Even as the pandemic was taking a severe financial toll on people around the world, Colorado State University had one of its strongest years ever for fundraising — and donors were especially interested in contributing to programs for people in need, such as Ram Aid and Rams Against Hunger.
In fact, despite the many prominent scientific research efforts that were underway at CSU during the 2020-21 fiscal year to combat COVID-19, members of CSU’s fundraising team say donors commonly preferred to give money to aid programs.
“We launched several campaigns to support research, and while those were successful, what we found was that people were calling us to ask how they could support students, faculty and staff,” said Whitney Dwyer, managing director of annual giving and membership. “People especially wanted to give back to students.”
“They were emailing and calling us, saying, ‘I don’t need my stimulus check, where should I put it?’” added Brittany Habben, assistant director of development for Student Affairs. “For them to be so selfless, in not accepting that stimulus check for their own needs but giving it to the students — where there was the highest need — was really cool to see.”
‘Very scary time’
Rams Against Hunger was one of the primary beneficiaries of the giving, and it was needed even more during the pandemic as a safety net for those experiencing food insecurity.
Adriana McClintock, an account coordinator for University Marketing and Communications, went through a difficult period prior to starting at CSU as a temporary, nine-month employee in December 2019. She battled cancer in 2016-17, and her husband passed away unexpectedly in 2018.
“It was just a very scary time in general because the loss was a shock, it was sudden,” she said. “It was a really rough period of trying to get back on my feet in all ways, my body recovering from the surgeries and the chemo, and the loss of my husband. I was just trying to come back to life.”
McClintock turned to Rams Against Hunger for help.
“It was really a saving grace,” she said. “I had to be very humble in this time of recognizing that I needed help, and it was OK that I needed help. It took me a little bit for me to accept that I was one of those people who needed help.”
McClintock, who was a first-generation college student, said she used Rams Against Hunger off and on until the pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders in Spring 2020.
“We didn’t use it a whole lot, but it was nice to know it was a resource,” she said. “There are times when you are stretched, when you are concerned about making sure you’re making your rent and all of your bills. I can really see this being such a great way to not have shame in going in and picking up things that are basic necessities.”
During the fiscal year, 2,375 donors gave a total of $271,595 to Rams Against Hunger, and 377 people gave $253,240 to Ram Aid, which is a program that provides emergency funds to students for needs that go beyond food. In Spring 2020, that program was the beneficiary of a $1 million anonymous gift.
Ginny Fanning, executive director of development for the College of Natural Sciences and Enrollment, Academic and Student Affairs, explained that Ram Aid can provide students one-time funds for a blown tire, an electric bill, or even rent.
“This is basically a bridge, so that we didn’t have a situation where a lot of students were homeless or struggling,” she said. “A lot of students were also reporting that their parents had lost their jobs, and they’d moved back home. We’re not giving students $10,000 a pop; we’re giving somebody $250 that sustains them in their job or their house. And there may be a student who’s getting $1,500 because they can’t pay their rent when they’re supporting a family as well as themselves. It’s small amounts that just create that bridge for helping people continue living the life they’ve created.”
An aid program for employees, CSU Cares, received $90,752 from 294 donors in 2020-21. Canvas Credit Union donated $50,000 to the program. In addition, in Fall 2020, CSU enjoyed its most successful Giving Tuesday ever, raising $159,434 from 1,545 donors.
“It was the best Day of Giving ever,” Dwyer said. “Everyone came together, and we hit our goal by late morning. We were asking, ‘What do we do, set a new goal?’”
Other major gifts during 2020-21 included a $2 million grant from The Anschutz Foundation to prevent future pandemics, a gift to upgrade acoustics in CSU’s Instrument Rehearsal Hall, a $6 million donation for two service chairs at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, a gift to support student-veterans pursuing a professional degree in veterinary medicine, and a $1 million commitment to the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence.
Overall, CSU enjoyed its third-best fundraising year ever, remarkable during a pandemic: $178,225,778 in donations. Those gifts came from 28,078 people, including 10,567 alumni and nearly 7,000 first-time donors.
Fanning said even college deans at CSU chipped in discretionary funding to help students in need.
“Pretty much everyone around the University looked at what they were doing, figured out what was needed, and worked in partnership with University Advancement to help garner more support,” she said.
“As it did for everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic created significant challenges at CSU unlike any we’ve experienced before,” said Kim Tobin, vice president for University Advancement at CSU. “But these challenges are no match for the indomitable spirit of generosity that lives within our donors. I can say with confidence, and exceptional gratitude, that CSU’s community of students, researchers, faculty, and programs — the very cornerstones of our land-grant University — are even more resilient and equipped to charge forward because of our donors. Their collective giving not only underscores an optimistic confidence in CSU and its future, but also further demonstrates that together, we can offer hope, even in the darkest of times.”
McClintock said Rams Against Hunger is one of many things that contribute to the strong sense of community at Colorado State.
“I think what made it less daunting is that there really is the spirit of a family at CSU,” she said. “You know that there are people who care and are doing great work.”
And since McClintock has gotten back on her feet, she has reciprocated.
“Once I was hired in a full-time role, I really wanted to give back, so I made sure I made donations to Rams Against Hunger and other CSU resources because I wanted to see programs like this continue,” she said, adding that she also got to work with CSU designer Allie Ogg to create a logo for the Rams Against Hunger website as part of her job. “That was a real joy because I know how important it is — and being able to come full circle and help them out with their branding was really cool.”