Georgia Southern University donations up despite recognition problems

Tandra Smith

Over $9 million was donated to Georgia Southern University at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, according to the Annual Giving Report, making last fiscal year the most profitable donation year since 2012.

While the total amount of donations is on the rise, one thing has remained low; student recognition of alumni donations. Both student organizations and the Donor Relations department have acknowledged this issue and are working to make students more aware of the impact of donations to Georgia Southern.

Before getting into the recognition issue, however, it’s worth taking a look at the breakdown of donations by year and category as well as how one student organization wants to get their name out.

Southern S.T.A.T. and the numbers

Southern S.T.A.T.’s mission it to get the student body more educated about alumni and donation relations.

“Southern S.T.A.T. stands for Southern Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow. Our main goal right now is really just to educate the student body on why it’s so important to give back,” Lindsey Heard, secretary for Southern S.T.A.T. said.

According to Heard, not everything is fully funded by just student’s tuition and state funding. Private donations are very important to Georgia Southern’s success.

In fact, a total of $9.1 million was received by GS in FY 2016, coming from various groups, organizations and people.

Close to 75 percent of donations came from alumni and corporations combined, at 42 and 31 percent respectively. Seventeen percent of donations came from friends and eight percent came from foundations.

Rounding out the list, two percent of donations came from other sources.

FY 2016 continues to show the increase of total donations Georgia Southern receives. Annual Giving Reports are available online for viewing from last year’s all the way back to 2012.

Where the donation money comes from, however, has greatly fluctuated throughout the years.

Alumni and corporations

FY 2016 saw the highest alumni percentage of donations since 2012. At 42 percent, alumni donations rose 18 percent from just 24 percent last fiscal year.

There are a variety of ways alumni donate to Georgia Southern, from restricted and unrestricted gifts to endowments, pledges and outright cash or checks. Restricted and unrestricted gifts depend upon the donor.

Restricted gifts are donated by an donor to a particular program, college, or department and is used by whatever the donor deems is important. This differs from unrestricted gifts, in which the university determines what is most needed at the time and puts the money towards that instead.

Corporations in FY ‘16 was also at the highest percentage of donations since 2012. 31 percent of donations came from corporations.

According to the Corporate Support page on the Student Affairs and Enrollment Management website, corporation donations are used for university speakers and other organizations and programs on campus.

FY ‘13 had the second highest percentage at 24 percent, followed by FY ‘12 at 17 percent, FY ‘14 at 16 percent and finally FY ‘15 at 15 percent.

Foundations, friends and others

While alumni and corporations made up most of the donations last year, the remaining 27 percent came from foundations, friends of the school and other sources. Friends of the university donated 17 percent of total donations received last year, which ties with their lowest percentage in FY ‘12.

In FY ‘15, friends of GS made up exactly 50 percent of the total donations for that year. It is unknown why the number dropped 33 percent last year, but Jill Forehand, Director of Donor Relations, says that a lot of time it depends on a variety of factors.

“It could be a lot of things. It could be based on market performance. Some people give based on their investments. Right now, markets are good so you tend to have people more willing to give,” Forehand said.

There are many categories of Donor Relations and Forehand is in charge of acknowledgements.

“We are actually not out asking for money but we are acknowledging the funds that come in and thanking our donors,” Forehand said.

Whether it is making sure that a particular Dean of a college or even President Hebert himself has to write a letter of thanks to a donor or something else entirely, Forehand and others make sure that donors feel appreciated and welcomed.

“We want people to feel good about what they’re giving to so that when we call again and ask again, they’ll have a good experience,” Forehand said.

The challenge

Both Heard and Forehand agreed that students were largely unaware of just how important donor relations are.

“I think overall…there is a disconnect,” Forehand said.

Forehand went on to mention the various ways both Donor Relations and Southern S.T.A.T. have been trying to get the word out. A recent event that was hosted was “For the Love of Blue”, in which students had the opportunity to see the on campus organizations with philanthropies, as well as participate in a scavenger hunt that taught participants all about private giving.

For the Love of Blue was hosted by Southern S.T.A.T. and sponsored by the Office of Annual Giving.

“[For the Love of Blue] is a two week long campaign because February is Student Philanthropy and Month,” Heard said. “So we have things like a philanthropy fair where Greek organizations came, then off campus philanthropic organizations came and just told the students about what they do.”

The goal in the upcoming years for Southern S.T.A.T. is to be more noticeable on campus. It is only the second full year of the organization and Heard wants more students to know about them.

Heard said, “Within the next few years, I really want it to be where we don’t have tell as many students who we are. Hopefully as we hold more events we can become a bit more successful at that.”