"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!"
Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"
'Tis the season to celebrate the giving spirit of U. of I. employees.
More than 3,000 of them helped the Urbana-Champaign campus exceed the goals of the 2015 Campus Charitable Fund Drive, raising $1.32 million.
"We were kind of anticipating it being a tough year to be asking people for money," said Melinda Garrelts, the program coordinator for the Office of Public Engagement. "But it turned out better than we expected. The U. of I. is extremely generous. I'm amazed at the level that employees keep giving, year after year."
The eight-week fall campaign used a network of more than 250 volunteers, who fanned out across campus to ensure fellow employees were aware of the fundraising drive. The program, operated on campus since 1929, is overseen by a volunteer advisory committee comprising employees.
This year, 21.5 percent of the approximately 14,000-person strong U. of I. workforce contributed to the fund – short of the goal of 25 percent, but better than last year's 19.5 percent rate. The average contribution was $437.
The United Way of Champaign County was the biggest beneficiary of employee largesse, taking in nearly $750,000 in donations. The next-largest amount went to Community Shares of Illinois, which funds programs that serve needy and at-risk residents across the state.
Garrelts said employees could donate to several hundred state-certified charities, either directly or through payroll deduction. The U. of I. is regularly the largest state-worker contributor group.
"We use that (charity) list to make it a risk-free process for employees," she said. "It means employees don't have to worry about this being legitimate. This is our only annual universitywide request. There are so many choices because people have very strong feelings about their nonprofits."
The CCFD raised $1.27 million last year, $1.29 million in 2013 and $1.25 million in 2012.
Garrelts said the advisory commitee and locally based volunteers are what make the campaign so successful each year.
"They go out and talk to people about giving and they really encourage it," she said.
Allan Stratman, the executive director of Facilities and Services, chaired the 2015 committee.
"This is a tribute to a lot of hard work from the CCFD Advisory Committee and the staff at Public Engagement who coordinate the campus efforts, and all the section and unit leaders and their tireless efforts working with their respective units," Stratman said. "The needs of our community have never been greater."
Some of the extra effort came through the first-ever You Can Make a Difference Day, a daylong blitz that challenged the entire campus to donate their money – as well as their time and talents.
Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said giving back is not just something the U. of I. does, it's part of its land-grant mission.
"We have a responsibility to improve the community in which we all live and work," she said.
"That's something we'd like to see grow," Garrelts said of nonmonetary donations. "Not everyone, especially some of the younger employees, can afford to make a big donation. But they can donate their time. It's all about being thankful and giving back."
Many of the volunteers were recognized for their individual effort with a Dec. 2 gathering.
Some of the recognitions included:
- Michael Braun, a research worker with the School of Social Work, Most Driven to Succeed
- Kay Daly, the officer manager in the mathematics department, Most Attention to Detail
- School of Social Work, Section With Highest Percent Participation, 108 percent
- Engineering West/Engineering General, Outstanding Unit with Highest Percentage to Financial Goal, 1,230 percent
- Office of Treasury Operations, Section With Highest Percentage to Financial Goal, 365 percent