From the May 2011 issue of Our Moment, the UConn Foundation's e-newsletter.
Every year, about 29,000 donors make a purposeful decision to support UConn with a gift. Many of their names are familiar: the Neags, for example, whose transformational giving has gone to their passions of health and education and helped to move UConn into the top tier of public universities.
Most donors, however, give in much smaller monetary amounts, but for reasons just as personal as the Neags. Their gifts come in through the annual giving department of the Foundation, where a staff of eight (five of whom are alumni) coordinate efforts that result in millions of phone calls, e-mails, videos and letters to UConn’s alumni and friends annually.
While annual giving has consistently become more successful at UConn—and is on track to raise a record $8 million this fiscal year—the department’s benchmark of success is participation, not necessarily gift amounts that make newspaper headlines. The department’s success here is as strategically important as any other. Annual gifts can be put to use immediately by the University, and the overall giving participation rate for UConn alumni is used, among other things, to competitively place UConn among its peers in national rankings and comparisons.
Even within the Foundation’s development staff, all of whom are passionate for the University, the annual giving staff stands out. They are the department with the most UConn paraphernalia hanging on the walls, who hear every day the meaningful stories of Husky alumni and friends who have given $20 a year for decades.
Karen Santasiere ’96 is an example of how the Husky pride flows through the staff. While she serves as the director of annual giving today, she started as a student Phonathon manager while an undergrad at UConn, and returned to Storrs three years ago to assume her current position, overseeing the department, its staff and working with volunteers across the UConn community who help the Foundation raise funds.
“Annual giving is a cross of marketing and fundraising,” she explains. “We try to reach as many people as possible, to make gifts that are meaningful to them. The size of the gift, while important, is not our primary focus.”
She holds her highest praise for some of the University’s youngest ambassadors: the nearly 100 student employees who staff the UConn Phonathon, located on-campus in the Foundation building. The students connect with thousands of UConn alumni, parents and friends each year, and recently topped the $1-million mark, toward their $1.2-million goal for FY11.
“The Phonathon is the toughest job on campus,” Santasiere believes. “Our callers are often the only personal voice connecting alumni to the University each year, and hear anything and everything you can imagine. It’s a great experience for them, and they come in every day ready to raise funds for UConn.”
Other efforts in the department include reaching constituent groups such as student giving (through the Barton Challenge this year (link)), parents, UConn faculty and staff, leadership donors who give $1,000 and more annually, and countless affinity groups that connect alumni back to their UConn experiences, such as those in the UConn Marching and Pep Bands. Santasiere says the range of areas that the department covers is a testament to how much activity there is at UConn.
“When you look at the scope of funds that exist at UConn, almost anyone can find a passion that they can contribute to. From The Fund for UConn and Deans Funds to environmental issues, scholarships and health care, you can give to support it at UConn through annual giving.”
For more information about the Foundation's annual giving programs, please visit the "Contact Us" page for staff and phone numbers.