CARBONDALE — It was with some nervousness that SIU Carbondale leaders announced Forever SIU, a three-year, $75-million fundraising campaign, in January of 2017, admitted Rae Goldsmith, the university’s spokesperson and vice chancellor for development and alumni relations.
They knew SIUC was blessed with great fundraising potential, boasting the 41st-largest alumni network in the U.S., with hundreds of thousands of Salukis spread out across the globe.
But amid the financial pressures of the budget impasse and the uncertainties of interim leadership, administrators returned to a persistent question: would people give?
The answer, university leaders announced on Tuesday, has been a resounding “yes.”
Seven months ahead of schedule, the Forever SIU campaign has met its $75 million goal, thanks to more than 60,000 individual gifts from some 26,000 donors.
“The university and board of the SIU Foundation had confidence in its alumni and friends,” said Chancellor John Dunn. “And we’re not stopping here. We view the $75 million as a floor, not a ceiling.”
The support came in gifts both big and small, from the new Becker Pavillion on Campus Lake, to the $36,000 raised by over 800 donors to the Balancing Education, Experience and Reality (BEER) scholarship, created by a Facebook group dedicated to reminiscing about life in Carbondale in the '80s and '90s.
Nearly 53 percent of gifts, some $40 million, were made to support student scholarships, including for student-athletes.
“It’s a monetary reward, but it’s also encouragement. It’s a way to encourage students to keep moving forward.” said Danielle Lorentz, a senior majoring in communications studies, who cited scholarships as a key reason she picked SIUC. “I can’t wait until I have an opportunity to be an alumni and also give back to this university.”
Another $33 million went to the university’s academic programs, helping to attract, train and retain faculty, and keep classes on the cutting edge.
Through it all, Goldsmith said, the focus has been on building momentum and engagement among alumni.
"The campaign helps build those connections," she said. "Every connection, every gift, matters."
The 2019 SIU Day of Giving was a flashpoint in that work with over $875,000 contributed by more than 2,400 donors from 45 states and 10 countries, almost doubling 2018 numbers.
As Goldsmith takes leadership of the SIU Foundation, the university’s fundraising arm, and begins to plot its next move, she remains focused on the stories behind alumni support for SIUC, she said.
Stories like that of artist Jimmy Wright, who received a master of fine arts degree in 1971.
While living in Carbondale, Wright’s home caught fire, destroying his art supplies and possessions.
“I was devastated,” Wright said, last year. “It was only through the generosity of students and faculty members from the art department who donated their artwork in an auction that I was able to get back on my feet.”
He paid that generosity forward during Forever SIU, with a $1 million gift to fund fellowships for graduate students in art.
The recent spike in alumni participation is thanks in part to the BEER group, Goldsmith said, but also to renewed focus on "awareness."
“It’s making sure that we and our fundraisers are connecting with people and listening to them,” she said, to match donors’ passions with the university’s needs.
Forever SIU is the university’s second major fundraising campaign. The first, called “Opportunity through Excellence,” ran from July 2002 through December 2008, and raised $106 million, exceeding a $100-million goal.
The current campaign will remain open to donations through the end of the year, Goldsmith said.