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Vice President and Special Assistant to the President William B. Neenan, SJ

Alumni Urged to Take 'Neenan Challenge'

Anonymous benefactor's $500,000 gift to launch undergraduate financial aid, alumni participation in University advancement

By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff
Alumni affection for one of the University's most popular and admired administrators has been linked with the generous contribution of an anonymous Boston College benefactor to launch the "Neenan Challenge" – a new initiative that promises to increase both undergraduate financial aid and alumni participation in the University's advancement effort.

Named in honor of Vice President and Special Assistant to the President William B. Neenan, SJ, the "Neenan Challenge" will provide a gift of $500,000 to the University's student financial aid fund if 5,000 new alumni contributors are added to the University's donor base this year.

For the past 30 years, Fr. Neenan has served Boston College as a faculty member, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, academic vice president and dean of faculties, and, since 1998, as vice president and special assistant to the University President.
During that period, the warm and personable Jesuit has become a University icon for thousands of Boston College undergraduates and alumni.

"I do know a lot of graduates," Fr. Neenan says modestly. "And, it is a great gift."

Fr. Neenan was approached several months ago about becoming directly involved with the challenge gift. "I think the generosity of the anonymous donor to provide $500,000 for financial aid if we can get 5,000 new alumni donors addresses one of the perplexing issues that I have observed – the fact that our alumni participation rate is not as high as one might expect, given the obvious affection that our alumni have for the University.

"There is a disconnect there that I never ever have quite been able to fathom," he says, noting that only about a quarter of BC's undergraduate alumni regularly contribute to advancement efforts. "Anything that we can do to increase the percentage, I think, is a very worthwhile project — especially since increasing alumni participation is one of the coveted goals of the University's 'Light the World' campaign."

Associate Vice President for Annual Giving Matthew Eynon predicts the Neenan Challenge will be "hugely impactful" in accelerating undergraduate alumni participation in the University's advancement effort. His hope is for undergraduate alumni donors to increase from 22,000 in 2007-2008 to over 27,000 during the current fiscal year.

"We as an institution compare poorly in undergraduate alumni participation to our peers," says Eynon, noting that such schools as University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University maintain 50 percent alumni participation. "It ends up being a factor in how BC may be perceived in some of our rankings and is certainly not symbolic of the real passion alumni have for BC.

"One of the things that we hope alumni will understand through the success of the 'Neenan Challenge' is the same slogan that we are using for the BC Fund: 'BC Alumni are Greater Together.'"

Additional information on the "Neenan Challenge" is available at

Reid Oslin can be reached at