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Record donations made during 2021 (603) Challenge


[Durham, NH]—On April 9, the (603) Challenge for the University of New Hampshire (UNH) took flight. With thousands of donations every year, donors come together to show support for their favorite areas of the university. For a certain period of time, any gift amount is matched by some of the annual and underwriters. Adding up to almost $200 per donor, the funds are matched until the $225,000 runs out. With an abounding number of challenges, gift opportunities and a live leaderboard , contributors have five days to give back to their favorite community in New Hampshire . 

This is the seventh year in a row the (603) Challenge has assisted UNH. Jackie Overton, director of annual giving at UNH, is one of two people who have been a member of the directors’ board since the very beginning. Overton explained that since 2015, the (603) Challenge for UNH has changed quite a bit. Originally, donors would gift to the university as a whole, without any idea of where their money was going and who it was directly benefiting. There were more specific areas of the university that people wanted to donate to. 

Understandably, a change was made. The original few areas of interest that joined the (603) Challenge developed in 50 areas this current year. Overton, along with her team, have encouraged different colleges, clubs, departments and sports teams to join the challenge over the years. “We really needed to give people more opportunities to give. I felt like it was something that needed to change,” Overton said. 

Last year alone, UNH received over $1.9 million in donations. The biggest contributors are UNH alumni. “The alumni really want to give back to the parts of the university they were a part of,” Overton said. After reviewing the statistics, Overton said the graduation years of the alumni range from recent graduates to those who graduated back in 1980. The College of Liberal Arts (COLA) and Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics (PAUL) have some of the strongest number of alumni donating percentage wise. 

Alumni make up for 50 to 60% of the donations, however, parents, faculty and staff make up for a solid chunk of reliable donations as well. Outside of that group, there is a trend of 5 to 10% of students donating every year as well. The tight knit southern N.H. community makes for outside donations, completely unaffiliated with the university. Overton calls them “friends” of UNH. These fans watch hockey games or are even members of the Northeast Passage, a living beyond disability program. “They feel inclined to give back because of what the university has done for them,” Overton said. 

The trend of nonprofit fundraising has spread across American college campuses, however what makes the (603) Challenge different is the competitive aspect. Instead of giving one day to donate, the (603) Challenge runs for a few days to see who can give back the most. From different colleges to competing athletic teams, those donating can raise the most for whichever part of UNH means the most to them. 

How do these donations pile up so quickly? The power of communication. Overton is  part of the university advancement, where she, along with her team, focus on marketing, fundraising and over all communication. A combination of sending mail, emails and marketing to a charitable group of people on social media have been some of the greatest contributing factors to the success. There are even some members that go out and meet with their biggest donators to create a genuine relationship with them. Others are out talking to the faculty and staff to find out what they need donations for. “The (603) Challenge is a great way to take all the things we do and roll it all into one,” Overton said. 

Another crucial part of the success are the months before the event happens. Overton and her team spend months raising money to underwrite the challenge. They take the time to contact their top donors who are already invested and ask them to donate enough to match other people’s gifts. Alumni especially like the fact that their $100 can end up being $200 to whichever department they support most. 

Halfway through the first day of the challenge, $225,000 funds were matched and ran out. This particular challenge ends after those funds run out and other types of challenges are launched. These kinds of incentives are also what makes the (603) Challenge different from other average nonprofits. “It’s a really fun way to engage folks. It’s awesome that people are so invested and into it,” Overton said. 

This year’s goal sits at $2.5 million in total, surpassing last years’ mass of donations. Overton was confident UNH would reach that. The live results showed that five areas of challenges have been reached with the help of 11,366 donators giving out $2,604,892.59, $100,000 more than the goal.  

In the past, Overton has seen these donations go far for students. This year has been especially tough financially due to the pandemic and these donations have been crucial to the functionality of UNH. The library was able to get new charging stations, sports teams have been able to give out more scholarships and specific items have been able to be purchased for classrooms. “[the (603) Challenge] enhances a student’s experience,” Overton said. 

Overton encourages any clubs or departments that have not yet participated in the (603) Challenge to reach out to the Annual Giving Office so they can receive the gifts they deserve. Overton and her team have worked with some groups that have never fundraised before and aren’t used to getting any fundraising but find that even the smallest amount can be beneficial to the experience of their students. 

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.

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