Day of the Dons sees rise in donors, fall in funds

A band member celebrates with a student during Day of the Dons. USF SLE/FLICKR

Mardy Harding 

Staff Writer

Students and staff may have noticed the presence signage and promotional material around campus on walkways, jars, and windows promoting USF’s annual Day of the Dons fundraising campaign. The annual event took place on Feb. 25 and raised $639,287. While it broke records for the number of individual donors, the fundraiser also saw a decrease in the overall amount donated compared to last year. This year’s average individual donation was $248. 

The donated funds were either designated by donors for specific departments or, if undesignated, went to the general unrestricted USF Fund, according to Robin Dutton-Cookston, head of development communications. In an email to the Foghorn, Dutton-Cookston said some of the most popular designations this year were “Athletics, the USF Fund for Scholarships, the Data Institute, the School of Law, and Student Life.” 

Going into the event, the University established a goal of attracting 1,855 donors for the year the school was founded. The University easily hit this target and surpassed last year’s 2,550 donors by 32 individuals. By hitting the donor goal, the University unlocked a $300,000 “challenge gift” from the Board of Trustees. The gift is included in the total donations, which still fell short of last year’s amount by $83,000. 

The Foghorn reached out to the University for comment about the decline in overall donations this year, but did not receive a response in time for print. 

Alumni made up nearly a third of all donors, followed by those who categorized themselves as faculty and staff, friends of the school, then parents and students. 

Some student organizations received direct donations through Day of the Dons. In an email, Marci Nuñez, director of Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE), said, “Of the 101 donors to Student Life (raising a total of $3,090), 22 donors made gifts specifically to Student Organizations for a total of $979.” 

The Division of Student Life will be transferring the donations to ASUSF Senate, and its finance committee will decide how to allocate the funds. 

“Senate wanted to have Day of the Dons give direct donations to student organizations because we would like to increase the amount that we have from the Student Activity Fee and our Reserves,” Senate Vice President of Finance Tiana Valerio said. “Due to the closure of Presentation Theater, Senate has had to bear the cost of what the closure has resulted in. This includes paying for other venues or reconfiguring venues on campus to fit our needs at huge costs. Since Senate is seeking support in paying for said costs, we felt that Day of the Dons was the best way for individuals to help us through that pain point.” 

“It is unclear to us as of right now when those funds will be available for use,” Valero said. “However, the rough outlined planned for now to utilize the funds is to use it to subsidize the things that we may not have been able to pay for otherwise during budget season.” She said that the donations will help inform future budget decisions.

Students also assisted in raising funds, such as Stefanie Pillert, a senior student supervisor in the University’s call center. Pillert said student employees raised nearly $10,000 in donations over the phone on Day of the Dons. “I believe that having the alumni speak with student callers allows for genuine conversation,” she said in an email. “Since the students are the ones benefiting from the gifts donors give, they are able to thank them personally and urge them to stay connected with USF.” Pillert said she raised $1,000 through her calls alone. 

Pillert noted that there was extra exposure around campus this year for the event, as members of her staff were advertising on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Other advertisements for Day of the Dons could be seen on the ground around campus, in online advertisements and videos, and emails that students received alerting them to the event. 

According to Dutton-Cookston, “Promotional material is produced in house in a partnership between Development and the Office of Marketing Communications.” Though the University didn’t hire external vendors, Dutton-Cookston added, “A nominal amount of campaign funds were allocated to paid digital advertising in order to expand awareness of the fundraising campaign.” 

Peter Wilch, vice president of development, said in a statement to the Foghorn, “In addition to setting a donor record for a single day of giving, the Day of the Dons was also a big boost for the ‘Changing the World from Here’ comprehensive campaign.” 

The Changing the World from Here capital campaign, which has currently raised just over $221 million of its $300 million goal, began its public phase in June 2019. The campaign’s priorities include funding student programs such as the Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) initiative, the upcoming engineering school, the Honors College, as well as scholarships and financial aid for students.

Katherine Na contributed to the reporting of this story.

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