How do you get nearly seven hundred graduate students to donate to an unrestricted gift? In past years, class gift committees thought it wouldn’t be possible to rally students around something that wasn’t tangible like a scholarship fund or a classroom. Others tried, but then had to change course when they faced too much pushback from the student body.

But the fact is that unrestricted gifts make the biggest difference to nonprofit organizations — including business schools. And this year, the Class of 2008 not only became the first class in the history of CBS to pledge an unrestricted gift, but also attained a never-before-seen participation rate: 95 percent. We beat practically all of our peer institutions — in both participation and total dollar amount pledged.

More importantly, such an achievement signals our commitment to each other, and to our school. This is one of the few opportunities our class as a whole had during our two years to work toward a common goal — and the class of 2008 came together in a way that’s never been done before.

It was a challenge from the beginning because there was little structure, precedent or knowledge of how to run a campaign like this. We had a town hall and other education sessions to discuss why we thought the unrestricted gift would be the best choice for the School, and agreed that our class had the ability to make the leap and support such a mission. Then we began to plan our campaign.

We invited Dean Hubbard to a few talks, displayed signs around the school and thermometers in the lobby to publicly gauge our progress. We also had training lunches for cluster representatives so that they could give more in-depth responses to their classmates’ questions and held events for our entire Class to participate in. Our success was also largely due to the hard work of the Alumni Transition and Development Committee, which we created last year to raise awareness about what it means to be a graduate of Columbia Business School.

Because of our early efforts, we were able to get a lot of buy-in before we even started the campaign — and survey results showed that giving unrestricted funds was something a significant portion of our class supported.

Once the campaign launched, more and more students engaged in the process, and even some of the hardest skeptics turned into vocal advocates when they saw how the Class of 2008 had the chance to do something historic.

I’m so heartened and impressed by my classmates. The economy is the worst it’s been in a long time, but we realized how fortunate we are to have a Columbia MBA and to have a huge community of people who will continue to support us throughout our careers.

I care deeply about this school, and it was so exciting to have the opportunity to help the class give back — and build community — in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Thanks to everyone for rallying around such a great cause.