According to Cornell history buff Corey Ryan Earle ’07, the graduating class of 1872 inaugurated the tradition of class giving – just four years after the university opened its doors to the world. Back then, there were about 100 alumni.
Today, more than 250,000 alumni live and work in communities around the globe. Giving Day is a once-a-year opportunity for them to join friends of the university in support of Cornell.
On Giving Day 2019, March 14, the university recorded the highest number of gifts received on any day in its history, breaking last year’s Giving Day record: 13,858 donors contributed $7,869,264 to Cornell. Over the past five years, the number of gifts received has nearly doubled, from 9,600 gifts in 2015 to 18,966 gifts in 2019.
“Since its founding, philanthropy has provided a critical source of support for the university,” said Fred Van Sickle, vice president for alumni affairs and development. “Cornell’s story is, in many ways, the story of the power of philanthropy. This year we harnessed the power of new technologies to inspire more gifts, raise more dollars and build tremendous goodwill.”
Gifts from alumni, family and friends strengthen Cornell’s educational and research programs and enable the university to honor its commitment to being an institution where “any person can find instruction in any study.” Giving Day attracts more new donors than any other event and helps to “build a broad base of support that will serve the university for years to come,” said Nicole Allen Cook of Cornell Annual Giving Programs in Cornell AAD. “That’s pretty cool!”
Raising the Bar
Cornell Giving Day thrives on friendly competition. On Giving Day 2019, the challenges went right down to the wire, thanks to a new Raise-the-Bar Challenge. Participating colleges and units were each attempting to get one more Giving Day donor than last year.
With one minute left, at 11:59 p.m., the School of Industrial and Labor Relations surpassed its donor total from 2018, ensuring that all 20 colleges and units successfully raised the bar. When ILR crossed the finish line, each college and unit received a $4,850 bonus, thanks to an anonymous donor.
Big Red Philanthro-pie!
Since Giving Day began in 2015, students have taken on a larger role in the day’s activities. This year, students were invited to stop by Giving Day stations across the Ithaca campus and at Cornell Tech, hosted by individual colleges and schools.
Karinna Browning ’17 works as a program assistant in the School of Hotel Administration, and her Giving Day job was to share goodwill, donuts, apples and coffee with students on their way to morning classes. Browning said Giving Day is a great opportunity to raise students’ awareness about the importance of giving back. “It’s not about how much you give,” she said, “but that giving in any amount has an impact.”
In Willard Straight Hall, members of the Senior Class Campaign invited fellow graduating seniors to make a donation on Giving Day. The seniors came up with the idea in fall 2018, and this was the group’s first appearance at Giving Day events on campus. Seniors who made a donation of $5 or more received a red and white braided cord to wear at commencement in recognition of their gift.
Will Gusick ’19, a member of the Senior Class Campaign Executive Committee, said, “We want to encourage seniors to get in the habit of giving before they leave Cornell, so they will carry this habit forward as alumni.”
Students were also invited to create handwritten thank-you cards to Giving Day donors. “It feels like we’re part of a community when we get to personally thank the donors,” Kerry Wong ’22 said, “rather than just standing by doing nothing.”
Everyone who stopped by the Straight to make a donation, give thanks or help out was given free snacks from Cornell Dining and a taste of Cornell Dairy’s newest flavor: Big Red Philanthro-pie. This apple-pie inspired ice cream was made especially for the big day, to celebrate the spirit of giving at Cornell.
Leveraging the power of tech
Behind the thousands of Giving Day transactions is one online platform: GiveGab, a company started by Cornellians and headquartered in downtown Ithaca. GiveGab was founded in 2011 by Aaron Godert, M.Eng. ’05, MBA ’11, and Charlie Mulligan, MBA ’11, just after they graduated from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Now a national brand, the company has helped more than 30,000 nonprofits raise money on its platform. “We have customers in every state,” said Mulligan. “We support giving days across the country, both in the civic sector and in higher education.”
“We have a sense of pride around Cornell Giving Day and helping that day go off successfully,” said Godert, GiveGab’s chief operating officer. “Not to say we aren’t excited by our other customers, but there’s a little bit of hometown pride for your own alumni group.”
This year Cornell really embraced the idea of engaging colleges, units and departments in building campaign pages, posting videos and interacting with donors on Giving Day. These new features made a difference, according to Ashley Budd, director of digital marketing for Cornell AAD. At the end of the big day, “Every category was record-breaking, and every college and unit ‘raised the bar,’” she said.
Linda Copman and Kate Blackwood are writers for Alumni Affairs and Development.