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Giving Day harnesses the power of coming together

Kate Klein/Provided
Touchdown has a heart-to-heart with Keith Hannon, assistant director of digital innovation for Cornell Alumni Affairs and Development, during 24 hours of live-streamed interviews during Giving Day 2016.

Kate Klein/Provided
Imani Jasper ’16, left, Vanessa Amankwaa ’18 and staff member Liz Wehling inform fellow students about Giving Day in the Mann Library.

On April 19, Cornell received 10,100 individual gifts, raising $6,105,484 for the university as part of Giving Day 2016. Gifts came from more than 40 countries and all 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

“Our alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff and friends came together to make this happen,” said Matt Siegel, senior director of the Cornell Annual Fund, which spearheaded the effort. “The day was an inspiring demonstration of just how much our community cares about making a difference for Cornell.”

Giving Day 2016 set a record for the number of gifts made in a single day to Cornell, surpassing the number set on Giving Day 2015 of just over 9,600.

Lizabeth (Furman) Sandler ’83 had Giving Day marked on her calendar. She said she’s been thinking about supporting Cornell for years, an inclination that was strengthened in November when she reunited with two Cornell friends. Knowing it was a special day for giving was the catalyst for her support. She gave a generous gift to the College of Arts and Sciences.

“It’s something that’s been on my mind for years,” said Sandler, who was a history major and lives in Connecticut. “It’s time to support the school I was really fond of.”

The gifts started to come in at midnight and continued throughout the day with progress charted in real time on the Giving Day website.

Keith Hannon, assistant director of digital innovation for Alumni Affairs and Development, live-streamed interviews and commentary for the entire 24 hours from a studio in Warren Hall. Guests included Rose Tanasugarn ’90, an alumna volunteer in Japan; professor George Hudler, who teaches the iconic Cornell course Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds; and Stephanie Wiles, director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Students from the Cornell University Speech and Debate Society held an impromptu debate comparing would-be Democratic presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a topic that coincided with the April 19 New York state primary.

Online leaderboards showed updates and a competition among colleges and units. Funds were unlocked through various challenges, including a Facebook-based Cornelliana quiz, a hashtag challenge for #CornellGivingDay and an international challenge, which asked Cornellians living outside the U.S. to give 350 or more gifts. They did, unlocking a $5,000 bonus, which went to the ILR School.

The Class of 1941 was the first among graduating classes to unlock its stretch goal when Bob Mueller ’41 saw only two gifts were needed for his class to meet its goal.

Lisa Bushlow/Provided
Bob Mueller ’41 crosses an impromptu finish line to document helping his class win the intra-class challenge by making gifts to Plantations and undergraduate scholarships.

“He wrote two checks for $41 each, one for Plantations and one for undergraduate scholarships,” said Lisa Bushlow, director of class programs, who drove to Mueller’s Ithaca home to pick up the gifts. “He’s so happy. He wanted us to make sure we knew his class was first.”

To document the achievement for the Class of 1941, Bushlow took a photo of Mueller, who is 97, crossing a red-and-white finish line with his walker. The photo soon went viral on Facebook and Twitter.

Classes of 2016, 1998, 1987 and 1953 also reached their stretch goals, with 2016 – the class yet to graduate in May – making 328 gifts, nearly 700 percent of its goal.

A designated giving day is a powerful way to translate loyalty and gratitude for a university into gifts of support, said Fred Van Sickle, vice president for Alumni Affairs and Development: “It’s very accessible. Everyone can do it, no matter how much you give, no matter what you’re into.”

Van Sickle said the multiplying power of social media amplified the success of Giving Day 2016.

“This takes it to a new level,” he said watching the viral photo of Mueller get more and more likes and shares. “You’ve got 97-year-olds to 18-year-olds.”

Cornell alumni, students, parents, staff and faculty posted tweets and Facebook posts of thanks and celebration all day. Some students also thanked givers by writing old-fashioned postcards at three Giving Day stations on campus.

“This is a great way to help out your fellow students,” said Imani Jasper ’16 while manning a table decorated with balloons and Giving Day banners in Mann Library lobby. A manager for the Cornell Annual Fund student calling team, Jasper watched the Giving Day action unfold online.

More than 150 people attended a Giving Day happy hour event at the Cornell Club in New York City. This gathering plus all the on-campus buzz, social media activity and 24-hour online progress at inspired and reflected a worldwide outpouring of generosity for Cornell, Van Sickle said.

“It’s wonderful to imagine all of Cornell coming together,” he said.

Kate Klein is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.

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