fourth or fifth year, but we might not have that student on a regular basis, so we have to tweak that a bit.’ Then we draw up paperwork so that we promise you that we will indeed when you do pass away and leave us this big estate gift, that we will use your money for this purpose.
We sign it. They sign it.” Johnson described his favorite example of this process: “There was a woman about seven years ago who was the child of a single parent family because her father was killed in an auto accident when she was an infant; So she inherited her mother’s money, and she wanted to start a scholarship here for a student of a single parent family caused by the death of a parent. She asked if she could do that. We talked to the registrar and to the dean of students; and the both said, ‘Yeah. We want to know who that student is.’ So she has a scholarship here now, it’s known as The Powers Fund, for the student of a single parent family caused by the death of a parent. And that kid now will always get a little extra scholarship money because of that. I thought it was very touching. It’s unique, it’s personal and it’s quite needed.
Chances are that student that grew up in that family; there’s probably a financial need there.” Which explains why Johnson is so proud of his work. “We do other things that are a bit more mundane but still important to the person giving the money; and that’s what matters. I look forward to Monday mornings. I like the donors with who I interact.” Still, he wanted to clarify the limits of his work. “The challenge then is we have thirty-five thousand living alum. About five thousand give. Are you going to be one of the thirty thousand alum who says, ‘I paid my tuition; I’m out of there,’ or are you gonna be one of the five who says, ‘I got my degree; and I want other students to be able to have that same experience; and therefore I give back? I’m an advocate of Hope seniors making a gift when they graduate. Not a big gift. Twenty bucks, maybe. As you get older, get into a career path where you’ll do a little better think about a bigger gift. We have a lot of students who gain a scholarship because an alum gave.” Johnson emphasized one final reason why Hope is worth donating towards. “I think Hope is very different from Wheaton or Kalamazoo. (Wheaton being very conformist in their religious views. Kalamazoo being conformist in their non-religious views.) I don’t think there are too many students who would consider Wheaton and Kalamazoo, but we have students who would consider Hope and Kalamazoo or Hope and Wheaton.
That’s part of the beauty of Hope. Hope is thriving because we have people on that socio-political-religious spectrum who are at different points and yet thrive together at Hope. Not every school has that. You shouldn’t take that for granted.”