by Denise Klarquist | CED Communications
“One of the stories that really struck me was about the kinds of choices that students are facing — Do I spend my few pennies to buy materials to make a model or do I eat?” explained ELS President and CEO Clarence Mamuyac. “The other troubling piece of data was that only about 6% of CED alumni give back to the college, and we’re not talking large amounts. That’s just anemic compared to other schools on campus.”
Inspired to do something to shift the story, Mamuyac — who also chairs the Dean’s Advisory Council at CED — created the ELS Firm Challenge, an internal crowdfunding campaign to support the College of Environmental Design. Similar to several other Bay Area architecture and environmental design firms, a good percentage of staff, including Mamuyac himself (B.A. Arch '81 & M.Arch ’85), are alumni of the college — of a staff of 60, a third hail from CED.
“My hope was that by thinking locally and introducing the idea that even a little bit — five, ten dollars — can make a difference, we could engage alumni in giving and hopefully build a bigger pool of continuing donors,” Mamuyac explained.
The strategy was simple. Mamuyac offered to put a modest donation into an envelope in everybody's name and then challenged each of his CED alumni staff to match that amount or contribute whatever they could. The firm would then match the combined amount.
Noting that his children are in the same age bracket as recent grads, Mamuyac has a strong sense of the deeper social consciousness prevalent in younger generations. He initially hoped this trend would help fuel the ELS campaign. “I think this generation has a better understanding of the importance of giving and the fact that it doesn’t have to be big to have an impact.”
“Participating in the Challenge was exciting and enjoyable,” said Nathan Nguyen, (M.Arch ’20), an intern at ELS at the time. “The Challenge was not simply asking for a donation. There was so much more behind the format that encouraged me to maximize the initial amount. To me, the amount of donation is far less important than its meaningful intention.”
That the impact was personal was an important motivator for ELS Designer Tracy Chan (B.A. Arch ’14). “The ability to contribute to specific programs or resources that I found valuable in my time at Cal is integral helping current and future students succeed through similar channels.”
For Christopher Jung (B.A. Arch ’90), ELS Design Director and Associate Principal, participating in the Challenge reaffirmed the meaningful connection he shares with the profession,
“I am in the architecture profession because I love what I do; I like working with my colleagues. For me, I think donating back to my college, in the greater sense, reminded me of the importance of our profession. While it supports the college and benefits the students, it is also an investment in our future, the environmental, and social impacts of built spaces.”
The ELS Firm Challenge confirmed that individuals are more likely to contribute if they know others are doing it too. Mamuyac recognized, however, that every successful endeavor needs a kickstart. “It was that initial piece from me that inspired everyone’s participation. Absent that, I don’t think we would have had the same success,” he said. For ELS CED alumni who participated in the event, the collegial nature of the event also provided a means to celebrate camaraderie, reaffirm their connections with the college, and build company culture.
“Because so many of us ELS-ers are Cal/CED alums, it was motivating and fun to see how much we could raise as a collective group,” said ELS Associate Principal Kim-Van Truong (B.A. Arch ’07). “It also made it more impactful that our donation was representative of our office and not just as individuals.”
Challenge participation was not limited to CED alumni, however. ELS Principal Jeffery Zieba, whose alma mater lies further east, also added to the pool. “With our Berkeley location and the number of CED alumni on our staff, our office has a strong connection to CED and I’ve enjoyed participating in portfolio reviews, the Circus, and internship programs. I was honored to contribute.”
With 100% CED alumni staff participation, ELS was able to raise $7260 from 21 contributors, 14 of whom were first-time donors.
The College of Environmental Design is not immune to the financial challenges facing schools in the UC system. While in-state tuition fees have remained relatively unchanged over the last 10 years, state and campus support have declined dramatically and costs continue to rise. Currently, state funding accounts for just 13% of the university’s budget (down from 50% in 1985). From 2009 to 2019, campus support has fallen from 85% of CED’s budget to only 63%.
And, as many alumni have experienced, the materials and shop costs associated with a design degree can be overwhelming. Students spend on average $3714 per year on lab fees and studio project expenses. Given CED’s commitment to maintain and grow its stature as a world-class environmental design institution worthy of its reputation, the college must continually find new and innovative streams of funding.
Mamuyac summarized it this way — “I think if you've graduated from Berkeley, you’re pretty proud of that. And you want to do everything you can to keep the stature of Berkeley high and ensure it continues to produce amazing graduates, as well as retain and recruit both great students and top faculty.”
Affirming his own reasons for supporting the college, he added, “CED opened the doors to everything I know — I wouldn't be where I am today had it not been for the people I met there and the connections I’ve made along the way. I'm pretty grateful for that.”
“CED opened the doors to everything I know — I wouldn't be where I am today had it not been for the people I met there and the connections I’ve made along the way. I'm pretty grateful for that.”
Extending the Challenge
With the success of the ELS Firm Challenge — both the benefits it contributed to CED’s bottom line and the boost to meaningful camaraderie within ELS — CED is launching a campaign to extend the Challenge to alumni firms across the Bay Area and beyond.
CED is modeling the extended campaign on the ELS Challenge as well as similar programs proven successful in other schools across campus. Berkeley Law’s Partners in Leadership, for example, targets over 76 firms and companies with Boalt alumni to join in friendly competition to see who can reach the 100% participation goal first. Alumni participation in the Partners in Leadership program is a healthy 52%.
“We hope as many firms as possible will join the new CED Firms Challenge and the collective group effort will excite and inspire even greater participation,” said Gail Stanley, CED Associate Director of Development. “Alumni giving will make a powerful statement that our graduates are invested in CED’s future. As so many have said, even a small amount can make a difference, both personally and for the greater good.”
ELS staff are enthusiastic about the wider CED Firms Challenge and encourage other alumni to go for it. “It felt good to give to something I believe in,” said Christopher Jung. “If you believe that your profession makes a difference and feel gratitude for how you got there, this is a no brainer!”
Kim-Van Truong added, “I would encourage people to donate an amount that they feel comfortable with — no donation is too small!”