University Development Office

Accounting sophomore Diane Wu Chiang signs a giant “thank you” card during UT’s Thanks Day on Thursday afternoon. The annual event allows students to show their gratitude to the University’s many financial donors.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Students signed whiteboards on Gregory Plaza thanking the University’s donors as part of the University Development Office’s fifth annual Thanks Day on Thursday.

Marsha Reardon, the student philanthropy and special campaigns coordinator who organized the event, said Thanks Day was created in 2010 to educate students about the significance of donations to the University’s budget. 

“The main idea is for students to say thanks to who makes school happen,” Reardon said. “They can learn that tuition and fees only pay for less than half of what the school needs, and, without donors and other sources, the school would have to close in November.” 

According to Reardon, activities organized for Thanks Day included writing “Thank You” cards to donors. The day ended with a celebration in front of the UT Tower, complete with fireworks to recognize the success of The Campaign for Texas, the University’s eight-year, $3 billion fundraising campaign that ended in August. 

“At the end of Thanks Day, we want to celebrate this by showing our donors the gratefulness of the students,” Reardon said.

Reardon said colleges, athletic units and various organizations also contribute to the event. 

“My signature course encouraged me to volunteer for the event,” said Kayla Marks, speech pathology freshman. “And I have noticed that a great goal for Thanks Day is to form a mutual appreciation for students, campus and faculty.” 

In addition to the activities offered on Gregory Plaza, Reardon said students also had the opportunity to get involved in the event by posting on social media using #UTTHANKSDAY and posting their stories online. 

“These activities have left an impact in the community,” Reardon said. “Students become more aware of how their school keeps on going and also realize the impact they are creating.”

According to Reardon, there has been an increase in young alumni donors since the first Thanks Day.

“Students are not the only ones who are participating,” economics freshman Shelby Gaylor said. “Teachers also come and participate, which, for me, shows the event is serving its purpose.”

A six-foot-tall thank you card and free Tiff’s Treats drew students to a celebration of Thanks Day on Gregory Plaza on Tuesday afternoon.

Students Hooked on Texas and the Texas Exes Student Chapter helped multiple campus organizations set up tables for students to make thank you cards to mail to UT donors. Students received cookies and free T-shirts along with information about yearly donations.

Student leaders organized the event to thank individual donors, alumni and parents who provide money to support education at UT. According to a 2009 report on tuition and funding, 10 percent of the University’s budget — about ­$216 million — comes from endowments and gifts.

Student Government President Scott Parks said Thanks Day was necessary to make students aware of the people behind the scenes making the campus flourish.

The thank you card, which more than 1,500 students signed, will be on display for alumni at the University Development Office and at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.

“We needed something like this to assure donors their contributions are recognized and the students appreciate them,” Parks said.

The organizations will post a video chronicling the day’s event to the Texas Exes website and the Development Office’s home page.

Each college council set up a table on their plaza to inform students about Thanks Day and allow them to make personal thank you cards, said Julie Lucas, assistant director for development at the University Development Office.

“I was excited that so many groups were willing to get involved, but the amazing thing was the level of student participation,” she said. “Students gave personal thank yous on the video and I think that will provide an intimate feeling donors will appreciate.”

According to information from the University Development Office, last year the University collected about $299 million from alumni and friends as either designated funds specified for a center or school, or as unrestricted funds allocated in the University budget.

Each college has a gift office that works to get donors involved, said Carolyn Connerat, executive director for development.

“We work to keep the alumni engaged in the University because every alum was once a student, and the giving and receiving goes both ways,” she said.

Connerat said some donors give because a gift office contacted them, while others choose to donate because they continue to work closely with UT and still feel connected.

“Some of our donors are very active at the alumni center, so they may see what a student is doing on campus and decide it’s something they want to support,” she said.