I clearly remember the day we reluctantly postponed our second annual Day of Giving, scheduled for March 25, 2020.

So much effort and energy had been expended planning for the day, but while it was the right and necessary decision given how quickly the global pandemic was spreading in early March, the sense of disappointment was palpable, it was deflating, and simply put –  it really hurt.

As summer arrived, and focus on practically every campus around the country turned to how we could open our doors to students for an in-person residential college experience in the Fall of 2020, there was still trepidation about rescheduling our Day of Giving.

Many were concerned that moving forward with a Day of Giving would be inconsiderate, or even inconceivable, with all that our country and our constituents were dealing with, including the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic, and issues surrounding ongoing systemic racism across our nation and on our campuses. Even after settling on a new date of September 16, we continued to receive feedback, both internally and externally, that asking people to give at this time could be an absolute disaster, especially on social media, and particularly on the heels of moving all classes online and vacating residence halls only one week after the start of the semester in mid-August.

Our leadership team had conviction and confidence.

Yet, deep down, our leadership team had conviction and confidence that at the end of the day, if our focus and tone were on point, our alumni, donors and friends would rally behind their university.

Therefore, we approached the day with a great deal of discussion around getting our messaging right for this unique and challenging time in our history. We knew we wanted to:

  • Take a more serious, more subtle approach than the one that had originally been planned in March.
  • Be authentic.
  • Focus on supporting our students—particularly those that have been, and continue to be, the most impacted.
  • Emphasize the importance of short-term student emergency assistance.
  • Highlight the importance of funding for programs that support diversity and equity across campus.
  • Underscore the ongoing critical challenge of providing long-term financial assistance for those with limited access and opportunity.

All of these issues were and remain real, both here and at most public universities across the United States.

Operationally, we knew we needed to:

  • Limit the number of those in attendance in our “command center,” while keeping staff, volunteers and other key constituents engaged.
  •  Set up and livestream from a large ballroom space on campus to ensure physical distancing.
  • Rely on ongoing hourly reports, many of which would be provided by students.

We knew doing this would constrain the atmosphere and vibe as the day went on, but it would keep folks apprised of big gifts dropping and keep everyone virtually engaged.

And then it was “go-time.” It started to happen.

We saw Facebook and Twitter light up as alumni highlighted their favorite memories from their days on campus, or posting pictures of their pets in Wolfpack gear. We read emotional stories of how NC State had impacted them, personally and professionally, and it reminded us all of the life-changing value that a college experience can have on a person. And the gifts started to roll in, big and small.

We understood when we rescheduled our Day that our goals would need to be significantly adjusted. We originally had the aspiration that we could exceed our year-one totals of $13.5 million raised from more than 10,000 gifts, but we accepted that we would likely not see results anywhere near those targets. That was OK, because we knew that every gift, regardless of its size, would impact our students. We also acknowledged that a Day of Giving isn’t just about the dollars, it’s also about engaging and encouraging our university community.

By 4p.m., we had somehow remarkably crossed the $13.5 million threshold. I flipped my ball cap backwards in an effort to rally and encourage the possibility of achieving $20 million. Low and behold at 8p.m. we announced we had surpassed the $20 million mark with two gifts of $2.5 million each to support our Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.

We went on to close the day raising over $23 million from more than 8,000 gifts.

The teamwork exhibited throughout the day was nothing short of amazing, and following six months of challenge after challenge in this new environment, it was absolutely inspirational for all involved. Our campus was completely engaged from Deans tweeting messages to their alumni, to 100% participation from the Chancellor’s Cabinet, and on down the line.

For the first time in a long time, work and life actually felt “normal”.

I came away from this experience with a deep-rooted conviction that the energy, enthusiasm, and connectedness brought on by this Day of Giving has the potential impact of moving our University forward from the sense of discomfort, uncertainty and fear that we’ve all experienced over the past several months to a much stronger attitude of resolve and confidence. This experience offered a glimpse of the light that I believe does indeed exist at the end of the global pandemic tunnel. I am convinced that the success of our Day of Giving, in every way, will help springboard our campaign to its aspirational goal of $2 billion by Fall 2021.

I have heartfelt appreciation for our entire team that pulled together during this crazy time to accomplish something nothing short of transformative for NC State, our donors, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and of course, our students and all those this great university benefits. Of course, I am also extremely grateful to our amazing alumni and donors who showed their true colors (Red and White) by stepping up to support the university they love.