At Illinois State University and many other public universities, alumni donations and support are vital and valuable contributors for campus success. ISU has held many campaigns in the past, but the #BirdsGiveBack has given the means to help strengthen the School of Communication (COM) in numerous ways. Dr. Steven Hunt, the executive director of the School, explained recently all of the different ways this campaign has benefitted and supported COM throughout the year.  

The #BirdsGiveBack campaign has stemmed from the larger tradition called “Giving Tuesday” that began several years ago. This tradition was held after Thanksgiving, and many professors and alumni would match student fundraising. This supportfulness, in turn, helped the university and COM immensely. Because of the success that has come from Giving Tuesday, the university decided to center it around the founding of the University and moved it to spring to capitalize on the morale and support it brings to the campus.  

COM in particular has been very successful with the #BirdsGiveBack campaign in the past. This year, #BirdsGiveBack was especially successful for the School. Dr. Steve Hunt explains, “Last year, we had a total of 178 pledges to the School of Communication, which put us second in total pledges across the university, just behind Athletics.” Hunt added, “We also raised just over $38,000 last year alone. That was great, but this year blew my mind, as we received 215 gifts that amounted to $101,745.” 

There are many aspects that go into this campaign. It isn’t just about the donations raised or the pledges made. The devotion and morale that comes with the planning and promoting an institution that we all love is what really makes this special for COM. 

“There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for #BirdsGiveBack,” Hunt said. “We have an alumni advisory board of around 50 people, and we discussed #BirdsGiveBack was a primary topic at that meeting. We encourage everyone to be active on the day,  to serve as ambassadors for the school of communication, to get out on social media and tell your story and tag your peeps, right? But part of the point of that is obviously to push that messaging out more deeply into the social web, but it’s not just about giving your maximum potential. It’s the support and energy that comes with it.” 

While many may believe that only their tuition funds their education, it is truthfully part of the funding for the university. Indeed, financial support from our beloved alumni is instrumental for COM to provide state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to students. Hunt described how the #BirdsGiveBack campaign helps promote what is going on in the School.

“#BirdsGiveBack is a way for us to further advance messages about the School of Communication and its continuing successfulness,” he said. “For example, WZND recently won for the second time the Broadcast Education Association’s Signature Station Award. The Videte has won best student newspaper in the state to the last three years. Our faculty are incredibly productive, wonderful scholars who do great work in the classroom. Without our continued alumni support, many of these accomplishments, scholarships, and opportunities wouldn’t be available to COM.”  

With Illinois State’s campus culture, the fun doesn’t stop after graduation. COM keeps close relationships with its alumni well after their four years on campus. Dr. Hunt explained the findings of a study about student-alumni interactions.  

“When COVID first hit and the switch happened in the spring, we had a group of alumni that said, ‘Hey, sign me up to talk with students, especially seniors who were on the job market, because I know that they’re worried.’ In the 23 years that I’ve been here, I’ve felt that we have alumni who are super dedicated and passionate,” he said. 

Every year the School holds holds an event in Chicago where students can meet with alumni, have lunch, and discuss career plans. Many faculty members at ISU are alumni as well, and almost two-thirds of all COM faculty have graduated from ISU with at least one degree. They came back to ISU because it is a great place to work and live.  

This year, through alumni support and campus participation, the #BirdsGiveBack campaign was extremely successful for the university, ending in a total of $1,138,866 raised with 3,184 gifts. The contributions to the School of Communication ranked fourth on the leaderboard for gifts right under the Multicultural Center, Athletics, and LGBTQ+ Student Support. Everyone in the School greatly appreciates the support people gave to the university and COM in #BirdsGiveBack 2021.