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“One of our goals at the USD Foundation is to instill a culture of philanthropy, where students want to support one another and alumni want to give back to the institution that gave them so much,” says Whitney Alexander, executive director of constituent engagement. “Each year, Unite for USD strengthens that culture.”

As USD and the USD Foundation prepare for the fourth Unite for USD – the university’s annual giving day – that culture is evident. Take the growth in number of donors for example. In 2019, there were 800 donors. In 2020, that grew to over 1,000. Last year, more than 1,500 people came together to support initiatives across campus. While the increase in donors is something to celebrate – that’s over 85% growth in three years – another record was that for almost 40% of 2021 Unite for USD donors, it was their first gift to the university.

“It’s never too early or too late to give back to USD,” says Alexander. “But when you look at the number of alumni, faculty and friends who donate during Unite for USD, it’s a message to current and future students that this place is really loved. You have an entire community rooting for your success and contributing what they can to help you get there.”

The 2022 Unite for USD is happening Feb. 16-17, and the university has its sights set on higher goals to engage and inspire the entire Coyote community.

“It’s never too early or too late to give back to USD. But when you look at the number of alumni, faculty and friends who donate during Unite for USD, it’s a message to current and future students that this place is really loved. You have an entire community rooting for your success and contributing what they can to help you get there.” Whitney Alexander, University of South Dakota Foundation executive director of constituent engagement
Unite for USD "Thank you donors" sign

A transformational impact

As more of the Coyote community has come together to support USD each year, the impact has been profound.

“Unite for USD is about the power of the collective,” says Alexander. “Not everyone can make a $1,000 donation; people give what they can and that’s what’s exciting about Unite for USD. Smaller gifts coming from hundreds in our community are transformational for the university. It powers our progress.”

While the total number of donors has grown 85% in three years, total dollars raised has more than quintupled: Unite for USD raised just over $237,700 in 2019; in 2021, it exceeded $1.6 million.

“We’ve seen the average gift amount for new and returning donors increase,” says Alexander. “Our growing initiative lineup ensures everyone can find a program that’s important to them to support. What those initiatives are able to do with these funds is what inspires more of our community to contribute to their success.”

The Coyote Legacy Scholarship fund, which bolsters the tradition of the university through scholarships to children of alumni, has raised more than $65,000 over the three years of Unite for USD. The Honors Program is able to invest in its students – who conduct research on topics like Alzheimer’s prevention or launch organizations related to mental health and college planning – with funds raised during Unite for USD. And Charlie's Cupboard, the on-campus food pantry, has been able to serve even more students experiencing food insecurity because of the support Unite for USD rallies for it.

“The strength of the Coyote community always impresses me,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “As we approach 160 years, I’m humbled by the legacy of our alumni and friends stepping up to support our students and institution as the world changes. Unite for USD allows us to highlight our progress and the initiatives that propel us forward.”

“The strength of the Coyote community always impresses me. As we approach 160 years, I’m humbled by the legacy of our alumni and friends stepping up to support our students and institution as the world changes. Unite for USD allows us to highlight our progress and the initiatives that propel us forward.” President Sheila K. Gestring

A culture of philanthropy

USD launched its first giving day in 2019 to raise awareness and funds for programs and initiatives across campus and expand opportunities for students. Over the course of 1,862 minutes to honor the year of its founding, USD bands together to celebrate its history and progress.

The first Unite for USD was also part of President Gestring’s inauguration week activities meant to familiarize community members, donors and alumni with her vision for the university and give USD’s high-impact programs the spotlight they deserve. That year, more than 800 donors contributed to 10 initiatives covering the university’s academic units, athletics and scholarships.

As part of the culture of philanthropy, Unite for USD has a student-led initiative. For 2021 and 2022, that initiative is Charlie’s Cupboard. Last year, hundreds of students helped raise almost $25,000 for the on-campus food pantry fighting food insecurity among students. As a result of its ongoing support, the pantry was able to expand in size and offerings this past fall to provide students with an even wider selection of food and necessities.

“Seeing the Coyote community unite together for such a great cause is a truly remarkable experience,” said Carter Larson, a senior elementary education major. “Having Unite for USD is just another reminder for myself and other students that the USD community is second to none when it comes to supporting initiatives that strengthen students firsthand.”

Charlie’s Cupboard is just one of almost two dozen initiatives in 2022. From the university’s undergraduate colleges and professional schools, to the student emergency fund and scholarships, to the University Art Galleries and Center for Disabilities, there is a cause for everyone to support during Unite for USD.

See the full list of initiatives online.

Unite for USD "I'm giving to..." initiative poster

2022 Unite for USD

To showcase the power of the Coyote community, USD and the USD Foundation are gearing up for the 2022 Unite for USD, happening Feb. 16-17. Over the course of the two days, the online fundraising event will showcase the university’s priorities, students’ achievements and initiatives’ plans to support USD’s continued success. Stay tuned for a calendar of livestream and events.

Our continued success wouldn’t be possible without the Coyote community coming together to champion causes around the university. To learn more about Unite for USD and its initiatives, visit uniteforusd.org. To be a giving day champion and help raise awareness for your favorite initiatives, sign up online.