1,000 gifts break Giving Day record

UAF photo by Eric Engman.
Student Deandra Nicholai, at left, celebrates Giving Day 2024 with Nook and fellow student Sonni Shavings.

By Katie Straub

The University of Alaska Fairbanks continued its UA Giving Day record-breaking streak this year with more than 1,000 individual donations during the 49-hour event March 26-28, an increase of more than 25% percent over 2023.

Supporters paired their donations with more than 70 large matching and challenge gifts from individual and business sponsors, including nearly a dozen matches of $10,000 or more. Over the course of 49 hours, donors from 42 states and six countries contributed more than $710,000 to support students and programs at UAF. UAF alumni giving increased again this year, representing more than a third of individual donations.

The annual crowdfunding campaign included several new events for 2024: A mascot dance-off, a kickoff party for students and a Look for Nook treasure hunt sponsored by the UAF Alumni Association. The activity sent participants scouring UAF’s seven campuses for stuffed polar bears to unlock a $250 donation to their favorite UAF fund. They got to keep the stuffed Nook, too.

Students and staff at UAF Rural Student Services used a team effort and their collective knowledge of campus locations to find one of the stuffed Nooks.

“This was such a fun way for our students to participate and give back to the fund of their choice,” said Catherine Moses, Indigenous student services coordinator. “It got everyone involved and excited to share about Giving Day on social media and with everyone around them.”

Giving Day was an opportunity for her program to raise funds for the student activities Rural Student Services provides, she said. “Donations like the ones we received during Giving Day are a reminder that we are all in this together. It is a special feeling knowing others across Alaska are able to help fund the programs and events we have for our students.”

See caption and credit below image for description
Photo by Aaron Woods.
Members of Nanook Nation gather with Nook outside the Wood Center to support Giving Day.

The festive, pep-rally atmosphere of Giving Day made philanthropy approachable and fun, said Jan Dawe, research assistant professor of natural resources education and community-engaged research. It removed giving barriers and demonstrated the importance of involvement, she said. “Giving Day made everything okay about fundraising because we were all doing it together.”

Dawe leads the OneTree Alaska program whose mission is to engage learners of all ages in boreal forest education, citizen science and forest product development. This was Dawe’s first time being involved with UA Giving Day. Her program received an anonymous challenge gift that would be unlocked when 10 donations were made to OneTree.

“We had a $7,000 challenge grant — the question was, could we attract 10 donors to unlock it,” Dawe said. “That was our initial goal, but what happened was totally unexpected. I’m still in recovery from it.”

See caption and credit below image for description
UAF photo by Leif Van Cise.
Jan Dawe helps a volunteer using a loom while assembling a piece of tempestry at the OneTree kitchen in the Lola Tilly Commons in 2023.

When their challenge was unlocked, Dawe was inspired to keep pushing. Through her team’s social media posts and her emails to her network, by the end of Giving Day, 28 people gave to OneTree, bringing in more than $25,000 to the program.

“It worked better than I ever could have expected, and it gives me a lot more hope for OneTree,” said Dawe. “I feel really good about where we are, and, as much as we’ve done, we have that much more to go. And I hope now that we’ve shown this level of support we can get there.”

Throughout Giving Day, the challenges and matches from UAF alumni and supporters proved an effective motivation for the UAF community to participate. 

The Rural Alaska Honors Institute was supported by two challenges this year. One was a $25,000 gift in memory of Lisa Okubo and Mark Wartes, which was unlocked when 30 donors gave to RAHI, and the second was a matching gift of $5,000 from First National Bank Alaska.

See caption and credit below image for description
UAF photo by Eric Engman.
From left, Catherine Moses, office coordinator; Jake Knuth, academic coach at UAF Rural Student Services; and Bambi Nelson, assistant program manager for the Rural Alaska Honors Institute, pose with Nook after finding a Look for Nook polar bear during Giving Day 2024.

Bambi Nelson, RAHI assistant program manager, led a last-minute push to unlock both challenges before time ran out.

“Unlocking our challenges was so much fun, but there were definitely moments in the final hour of Giving Day when it seemed like we might not make it,” she said. “With the help of the College of Rural and Community Development team, we were able to rally our supporters with a last-minute email and social media push that put us over the top.”

Nelson says that most RAHI donors are alumni who have positive memories of their time in the program and who want to pass that along to younger students.

“We are deeply grateful to our RAHI supporters,” Nelson said. “We have created an amazing program for the Class of 2024 to experience this summer, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of our donors. Having their support means everything!”

This success underscores the profound impact of UA Giving Day, not just in dollars raised but also in fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Nook moves capture dance-off crown

Nook performing during Giving Day challenge.

Ever heard of a dancing Nanook? At this year’s UA Giving Day, UAF’s beloved mascot had a moment in the spotlight.

It started with an idea from Giving Day organizers to pit university mascots against each other in a friendly competition to see which could get the most likes on Instagram.

UAF Advancement’s mascot team took up the challenge.

“We already knew how amazing our mascot family is and that this competition would be fiercely competitive,” said Adam Rubin, UAF’s creative director. It turned out to be an opportunity for the team of students and staff to test their skills in a new way.

The video may take less than 30 seconds to watch, but there were hours of behind-the-scenes planning and decisions to be made. The team held a heated, hours-long brainstorming session to work through storyboarding, music choices and dance moves.

They even involved members of the University Fire Department, whose guest appearance gave the video some star power, complete with a fire engine’s flashing lights. 

“When we pitched it to the fire department, they not only let us use one of their engines but joined in on the dance,” Rubin said. “One crew member took over Nook’s dance moves and lit it up. It was epic!”

Their efforts paid off when Nook emerged victorious with more than 600 likes, edging out UA Southeast's Spike the whale by a few dozen votes.

“Our student workers help push Nook forward every day,” Rubin said. “The challenge thrown down by the UA system to compete against the other mascots in Alaska was an opportunity for them to really showcase their creativity.”