Matt Cunningham is no stranger to the world of fundraising. The new UM-Dearborn baseball coach got plenty of in-the-trenches schooling in that when he was a college baseball player at Wayne State University. Back then, he said the methods were pretty straightforward and unglamorous — often involving hawking concessions at sporting events for minimal compensation. Then, a few years later, he made a career for himself inside the major gifts office of his alma mater’s athletics department. There, needless to say, he learned a philanthropy game that was decidedly more polished.
So it’s probably not all that surprising that when the coach discovered UM-Dearborn’s Office of Institutional Advancement was offering skill-building workshops ahead of last year’s Giving Blueday fundraiser, he gently nudged a few of his players into attending.
“We’re a brand new program, so everybody knows building up some resources is key for us to compete,” Cunningham said. “They were teaching us how to use the incentives to match donations we brought in, and how to fine tune our messaging for social media campaigns.”
The players apparently got the message: During the 24-hour fundraiser, Cunningham’s rookie baseball team pulled in the most of any student organization. The donations helped fund a February-March trip to Florida, where they played eight early regular season matchups — a necessity for cold-weather teams, whose spring college seasons are otherwise too short for a full schedule.
For organizers of Giving Blueday, it’s a textbook example of how the five-year-old, all-campus event has evolved into not just a big day on the philanthropic calendar, but an important way to seed fundraising skills at the grassroots. This year, the office is hosting four different workshops, focusing on essential fundraising skills and etiquette. Two of the sessions are aimed at helping student organizations; two others are for faculty and staff, who use Giving Blueday to raise money for scholarships and other needs in their respective colleges.
“We really see it as a catalyst for broadening the philanthropic culture here,” says Development Associate Shayna Sell, who’s helping organize this year’s Giving Blueday for UM-Dearborn. “In historical terms, we’re still a relatively new campus, and a culture of giving is something that you develop over generations. So, for sure, we want organizations to have a successful day; but we also want to empower people to be part of it. Then, they’ll have a direct, personal experience with the impact that giving makes.”
That’s a message that resonates with Cunningham. In fact, he’s already given his team fair warning that when their playing days are over, they’ll still be hearing from their old coach.
“What I want these guys to see is that they’re part of building something — and that their time here now is the start of a lifelong relationship with your school,” Cunningham says. “That was ingrained in me by my own coach, and I’m passing that lesson on to them. So when I call them up in a few years and ask them to help support our Florida trip, they’ll get it. They’ll get it because they once asked someone to help, and someone came through for them.”
This year’s Giving Blueday is November 27, 2018. The full schedule of fundraising workshops and Giving Blueday events is available on the Giving Blueday website.