In just over the span of one day, Vassar’s student-athlete community blew a novel athletic fundraising contest out of the water. The challenge played off of Vassar’s 27 athletic teams, attempting to collect 270 donations in 27 hours, starting on the morning of Feb. 7. The Brewers skyrocketed past this initial goal, collecting 3,595 donations totaling over $190,000 in this short time.
The Brewers Fund was launched in August 2016 with the main goal of enhancing the overall college experience for Vassar’s student-athletes. This movement allowed alumnae/i, parents and friends to donate exclusively to student-athletes at the college for the first time in history.
“Launching this fund was an exciting step forwards for athletics at Vassar, as many of our peer institutions have a similar fund for their respective athletic programs,” Director of Athletics and Physical Education Michelle Walsh said. “The 27 for 270 challenge was a natural next step in the evolution of the Brewers Fund, as crowdfunding has lately become a popular fundraising technique in higher education.”
Once the clock struck 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning, donations came flooding in. Any gift of $5 of more counted as a donation towards the competition’s donor goal. In just one hour and two minutes, the Brewers fulfilled the challenge’s goal of 270 donations and showed no signs of slowing down.
The efforts of the student-athletes were accompanied by the rallying of parents, family members, friends, alumni, Vassar faculty and coaches. These groups consistently pledged challenges, matched donations and advertised in order to help the community exceed all prior expectations.
Upon reaching the initial goal of 270 donors, alumni Jim Citrin ’81 donated $10,000 to the challenge. Because the first goal was met so quickly, Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley then offered a new challenge to the Brewers. Raising the bar to 555 donors, one for each student-athlete, she promised to donate $5,000 to the athletic community if the goal was met. Student-athletes rose to the occasion, meeting this second challenge in under a single hour, and earning the additional $5,000 by just 11 a.m.
“Our students, alums, current and past athletes and their friends really came together,” said President Bradley. “In my experience, having proper coaching and programming makes a huge difference to the quality of athletes’ college experiences, so I’m happy to see some of the money my husband and I have donated to Vassar this year go towards athletics.”
The donations from Citrin and President Bradley inspired some Brewer parents, who in turn upped the bar with a generous challenge of their own. If the Brewers could encourage a total of 1,5000 donors to contribute to the fund, they agreed to contribute another $5,000. Donations continued to come pouring in, and in just over three hours, the 27 for 270 fund hit its new donor goal.
Multitudes of challenges from Vassar faculty continued to roll in and kept student-athletes eager to rally for donors. Steve Hankins, Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College Vice President and Trustee, challenged the community to its next test. If the Brewers could keep the intensity coming until the fund collected 2,200 donors, he would contribute $2,700 to the organization. While student-athletes worked towards this goal, Michelle Walsh issued her own offer of $500 to whichever team first reached 250 donors. This was ultimately split between the men’s baseball team and the combined team of men and women’s rugby, both of which reached 250 donors at the same exact minute. This incentive helped the Brewers not only soar to 2,200 donors and earn Hankins’ contribution, but also quickly surge past 2,700 donors, over 10 times the quantity that the challenge initially aimed for.
By midnight, the Vassar athletics community reached a milestone of 3,000 collected gifts. Throughout the night, the fund gained 595 additional donations. As noon rolled around, the Brewers had collected a total of 3,595 contributions from supporters of all different affiliations. This sum was equal to over 1330 percent of the original 270 donor goal, and resulted in a total of $190,284 donated to the Vassar Brewer Fund.
“We really hit a home run,” commented President Bradley regarding the collective efforts and the outcome of the challenge. “The effort far surpassed its initial goals, gaining a lot of new supporters to Vassar Athletics.”
Though individual teams and players asserted a vast media presence throughout the contest, the Vassar College Department of Athletic Communications seemed to lead and consolidate the Brewers’ efforts. Posts flew through the Vassar Athletics’ Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, gathering mass attention.
