News and analysis
January 12, 2015

Fundraising Teams at Ore. and Ohio State Face Off Amid National Championship Buzz

While the football teams of the University of Oregon and Ohio State University battled for the national championship Monday night, the universities also waged a fundraising challenge.

In a face-off dubbed the Bucks vs. Ducks Giving Challenge (or the Ducks vs. Bucks, depending on whom you ask), officials raced to see who could bring in the most gifts from alumni, parents, and other supporters over a four-day span that kicked off Friday. 

The Buckeyes, who won Monday's game, also took the lead in the fundraising challenge with 1,027 gifts, nearly twice as many as the University of Oregon, which recieved a total of 577 gifts. Neither institution released the dollar amount raised in the challenge.

The money raised will support academics, according to officials. 

"The challenge is about the number of people who jump in to give, so every gift makes a difference," Michael Drake, Ohio State University's president said in a statement Friday, adding that the focus at the Ohio campus is on supporting student scholarships. 

Katy George, assistant director of direct marketing and annual giving for the University of Oregon, said the challenge was set in motion when she and her colleague Rick Ericson, director of annual giving, received a telephone call from their counterparts at Ohio State University last Monday. 

They had just a few days to put the infrastructure and marketing strategy in place in time for the Friday launch, she said. One of the trickiest parts was the timely reporting of the gifts - the university's gift processing team was already backed up with year-end donations.

Ms. George started with an email to about 60,000 recent donors, alumni, parents and others. She and her colleagues have also been working to promote the challenge on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media networks. Donations are being channeled through their call center, as well as through the university's foundation and alumni association websites, she said.

"I have had more fun back-and-forth [exchanges] with individuals than I have ever had with any other annual giving solicitation," said Mr. Ericson, adding that he has heard from many students who worked as callers during university telethons. 

Many of their top donors will attend the game Monday, Mr. Ericson said, creating a great opportunity for him and his staff. 

"At any large institution that has a successful sports program, there are going to be people who feel that academics are left out," Mr. Ericson said. "This was a great opportunity to give them a voice and let them rally behind our sports team and our academic mission."

Jennifer Keyes, senior director of annual giving at Ohio State, said her team developed business card-sized promotional cards that are being distributed at the stadium in Texas. They also created talking points that have been used at various university events in the lead-up to the game. 

"Ohio State is all about a good competition," Ms. Keyes said. "It [the response] has been electric." 

Editor's Note: This post was updated 1/12, 2015, at 5:45 p.m. with comments from Jennifer Keyes, and again on 1/13 to report the results of the championship game and fundraising challenge. 

Send an e-mail to Megan O'Neil.