University looks to new ways to attract more donors with Ignite and Giving Day

Posted on Jun 27 2019 - 7:00am by Suad Patton-Bey

When the goal post came down after Ole Miss’s unexpected win against Alabama in 2014, the university had to pay large fines and replace the goalposts. Fans wanted to donate to the cause, and the mass of support had donors calling in to ease the burden of the students’ celebration.

“We got we got a call from (the Athletics Department) saying, ‘I’ve got people calling up saying they want to support our fine and putting our goal post back up,’” Wendell Weakley, president of the UM Foundation, said. “We said, ‘We got a deal for you.’”

At the time, the UM Foundation had been working on a crowdsourcing tool, Ignite Ole Miss, to allow community members to donate to specific campus needs online.

“We had the software, and literally within about 48 hours, we raised over $100,000. Because people were able to go into that site and gives directly to that particular issue,” Weakley said.

Ignite Ole Miss is a University of Mississippi community funding platform that is available to both students and campus groups. 

“(It is) this GoFundMe for campus-based groups (to put it) really simply,” said Angela Atkins, Digital Giving Officer for Ignite.

Ignite was launched in 2014, but the push to include more donors continues with Ole Miss Giving Day, which started in April. The campaign lasts for 1 day, 8 hours and 48 minutes in honor of the university’s founding year of 1848.

Donations from Ignite and Giving Day help to fund specific projects such as annual Senior Class Gifts and the Ole Miss Family Emergency Fund as well as individual schools within the university.

When a particular group needs funds, Ignite representatives may offer to start a campaign, or the group can submit applications themselves. Group leaders schedule a meeting with Ignite to discuss the numerous aspects of running a campaign: expectations, goals, potential donors, time limits and targeted audience. 

“It’s kind of a way for campus groups to get a little boost without the big, multi-million-dollar campaign,” Atkins said.

Atkins, who began in her position in March, aims to “clean up” and modify Ignite’s website while adding new, purposeful projects. Ignite runs campaigns of various budget sizes and purposes — from endowments to cameras and everything in between. 

“It’s safe to say that we have raised well over $3 million over the last couple of years,” Atkins said. “We’re talking donations that sometimes are coming in at $10 at a time.”

Ignite will be collaborating this fall with the African American Studies department to launch a medallion scholarship to honor the recently retired Don Cole. Details of the project are still being laid out as both representatives of Ignite and the African American Studies department meet to discuss ideas and strategies on how to approach potential donors. 

“We sit down and really think of who we need to reach out to, what our message is going to be, and then we work together to produce a video, project description and emails that would go out to our stockholders and potential donors,” Atkins said. “That’s how our campaign comes together.”

Among Ignite’s most notable past projects was a fundraiser to honor William Magee, an Ole Miss student who died several years ago due to an overdose. His family decided to build a wellness center to reach out to students who are suffering from addiction and other issues.

“They raised money through the platform, met their goal and super-exceeded it,” Atkins said of the project that received $93,161 more in donations than its $250,000 goal.

In its essence, Ignite is about a community made up of students and faculty coming together and working together to fulfill needs, Atkins said.

“It’s really grassroots, bottom-up type stuff,” Atkins said. “It’s a collaborative effort between those who need money and the (Office of Development).”

Ignite’s overall goal is to assist campus groups in gathering money for various activities such as conferences, inviting speakers or hosting cultural events.

Any campus group is welcome to apply, however, the platform can only take on a certain number of projects at a time.

“We are limited in terms of how many projects we can manage at one time. We don’t want to overwhelm people, especially since our audiences tend to overlap,” Atkins said.