Records were broken for the third consecutive year during Birds Give Back, a day where Redbirds come together to celebrate Illinois State. Thanks to the generosity of donors, the University raised $1,138,866 from 3,184 individual gifts. Last year, 2,188 individual gifts were made to the University totaling $1,118,745.

“We were cautiously optimistic heading into Birds Give Back 2021,” said Director of Annual Giving Van Miller. “Momentum has been building around this event since it began in 2019, but I don’t think anyone anticipated that we’d see such a large increase in the number of gifts.”

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Multiple donors challenged their fellow Redbirds to make an impact and improve the Illinois State experience for our students. Time after time, donors stepped up to meet those challenges.

The Camille Taylor Family contributed $25,000 and Drs. Charles and Jeanne Morris added an additional $30,000 toward the Multicultural Center after a record-breaking 390 gifts were made to the fund. Abe ’12 and Isaac Lopez-Bowen were so moved by the incredible championing of the LGBTQ+ Support Fund that they gave an additional $5,000 after donors made 284 gifts backing this important initiative.

Redbird Esports was also a big star during its first year participating in Birds Give Back. Charley and Preethy Edamala generously gave $10,000 to the program after they met 100 gifts. To help build awareness, Redbird Esports held a special stream on Twitch where members of Redbird Esports played the popular party game Among Us with campus luminaries such as Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Levester Johnson, Alumni Association President Steve Smith ’89, M.S. ’93, and Reggie Redbird himself.

It was also a big day for Athletics, which raised $74,380 from 355 gifts to fund the Redbird Performance Lab. The School of Communication led the University’s academic programs with 215 gifts totaling more than $100,000.

As the night came to a close, Craig Reeser ’75 stepped up and encouraged Redbirds to surpass 2,500 gifts. That record was met and then some, unlocking a $250,000 planned commitment to the University from Reeser.

This year there was an increased focus on the use of ambassadors and influencers to help mobilize the Redbird community. More than 200 ambassadors or influencers helped spread the word during Birds Give Back and nearly $50,000 in gifts were collected directly through ambassador shared links.

“The message is clear: Word of mouth is a major key to success,” Senior Director of Annual Giving Jillian Nelson said.

Birds Give Back is part of Redbird Philanthropy Week, which honors those who give to the University and educates the campus community about the importance of giving back. This year, in-person events were replaced with the inaugural Redbird Philanthropy Quest. The Quest featured a series of videos and questions that students could answer. The first 200 students received a free T-shirt.

“Nearly 1,000 students completed the Redbird Philanthropy Quest,” Miller said. “As students learn how donors enhance the Redbird experience, and witness it firsthand during Redbird Philanthropy Week, the culture of philanthropy at Illinois State University will continue to grow stronger.”

Miller and Nelson are thankful to Illinois State donors for banding together to help make each Birds Give Back even more successful than the previous year.

“This year was a major turning point for Birds Give Back. We’ve built momentum, and it’s becoming part of the Redbird culture,” Nelson said. “It’s a special day to make your gift because, as a donor, the experience is especially inspiring. Watching the totals go up, challenges unlock, receiving special content, and thank-yous, it all works together to elevate the donor experience. We can’t wait for next year!”