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Colgate raises $5.1 million while celebrating the last Colgate Day in the Year of ’13

By Mark Walden on December 20, 2013
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Colgate says thank you

Update: Forbes wrote a feature about the event. The story was also featured in the Wall Street Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.

The Colgate community made history on Friday, December 13, answering a Colgate Day challenge that raised more than $5.1 million in gifts and matching funds from 5,683 supporters.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest dollar amount and number of gifts collected in a single day by a liberal arts college,” said Vice President of Institutional Advancement Murray Decock ’80.

Every Friday the 13th is Colgate Day, a worldwide celebration of university spirit. On the last Colgate Day in 2013, the university unveiled the Year of ’13 Challenge. If Colgate received gifts from 1,300 supporters in 24 hours, an anonymous graduate would direct $1 million to financial aid. It was a tall order; the university had never received more than 600 gifts in one day.

“The Year of ’13 Challenge was designed to take all of the excitement, generosity, and connection that we have seen during 2013 and compress it into a single day,” said Decock. “Thanks to the dedication of so many alumni, parents, and friends, it succeeded beyond our highest expectations — and everyone had a lot of fun.”

The challenge officially began at midnight with a chipwich-fueled study break in Case-Geyer Library, sponsored by the Senior Class Gift Committee. At 6 a.m., WRCU-FM put out the call when the station launched a full day of special content, hosted by alumni, faculty and students.

By radio, e-mail, phone, social media, and personal visits, the university appealed to its supporters. Raider took a walkabout, inspiring confidence with his unwavering smile, and by 11 a.m., the daunting goal of 1,300 gifts had been reached.

The astonishing, speedy results inspired two members of the university’s board of trustees to offer their own million-dollar challenge: if the university could raise another 1,300 gifts before midnight, they would each provide an additional $1 million in matching funds.

President Jeffrey Herbst, along with faculty mainstays like astronomy professor Tony Aveni and geology professor Bruce Selleck, helped to man the phone lines, and Colgate’s online giving site continued to collect contributions at a blistering pace. By dinnertime on the East Coast, the university had logged 2,600 gifts and earned more than $3 million.

If anyone knows about pushing through to the buzzer, it’s a Raider athlete. With six hours still on the clock, an anonymous member of the university’s athletic community stepped forward with a final $1 million challenge, to be fulfilled upon receipt of 3,513 gifts before midnight.

The news hit social media and e-mail inboxes as more than 20 alumni clubs around the country began their much-anticipated Colgate Day celebrations. Toasting alma mater with one hand, Colgate faithful picked up a phone with the other and made gifts from Los Angeles, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, and elsewhere. A third triumph seemed within reach.

“The response was tremendous,” said alumni director Tim Mansfield. “Our alumni volunteers deserve high praise for organizing events and encouraging every event attendee to share in the success of the challenge.”

Colgate’s Facebook page and Twitter feed were awash in likes, favorites, and a #selfieshowdown that raged from coast to coast. “The conversation started online the night before and didn’t stop until the day after,” said Matt Hames, manager of media communications. “The engagement and reach was incredible — with posts coming in from three continents, it showed that this really is a global community.”

Time waits for no Raider. December 13th finally slipped into the 14th while the university family stayed glued to screens, watching for word — could they have achieved a new fundraising record?

The answer was a resounding yes. It took advancement staff nearly two hours after the closing bell to catalog the results, but in an early morning e-mail to the Colgate community, President Herbst made it clear that the effort paid off. Not only had Colgate’s alumni, parents, and friends met the third challenge, they had far surpassed it, bringing in gifts from nearly 5,700 individuals. Counting challenge dollars and gifts from participants, the university added more than $5 million in support for financial aid and other campus initiatives.

By every measure, it was a Colgate Day for the history books.

“Through the challenge, our community has demonstrated the commitment that has made the Year of ’13 so remarkable and shown the spirit that drives every Colgate Day celebration.” Herbst said in his congratulatory message, “Thank you again for making the Year of ’13 Challenge a success.”

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