“There was certainly a coordinated effort on the part of Athletics, Communications and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development,” Sports Information Director Jamie Chagnon said.
Chagnon’s offices were responsible for all of the graphics seen throughout the day, the #27for270 logo and the challenge’s now famous introduction video. The posts circulated by each of the 27 teams were virtually all shared on every media platform, evoking responses from an even larger crowd of followers and supporters.
“A lot of the content was generated by the teams that participated,” claimed Chagnon. “That made things during the challenge much easier, because I was really just monitoring social media with the 27for270 hashtag. I did have to make some updated graphics based on how the challenge was going, but all in all I think we did a good job of keeping everyone abreast of what was going on during the challenge on all four of our social media accounts and on the website.”
Vassar teams, single players and supporters of the Brewer Fund eagerly embraced the challenge, continuously uploading and sharing media throughout multitudes of social platforms in order to rally support for the cause. Posts flooded Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat for 27 full hours, bringing awareness to the challenge. Dozens of students, athletes and coaches enrolled as advocates for the challenge, posting personal appeal videos and accumulating thousands of dollars in donations.
Head coach Marc Graham of the men’s lacrosse team thought to set some comical (yet brilliant) incentives for his own players, in order to inspire them to rally the maximum number of donors possible. “I set the team-based incentives to encourage participation,” he explained. “First, the class with the highest amount of donors was allowed one free pass from conditioning on a day of their choosing.”
Graham didn’t stop there. His incentives set higher and higher goals, pushing his players to continue inspiring donors as long as the challenge lasted. At 150 donors, he vowed to jump off Vassar’s high dive. At 250 donors, he agreed to take a Gatorade jug full of ice water over his head, and at 300, he promised to run the team’s tough conditioning with the players at practice. As donations began to slow down on Thursday morning at 315 total donors, Graham and his players decided to make one last public incentive to generate one final push.
“We posted a challenge on Instagram and Twitter that if we got to 400 donors we would all go off the high dive in our Vassar gear,” the head coach relayed. “In the last two minutes, we got 20 donations to get us to 409 donors and tie for the highest number of donors, tied with the rugby teams!”
The combined rugby teams and the men’s lacrosse team also raised the highest amounts of money out of all 27 teams respectively, with $26,256 and $14,652. Coach Graham and his boys will be recording and posting all of the challenges that they face on the team’s social media accounts to thank their supporters.
Like any challenge, the 27 for 270 competition had a technical winner. The women’s golf team collected the highest number of donors compared to their alumnae base, with a total of 160 gifts, making up 432.4 percent of their alumni group. Because this percentage was the highest of any other team on campus, the women’s golf players won an extra $5,000.
Each team will be given 80 percent of the total money that they raised, while 20 percent will go to general athletics at Vassar.
“The money raised during the challenge will be used to address the highest priorities for each team, along with department-wide initiatives,” Michelle Walsh explained.
Specific teams may use this money to help cover costs of equipment, travel for competition, training trips and various other costs. Department-wide initiatives include facets such as RISE programming, new equipment for the varsity weightlifting room and additional athletic training costs.
As student-athletes, the group is clearly inspired by competition, and the lively nature of the challenge provided unbelievable returns for the community. “Of course, any time you add the spirit of competition to a group of competitive people, the results can be astounding,” Coach Graham said. “The amount of money we raised for each of the individual teams, as well as athletics as a whole, will only enhance the already strong athletic experience here at Vassar.”
The outcome of the challenge certainly astounded everyone involved. While it can be difficult to predict the outcome of a fundraiser the first time it is run, the Brewers breezed by the initial goal of 270 donors set by the challenge. Reaching 3,595 donors showed concrete evidence of the overwhelming support that exists for this dedicated community, both on and off campus.
This year, the student-athlete community has shown impressive ability past their respective courts, fields, greens and pools. Not only did Vassar College recently reveal that over half of all student-athletes hold a GPA of 3.5 or higher, but the Brewers also gathered just short of $200,000 in only 27 hours.