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Dreaming, Gratitude and Doing the Dishes: How Gary Jones Raised $4 Million for Sigma Nu at Georgia Tech

Big Dreams

This is the House that more than 400 Sigma Nu alumni built. How do you get so many brothers to buy into a dream this big?

Part of the answer is in the question: you dream big. Some people live by the philosophy that goals aren’t worth setting unless they’re big. These people are usually high achievers, like Gary Jones, Campaign Chairman for the Gamma Alpha chapter of Sigma Nu at Georgia Tech. Gary had a vision for his fraternity house—a $4 million vision—and he knew his alumni brothers could pull it off. All he had to do was convince them.

 

Doing the Dishes

A key part of that process was what Gary calls “doing the dishes,” a phrase he used to describe the alumni relations activities that made up his annual program: the website, monthly emails, newsletters, the annual fund drive and fun, consistent friend-raising events. It’s the simple stuff that is often put off, ignored, delayed and generally underestimated by a lot of organizations.

Without it, major fundraising starts off on shaky ground.

Year to year, an alumni relations program doesn’t always offer a big pay-off. Rather it establishes a ’culture of giving’ and engages alumni in the habit of supporting the organization annually. It also provides the benefits alumni are seeking: connections with friends, fun events on or near campus, and insight into how their support is making a difference.

But through these benefits, Gary’s group received a $25K matching commitment from a donor— if the rest of the brotherhood kicked in a collective $25K, the annual fund would easily reach over $50K. Without a history of investing in “doing the dishes” that might not have been possible.

 

A Simple Thank You

If you think Sigma Nu’s success was just the result of a few guys giving a lot, think again. The fraternity boasted 36% participation in the campaign and everyone’s gifts were celebrated, equally and exuberantly. Here’s just one of many samples. This was Gary’s reaction to a brother who increased his campaign commitment from $2,500 to $5,000.

“What wonderful news on your increase in your pledge for Gamma Alpha of Sigma Nu to $5,000… WOW & DOUBLE WOW. It is Brothers like you that are MAKING A DIFFERENCE…ONE BROTHER AT A TIME. Your name will be added to the next HONOR ROLL & will also be added to the Bronze Plaque to be placed on the front of the house in the Fall. THANK YOU…Gary”

These acknowledgements aren’t fancy but they’re personal, they’re sincere and Gary never missed one. He also sent them to first-time annual fund donors, and donors who significantly increased their annual fund gifts, just to say their generosity didn’t go unnoticed.

Gary also added, “For a successful campaign, nothing is more important than ownership by volunteer leadership and the actives.”

“It was imperative to emphasize that this was not about building a new house, but about building a model that would offer young men a reliable standard that emphasizes academic excellence and a dedication to promoting effective leadership skills and appropriate social development.”

“Inspiring young men to realize their potential was a constant theme and resonated mightily with our alumni base. Not bricks and mortar, but character, integrity, honor and making a difference.”

“With the actives, it was about sustainability: crafting a business plan with accountable action steps, taking ownership and becoming vested in the model from DAY ONE. The model is ruptured without the grass roots support of the actives.”

“And you bet it is like DOING THE DISHES…EVERY SINGLE DAY…EVERY SINGLE DAY. Lastly, this is not an event… IT IS A PROCESS !”