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MSU Denver student athletes Alyssa Richter, left, and Megan Sansburn work at the call center two or three days a week after practice. Photo by Alyson McClaran

Making it rain for Roadrunners

How does the University more than double its fundraising efforts over a year? Read on to find out.

September 18, 2017

By Cory Phare

Here are some numbers to consider: 7.2 million. 87,000. 25. One.

University Advancement raised a record $7.2 million in fiscal 2017, shattering the earlier standard with an increase of more than 130 percent from 2016’s $3.1 million. Add to that an increase in donors from 2,048 to 3,392 since 2015 and a steady march of those who give regularly, and you have a recipe for sustained fundraising success.

And that’s just the start of it.

“We’re in the relationship business ― that’s a pretty good return on investment,” said John Pepperdine, associate vice president for university advancement.

So what touched off this philanthropic boom?

MSU Denver's Reach-a-Roadrunner Student Call Center is a crucial component of the University's Annual Giving program. Hard-working MSU Denver students serve the University by reaching out to Roadrunner alumni to build, grow and enhance their relationships with the institution, as well as to raise the private support that allows MSU Denver to transform lives. Photo by Alyson McClaran

A large part of it was a systemic reimagining of how to reconnect with an alumni base of more than 87,000 Roadrunners, said Jamie Hurst, director of alumni relations and giving.

“It’s about changing the messaging of why we’re reaching out,” she said. “We’re not just calling to ask people for money; we want to re-engage with our graduates to learn what they’d like to see from us.”

The results of that inquiry include richer connections between alumni and MSU Denver borne out in efforts like the Reach-a-Roadrunner Student Call Center and a commitment to help the next generation of students succeed – through volunteering, offering internships and monetary donations.

“If we’re doing it right, there’s always a philanthropic component,” Hurst said. “It’s hard to say no to the amazing things going on here.”

Highlights of recent fundraising successes.

Building on that Roadrunner pride often involves getting alumni back to MSU Denver with events such as Alumni Weekend. In addition to funding the growth of the University, evidenced by new buildings on campus, alumni are often invited to provide internships to current students and visit classes to connect directly with the beneficiaries of their efforts, Pepperdine said.

“Our donors are ambassadors; we want to give them an entry point,” he said. “There are all sorts of ways to engage, so we try to figure out how and where to meet them.”

A large part of the recent success has been years in the making, Hurst said.

“These prospective major gifts are diamonds in the rough that often take a long time to cultivate,” she said. “Right now, we’re starting to see the fruit of the labors that were started long ago.”

MSU Denver athlete Emily Hartegan makes phone calls at the call center located on the fourth floor of the Student Success Building. Photo by Alyson McClaran

This includes large gifts, such as the creation of the Lockheed Martin Endowed Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute position

Additionally, two other donations valued over $1 million helped close a record year. One gift made by the Kemper family establishes the Kemper Family Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship – a transformational gift that will support teaching, scholarship, research and service activities in the College of Business. The anonymous gift supports student athletes.

But just as important are opportunities for Roadrunners to contribute in more modest amounts, too.

Take the recently launched Marathon Society, which recognizes recurring givers and allows University staff to contribute via payroll deductions. Or the MSU Denver Mug Club, encouraging members to turn beer money into scholarship money by raising a pint – and, by proxy, funds for students.

“A big part is thinking long-term with building legacy donors and planned giving,” Pepperdine said. “We want to provide opportunities that are inspirational and cool at every level.”

Though the growth in fundraising numbers is impressive on its own, it all boils down to one goal: student success.

The key to ensure this is building the University’s endowment, said Marilee Utter, president of Citiventure Associates and chair of the MSU Denver Foundation board.

“Our endowment is the gift that keeps giving,” she said. “The secret weapon in growing it successfully is the student. If we can find a way to make the introduction so potential donors interact with them, the stories blow you away.”

And while each road run by alumni is unique, there are common refrains that show up time and again. These are themes of tireless work and sacrifice, of burning the midnight oil to keep moving ahead, transforming self and community.

“When people choose to give to MSU Denver, they’re leaving a legacy,” Utter said. “Those resources are being applied to the students you’ve met; you know it makes a direct impact on their lives.”

That impact is tangible. As Hurst noted, it’s the University’s commitment to access that facilitates transformation for generations to come.

“If I have the ability to give $5,000, I’ve literally just paid for someone’s tuition,” she said. “That’s incredible – there aren’t many institutions where it goes that far. And now we’re primed and ready to keep it going.”

After all, it’s called “advancement” for a reason.


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