The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) South Carolina Lowcountry Chapter has named Steve ’89 and Emily Swanson ’89 the 2016 Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year.
Announced at the chapter’s National Philanthropy Day celebration on Nov. 17, 2016, the award honors the Swansons for their generosity, exemplary leadership in the philanthropic community, civic and charitable responsibilities and their commitment to encouraging philanthropic leadership in others. The AFP is a professional association of individuals responsible for generating philanthropic support for a wide variety of nonprofit, charitable organizations.
The Swansons are deserving recipients of this award, as is evident in their ongoing generous support of the College of Charleston. They have been supporting their alma mater for more than 23 years and are the College of Charleston’s most generous alumni donors in its 246-year history.
“Steve and Emily Swanson are model alumni and model philanthropists,” says College of Charleston President Glenn F. McConnell ’69. “They don’t just give of their money, but of their time and knowledge as well.”
In 2012, the couple established the Swanson Scholars Program in the Honors College with a commitment of more than $2 million to create endowed and immediate use scholarships. The program has attracted more than 45 of the best and brightest students from across the country to study at the College, with the first cohort of 11 Swanson Scholars graduating in 2016. The recipient of a full-ride scholarship himself, Steve knows first-hand how scholarships impact students’ lives. He and Emily sought to have a similar impact on current and future generations of students through their gift.
“Steve and Emily have said on multiple occasions that it seems natural to them to give back to a school that gave them so much. And their actions certainly reflect their words,” says McConnell, adding: The Swansons “constantly inspire me to serve our alma mater and move it forward as best we can.”
Steve became an active player in moving the College forward when he was recruited to co-chair the College’s BOUNDLESS comprehensive fundraising campaign, which went public in 2014 and culminated last June. Steve embraced his role, recruiting members to the Campaign Steering Committee, helping to develop strategies for major gift solicitations, giving campaign presentations to volunteer boards, hosting campaign events and being involved closely with the day-to-day campaign activities. During the College’s presidential transition, Steve was the constant force that fueled the campaign’s achievements and motivated others to invest in the College.
Evidence of the Swansons’ inspiring others to give to the College and the BOUNDLESS Campaign is their additional $1 million pledge to challenge donors to support endowed scholarships in the Honors College, bringing their total commitments to the College at more than $3.5 million. As a result of this extraordinary gesture, 43 donors pledged $1.05 million to endowed scholarships in the Honors College, surpassing the goal of the challenge. Furthermore, Steve’s leadership, combined with leadership on campus and philanthropic generosity of more than 22,000 donors resulted in the BOUNDLESS Campaign exceeding its original goal by hitting the $139 million mark – the largest amount ever raised in any campaign at the College of Charleston.
Additionally, at the beginning of the BOUNDLESS Campaign, the Swansons encouraged alumni to support the College of Charleston Fund by challenging their fellow graduates to give. They matched donors at leadership giving levels and attracted more than 100 new donors in the College’s 1770 and GOLD Societies. During the first year of the challenge, the College of Charleston Fund raised more than $1 million in cash for the first time ever.
Beyond their generosity as donors, the Swansons are among the most fervent champions of the College of Charleston. They are tireless promoters of the College with their family, friends and professional connections. Steve is a proficient volunteer, serving as a member of the School of Business Board of Governors, Honors College Advisory Board and School of Mathematics and Sciences Board of Advocates. He also served on the College’s Foundation Board (2003–2016), acting as chair from 2008 to 2010.
The Swansons’ impact on fellow volunteers is also a tremendous boon to the College’s efforts to engage those most capable of supporting and influencing the campus.
“Steve’s gratitude for the scholarships he received from the College during his education has encouraged me to provide further support to the College,” says Hilton Smith, who most recently served as the College’s Foundation Board chair and has advocated for the College through his positions with numerous charitable organizations. “Years ago Steve told me that he had his eye on me as a member of the College’s Foundation Board and that he hoped I would consider a leadership position. I thank him for his thoughts, and I’m so grateful that I took him up on his suggestion.”
The Swansons’ engagement and involvement in many areas on campus as volunteer leaders and their personal connection with the faculty and students is unparalleled. Their greatest joy in their connection with the College is getting to know the Swanson Scholars and knowing that their support is making a difference in each student’s life. They have a vested interest in student achievement as a whole, especially the Swanson Scholars, and they are parent-figures to many of the students they support, inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner when the students cannot go home for the holiday, attending their campus events and keeping current on their progress in school.
Says McConnell: “Steve and Emily’s impact on the College will surely benefit the lives of so many past, present and future College of Charleston students.”