In April, some of the University of Alabama’s most innovative and enduring campus projects and programs got a financial boost of nearly $6.2 million from 1,329 gifts during an event known as Bama Blitz.
“We hit a big number with the $6.19 million, which surpassed our previous record of $3.6 million,” says Bob Pierce, UA’s vice president for advancement. “It’s impossible to know exactly what the final number will be each year, but it’s something that we work very hard to maximize.”
In its fifth year, Bama Blitz is a two-day crowdfunding event that takes place entirely online to raise money for several “passion projects” on campus. Crowdfunding is a method of fundraising where small money donations are collected online to support a specific project.
“Bama Blitz offers an opportunity for us to present a few projects that people might not have heard about and give them a chance to support them,” says Mary Beauchamp, UA’s director of annual giving.
This year’s Bama Blitz raised funds for a number of projects such as scholarships for student athletes, social work student travel expenses and UASpace, an undergraduate engineering organization that aims to build a ground station capable of communicating with aircraft and even satellites.
The success of this year’s Bama Blitz mirrors the rise in higher education philanthropy that is occurring around the country today.
Evidence of this rise in giving is discussed in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Voluntary Support of Education survey for 2020-2021, which says that despite the pandemic, U.S. colleges and universities raised $52.9 billion in 2021, up from $49.5 billion the year before. That is an increase of 6.9% that, when adjusted for inflation, is a 5.1% jump.
Further, alumni alone donated $12.3 billion to their alma maters in 2021, up 10.8% from $11.1 billion in 2020.
Sue Cunningham, CASE president and CEO, writes in the report that, “The connection between institutions and contributors is powerful and lasting, and in times of need, donors who can do so invest in the institutions they care about and whose missions they most align with. When faced with sweeping challenges such as those in our present historical moment, our human impulse to care for each other inspires generosity.”
So, what did it take to attract contributors to Bama Blitz? Pierce says the campaign always takes months of planning.
“We have conversations with donors, not necessarily year round, but certainly by the time we move into the first quarter of the calendar year, we’re talking with donors about making major gifts and whether they have an interest in tying those to Bama Blitz,” Pierce says.
Beauchamp says her office works closely each year with faculty, staff and the deans from each college to pick which projects to highlight.
This year, the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences, for example, picked the Capstone Family Therapy Clinic. The Capstone Clinic is a research and training facility for graduate students studying marriage and family therapy. In addition, the Clinic also provides counseling services to UA students and local residents.
The Clinic raised more than $6,300 in donations.
During the campaign, selected projects like the Capstone Clinic are displayed on the Bama Blitz crowdfunding site at bamablitz.ua.edu. There, visitors to the site can read text or watch videos about each project and, with just a few clicks, donate to the ones they want to support.
“The whole concept behind crowdfunding is that there’s a viral aspect to it,” says Pierce. “That allows a person to tell others about something that’s important to them to generate charitable funds to support that particular project.”
The Bama Blitz crowdfunding site comes equipped with a donor wall as well as a leader board showing which campus projects are collecting the most gifts.
Among the programs benefitting from the 2022 Bama Blitz are athletics, $80,229; the School of Business’ Undergraduate and International Programs in Business, $61,385; the Culverhouse Executives Society, $49,083; and the Nursing Student Pandemic Relief Fund, $17,710.
Some donations benefit specific projects. For example, the College of Community Health Sciences raised $65,705 toward building a Sensory Motor Arousal Regulation Treatment (SMART) Gym for its Brewer Porch Children’s Center.
To raise awareness of Bama Blitz, the UA Office of Annual Giving encourages students and others to become Bama Blitz Ambassadors and use social media platforms to help inform others about their college’s passion projects and programs.
In one recent case, UA’s Million Dollar Band participated in Bama Blitz to raise the money needed to travel to New York City and perform in the 2021 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
For the campaign, the Band used social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and the Bama Blitz crowdfunding site to reach out to their fans and tell them about the trip.
“The Million Dollar Band has a big following online,” says Beauchamp. “They have a Facebook group of alums and fans that follow all of the Band’s activities.”
Beauchamp says social media helps her keep alumni and other potential donors engaged with the university, even when she’s not asking for gifts.
“We use a multi-channel approach to fundraising here at UA,” says Beauchamp, “which is the industry standard these days. These online events have emerged in the industry in the last decade.”
That multi-channel approach in fundraising still, however, includes traditional forms of communication like direct mail, telemarketing and email, she says.
Tony McLain, a UA grad and native of Lanett, says text messages and emails were among the tools used to alert him to the start of this year’s Bama Blitz. McLain studied mechanical engineering at UA, met his wife and graduated in 1994. He now lives in Atlanta working for American Cast Iron Pipe Co. (ACIPCO), managing a distribution network throughout the Southeast.
“During these Blitz times, if we know of something that’s going on that we’ve seen [online], we may [give] towards that,” says McLain, who has donated to the College of Engineering’s UASpace group.
“I see those student activities going on a lot, and that’s where my interest is, in helping the students. Many are no different from me, coming from small towns, not knowing what to expect. And then all of a sudden, they’re working on projects like these. It’s pretty exciting.”
“You never know who’ll be the next legend-in-the-making,” McLain says. “Who’s going to be the next Marillyn Hewson at Lockheed Martin or Harper Lee with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity? All three, to some extent, may have changed the world.
“I think we should do all we can to help these kids get that chance.”
Gail Allyn Short is a Birmingham-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.
This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Business Alabama.