Illinois State University concluded its largest fundraising campaign on June 30, raising $180.9 million during Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. The seven-year campaign started in 2013, and a $150 million target was set when the campaign’s public phase launched in 2017. The historic campaign was supported by 56,143 donors.

“When Redbirds Rising began, we knew our goal was ambitious,” said Illinois State University President Dr. Larry Dietz. “Over the course of the campaign, thousands of alumni and friends stepped up to the challenge, surpassing our target and making Redbirds Rising the University’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. I’m humbled by our shared success and grateful for the vote of confidence cast in the Illinois State experience.”

The campaign’s purpose was to elevate the level of scholarship, leadership, and innovation across ISU’s six colleges, Athletics, the Division of Student Affairs, Milner Library, and public radio station WGLT. Dietz is confident the level of investment from individuals and corporations has enhanced the University’s position as a leader in higher education.

“Redbirds Rising challenged us to aim higher than ever before. I celebrate these shared accomplishments with immense gratitude for those who have made Illinois State what it is today—a launching pad for Redbird dreams, a community where research and collaboration encourage academic discovery, and a place where students embrace civic engagement and service as a lifelong pursuit,” Dietz said, expressing gratitude to donors for investing in students by enriching their ISU opportunities.

“From enabling student scholarships to funding for faculty, facilities, and programs, private support is a testament to the affinity donors have for Illinois State and its incredible value,” said University Advancement Vice President Pat Vickerman. “Redbirds Rising has inspired donors to invest in ISU and positioned us to dream bigger and imagine new possibilities.”

Vickerman noted that of the 56,143 supporters who participated in the campaign, 27,254 were first-time donors and 30,554 were alumni. More than 1,500 corporate partners invested more than $27.8 million in Illinois State’s mission, vision, and values. Visionary donors invested 27 pacesetting gifts of $1 million or more, while 26 percent of the campaign’s total came from gifts of less than $25,000.

Illinois State’s endowment experienced significant growth as well during Redbirds Rising. The endowment now totals more than $148.8 million, up from $78.2 million when the campaign began. The endowment’s growth came from both gifts to the endowment (32.3 percent) and market gains (67.7 percent). The funds are essential to ensure that Illinois State will thrive well into the future.

“Private support during Redbirds Rising has strengthened the University’s financial resources, enabling the University to move forward with confidence and provide students with a premier educational experience,” said Illinois State University Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Eric Burwell ’90. “Illinois State will continue to thrive, and Redbirds Rising is a clear example of how alumni and friends want to help. Each gift is an investment in Illinois State, and I am grateful for all our donors.”

Additional Redbirds Rising Highlights

  • Redbirds Rising ended strong with more than $24.3 million raised in the fiscal year ending June 30. It was the third-highest fiscal year fundraising production in the University’s history. Another record was set when the University received $19 million in cash receipts during fiscal year 2020.
  • A historic event in September 2019 recognized the largest individual cash gift in ISU’s history, a $12 million gift from artist and alumni Wonsook Kim ’75, M.A. ’76, M.F.A. ’78, honorary doctorate of arts ’19, and her husband, Thomas Clement. In recognition of the couple’s generosity, the College of Fine Arts and School of Art were renamed the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts and Wonsook Kim School of Art.
  • A total of 240 endowments were created, with 88 percent of them providing funding for student scholarships.
  • More than $70 million in gifts and commitments was raised to enhance student support. During fiscal year 2020 alone, 2,351 students were awarded a total of more than $3.3 million in scholarship support.
  • More than $12 million was raised during the campaign to attract and retain talented University faculty, as well as support new and ongoing research initiatives.
  • ISU’s giving day—Birds Give Back—set a record on February 27, 2020, with 2,188 individual gifts to the University totaling more than $1.1 million, exceeding the records set the prior year for gifts and amount raised.
  • Private contributions established the Mennonite College of Nursing’s Nursing Leadership Academy and Redbird Career Portfolio in the College of Business, among other student leadership and professional development opportunities.
  • Innovative spaces and programs were bolstered, including a $1 million investment to create the future Stephen and Sharon Hagge Innovation Institute, housed within the College of Business and benefitting ISU students from academic disciplines across campus.
  • The largest estate commitment in Illinois State’s history, an eight-figure planned gift from Jim ’74 and Carole (Czerniak) Mounier ’75 was made to support Redbird Athletics.
  • In 2017, State Farm committed $3 million to advance Illinois State University’s cybersecurity program. The gift provided funds for an endowed chair position, program enhancements, and renovation of existing space to strengthen the learning environment for students.
  • Dr. Fariborz (Frank) Naeymi-Rad ’75, an international student to Illinois State from Iran, and Dr. Theresa A. Kepic ’73, a resident of ISU’s first international house in the fall of 1970, committed a $250,000 gift to support renovations and upgrades within ISU’s Multicultural Center. Their gift will also support technology infrastructure at the center to connect students to alumni and other U.S. and international multicultural centers. The gift honors Frank’s host family, Jack and GeJuan Cardwell, who was assigned by ISU in 1970. The Cardwells have guided Frank and Theresa throughout their growth and were instrumental as role models in their appreciation of diversity and inclusion.
  • Illinois State received a $2.5 million gift from the estate of Dr. Fred Gletten ’71. The gift is the largest gift to the School of Biological Sciences in Illinois State history and will establish the Dr. Fred Gletten Endowed Chair in Biological Sciences.
  • A seven-figure gift commitment from Gary Gemberling ’63 to the College of Business will establish two endowed professorships, fund student scholarships, and provide support for the Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
  • K. Elaine Hess ’56 committed 25 percent of her estate to MakeIt@Milner, Milner Library’s future maker space for students, faculty, and staff.
  • A visionary planned gift commitment from Donna Bessant ’62 established the Donna L. Bessant Endowed Fund within the College of Education. Recipients of the scholarship receive financial assistance to help cover the costs of housing, travel, technology, and other expenses tied to clinical assignments.
  • A $1 million gift from College of Business Professor Dr. Carson Varner and Professor Emerita Dr. Iris Varner, the largest faculty gift in Illinois State history, facilitated the creation of the Carson and Iris Varner International Business Institute in the State Farm Hall of Business.
  • In 2018, WGLT launched a capital campaign within Redbirds Rising to upgrade equipment and technology in the WGLT Master Control Studio. The capital campaign secured WGLT’s largest group of individual gifts to a non-endowment fund in station history.
  • Between mid-March and June 30, the COVID-19 Redbirds Response Fund grew to more than $118,000. This included support from 880 donors who generously rallied to help students during the pandemic. In addition, more than $500,000 was awarded through the Red and White Scholarship Fund during the spring semester to students affected by the pandemic.