Giving Day 2018 breaks records with philanthropic innovations

On March 20, the first day of spring, the university set several one-day fundraising records on the fourth Cornell Giving Day.

In 24 hours, 11,750 donors gave 15,807 gifts, raising $7,827,834 for the university’s colleges, units, departments and programs – the highest number of donors, gifts and dollars for one day in university history.

“Spring arrived at Cornell with a record-setting number of gifts from supportive alumni, students, parents and friends for Giving Day 2018,” said Fred Van Sickle, vice president for alumni affairs and development. “We are especially heartened by a doubling of student gifts. Such great support is deeply appreciated.”

Contributing to this year’s success were increased student participation, on-campus events complementing the online presence, and new ways for donors to give online to causes they care about, said Matt Siegel, senior director of Annual Giving Programs.

About more than us

Twice as many students – 2,400 – gave this year than last, helping to boost total giving past the $6.3 million raised on Giving Day 2017 and the previous record of $6.9 million set in 2015. While previous Giving Days were conducted almost exclusively online, Giving Day 2018 featured events in colleges across the Ithaca campus and a midday celebration in Willard Straight Hall, engaging thousands of students, faculty and staff.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., students filled the Memorial Room to taste “Chip In,” the official Giving Day ice cream from Cornell Dairy, to learn about philanthropy at Cornell, and to thank donors. More than 500 students wrote approximately 1,300 notes of thanks to donors.

“For the longest time, I didn’t realize what a donation can do,” said P.J. Senthilkumar ’20, pausing after writing a card to an alumna in New York City. “It makes you grateful."

Beside him at a round table strewn with cards, Aine Chen ’21 held notes addressed to alumni in Massachusetts, Virginia and Texas. “All these people are giving because they want to,” she said. “I really appreciate their help.”

At a table nearby, members of the Class of 2018 convinced their classmates to contribute to their senior class campaign.

“Our goal is to tell students how to become active alumni,” said Mo Ayodele ’18, who said experiences at Cornell, made possible by donations, have influenced her life. “People did it for us. It’s about more than us. It’s about the future generation.”

Uniting Cornellians around the world

As students learned about and celebrated giving on the Ithaca campus, Cornellians all over the world were giving in support of the areas and causes at Cornell that mean the most to them. Gifts came in from 50 countries and from all 50 U.S. states. Throughout the day, 13 hourly challenges offered bonus funds to the winners’ college or unit of choice. Between 1 and 3 a.m., the College of Architecture, Art and Planning received the most gifts from places outside the U.S., earning at $10,000 bonus. Between 8 and 10 a.m., the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences received the most Annual Fund gifts and a $10,000 bonus.

Two photos posted on social media won the spring photo challenge for their depictions of the first day of spring – one serious and one, this being Ithaca, sardonic. The last gift came in at 11:59 p.m. to the College of Arts and Sciences, earning that college a $2,500 boost.

Leaderboards showed progress in the competition between colleges and units, with Athletics and Physical Education coming out on top in both total dollars raised – $2,798,793 – and number of donors – 4,157.

Social media told the story, hour by hour of gifts, reasons and connections to Cornell. “Couldn’t resist the pull of #CornellGivingDay. @Cornell making philanthropy fun,” Joanna Ossinger ’99 wrote in a tweet.

Working to change the world

Each year, Cornell Giving Day aims to make philanthropy meaningful as well as engaging, bringing thousands of Cornellians together on one day to make a difference at Cornell and in the world. In the past two years, individual colleges and units have led the way in reaching out to their alumni and friends to encourage giving to specific departments and projects. New this year, donors could find opportunities to give organized by cause, such as the arts, public policy, science and animal health.

“Many people support the College of Veterinary Medicine because they love animals,” said Sheila Reakes, director of annual giving at the college. This year, veterinary programs appeared under three causes: animal health, experiential learning and the environment. Programs from other colleges, as well, appeared under several different causes.

By placing the colleges, units, teams, projects and groups actively working toward specific causes within this “search-by-cause” framework, organizers hoped to provide a larger context for supporting specific programs, Siegel explained.

“Giving to Cornell is about making the world the better place, not just giving back to Cornell,” said Nicole Cook, director of marketing and participation for Cornell Annual Giving Programs. “Whatever cause you are passionate about, there is an area of Cornell doing work to further that cause and change the world. Gifts of any size really make a difference for the things you care about most, and can go a long way to making the world a better place.”

Now, in year four of Cornell Giving Day, Cook added, many people look forward to the event.

“It’s becoming a tradition,” she said.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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