Every day Cindi Blair asks people for money.
And when the University of Tennessee’s $1-billion fundraising campaign hit high gear, the UT Knoxville employee of 33 years opened up her own pocketbook.
Blair, a manager in the Office of Development, better known as fundraising, pledged to give $1,000.
“To me, that’s a whole lot of money,” she says. “For some people, a million dollars is what they feel they need to give, and for me, well, it doesn’t have quite that many zeros.”
Her gift counts toward the billion-dollar goal the university system set five years ago.
While the bulk of that money is coming from generous large-scale donors whose names will be on campus buildings and endowment funds, the heart of the campaign has come from people like Blair, officials insist.
Nearly 90 percent of the 98,000 people who wrote checks to the university gave less than $5,000.
Most of those gave less than $1,000 and many on payment plans similar to Blair’s, which spreads her gift over three years. They give what they can spare from monthly household budgets.
“It shows that our alumni and friends value the institution, they value their degree, they value the impact this university has on the state, and they value the work that the faculty is doing,” says Scott Rabenold, director of the Campaign for Tennessee. “I look at each of those donations as a validation of the good work happening on each campus.”
The campaign began quietly in early 2005 and went public in April 2008. By then, the university already had raised about $700 million.
The strategy, Rabenold says, was to connect with alumni one-on-one, to make them feel appreciated for their gifts, and to connect their interests with a program or cause within the university.
Gary Dunavant, a midlevel manager at AT&T in Birmingham, Ala., and a UT alum, had already decided he wasn’t going to increase his annual $100 gift when a College of Arts and Sciences representative called and asked to take him to lunch.
“He didn’t put on any particular pressure. It was low-key,” Dunavant says. “It was just the personal contact. It’s being appreciated for what I had given in the past and the university’s reaching out to me on a personal level.”
Several days later, Dunavant, feeling connected to the alma mater he left decades ago, pledged to give $1,000 over three years.
Those kinds of meetings and pledges from donors promising less than $5,000 brought in $23.3 million toward the campaign, according to university numbers.
They have come mostly from alumni and employees.
Bernie Rosenblatt is neither.
A retired educator with degrees from the University of Miami, Stanford, and Columbia, he came to East Tennessee 14 years ago to run the Arnstein Jewish Community Center in Knoxville.
He quickly got involved with the university, serving on advisory boards and meeting with faculty members and students. He talks enthusiastically about the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, using words like our and us.
Though he declines to disclose how much he gives, he says it’s not as much as he’d like.
“The campaign is sorely needed to ensure the future and the direction the university is going in,” Rosenblatt says. “I’m thrilled with the activity going on there and the serious commitment to higher education that the university has, from president to chancellor to department heads to faculty and certainly the students.”
Fundraising is perpetual, and the push for donors won’t stop with the $1 billion, says Rabenold, recently named the interim vice-chancellor for development.
The new president and trustees will likely decide the focus, goals, and time line for the next campaign. With dwindling state funding, the need for private donations is greater than ever, Rabenold says.
“The reality is the university will not be done raising private support at the end of this campaign,” he adds. “It will continue to need alumni and friends to make investments in order to make the university as great as it aspires to be.”
Every gift, regardless of the amount, helps ensure that UT Knoxville can continue to improve and enrich academic, cultural, athletic, and recreational experiences for our students. We invite you to be a part of this important effort by joining with Cindi, Gary, Bernie, and the thousands of other alumni and friends who are enabling the good work of the university with their financial support. Visit giveto.utk.edu; call Karen Rohr, Director of Communications and Services, Office of Development and Alumni Affairs at 865-974-7197; or e-mail her for more information.
The opportunities for becoming involved and supporting the university are countless; but you can learn more by visiting the website of your college, found at utk.edu/academics; the website of University Libraries, www.lib.utk.edu; the websites of the centers and institutes, found at utk.edu/centers; the student affairs website, studentaffairs.utk.edu; and, of course, alumni affairs at alumni.utk.edu.