Phil Was Here--UI Students Emphasize Impact of Private Giving

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Over the last few years, the Phil Was Here campaign has illustrated how UI donors make a difference. Next week, the student-oriented effort goes a big step further with the first Phil's Day celebration on campus.

So who is this Phil, anyway? Kaitlyn Kemna fields that question wherever she wears her “Phil Was Here” T-shirt.

“Phil is short for philanthropy, which describes private gifts that support university programs,” says Kemna, a history and political science major from Mason City, Iowa, who’ll graduate in May. “As students, it affects each of us whether we know it or not.”

Phil Was Here caution tape wrapped around a campus building sign
On April 24, ribbons will mark sites that benefit from donor gifts. Photo by Jill Tobin.

The extent of Phil’s impact will be hard to overlook next Tuesday, when banners tag more than 40 University of Iowa buildings where donors are making a direct, distinct difference.

Connecting students and donors

The April 24 Phil’s Day event is the latest—and biggest—effort from the University of Iowa Foundation’s Student Philanthropy Initiative, which aims to show students how private support enhances education. The program also enlists UI students themselves in fundraising activities.

“Our Student Philanthropy Group includes about 20 students who join donor events and tell their own stories,” says Kristin Beckman, UI Foundation assistant director for student philanthropy. “They don’t ask for gifts directly, but they’re instrumental in raising awareness and making connections.”

To reach other students, the foundation launched the Phil Was Here campaign, which focuses on explaining what philanthropy is all about on campus (and, in the process, perhaps shaping future UI supporters).

Now in its third year, the campaign has connected with students via social media—Phil posts regularly on “his” own Facebook page—and a graffito-inspired tag that’s shown up on advertising, signage, and, yes, T-shirts.

Building a culture of philanthropy

The effort is part of a larger project to make philanthropy more visible and establish its role in everyday UI life.

Phil’s Day: April 24

UI Foundation organizers hope to make Phil’s Day an annual campus event. This year’s highlights include:

• Campuswide “tagging” —in the form of posters, ribbons, and bows or flags—of sites where donors make a difference

• Postcard signings where students can send personal thanks to UI donors (11 a.m.-2 p.m., Cleary Walkway and Medical Education and Research Facility; rain plan for Cleary Walkway is Hubbard Commons, first floor Iowa Memorial Union)

• “Life with Phil: Your Journey to Philanthropy,” reflections by UI alumnus Gary Seamans on the rewards of giving back (11 a.m., 1505 Seamans Center)

• An email to students from UI President Sally Mason with a link to a special Phil’s Day video

• Partnership with theDaily Iowan—itself a beneficiary of private giving—including information in the day’s edition and a video message for students, faculty, and staff

For more information, visit the UI Foundation.

“Through engagement programs like Phil’s Day, we’re trying to build a campus culture of philanthropy,” says Lynette Marshall, president and CEO of the UI Foundation. “We want everyone to understand that we enjoy world-class facilities, programs, and opportunities thanks in part to the generosity of people who support our university.”

Kemna knew virtually nothing about fundraising or the value of donor dollars when she joined the UI Foundation’s first student group in 2009. Like others who signed on, she was active in campus organizations and serious about service.

Now she’s also passionate about building financial support for the university — she is completing a philanthropy communication certificate offered by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, leading the Student Philanthropy Group, and working part-time with the Foundation on projects like Phil’s Day.

“We see that more and more students recognize the Phil Was Here campaign and know what it means,” she says, citing a survey she conducted during her first months on the job. “We’re reaching students in organizations like Dance Marathon, who help spread the message.”

This kind of education makes a long-term difference, Marshall adds.

“We can’t expect our future alumni to support the university if we don’t teach our students what their support means,” she says.

Drawing campuswide support

More students will get the message on Phil’s Day, when posters, ribbons, and flags identify buildings and programs that benefit from donor support. Additional activities include postcard signings, and a talk by UI alumnus and philanthropist Gary Seamans.

“It’s become much bigger than we anticipated,” says Beckman. “We’re getting great support from all over campus, from the president’s office to Facilities Management.”

For Kemna, working alongside fundraisers and donors on projects like Phil’s Day has provided both practical skills and perspective.

“I’m heading to law school and hoping to work with nonprofits,” she says. “The past few years have shown me what a difference philanthropy makes.”