Booming thunderheads chased lightning flashes early one spring evening last year as the Stetson Hatters — for the first time in the school’s history — hosted the NCAA Regionals.
The coveted baseball playoffs usually went to large, public institutions, but Stetson won the opportunity after supporters upgraded facilities and the team ascended to national prominence.
Then, as those storied Hatters hit their stride during that crucial game, nimbus clouds hovered and umpires called a rain delay.
What happened next, few could have foreseen.
More than 50 baseball alumni retreated to the newly renovated Carlton Family Team Room, a lounge at Melching Field that was refashioned by generous donors. More significant than the trophies were hundreds of baseballs displayed and signed by academically distinguished ballplayers.
Talk in the room started about taking Stetson to the next level — athletically and for the school as a whole. Quickly, a sense of excitement charged the air.
“We were beating Oklahoma State at that point,” said Stetson Athletics Director Jeff Altier. “We were surrounded by what we had just built. Everyone caught that energy. They were saying, ‘Hey, we did this.’”
Momentum mounted for about 90 minutes. By the time the umpires restarted the game, the happenstance gathering generated more than $250,000 for Stetson’s Beyond Success – Significance Campaign. Those donations were on top of the funds raised for the team-lounge remake in 2018.
As much as contributing to the $200 million campaign, the spontaneous rally encapsulated the very idea behind the ambitious fundraising initiative.
In 2013, Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, launched the campaign with the vision of moving beyond incremental improvements and taking transformative leaps instead. By the time the campaign ended earlier this year, the endeavor far exceeded expectations and touched virtually every corner of Stetson.
The scoreboard: The campaign raised more than $218 million on a total goal of $200 million.
Timing was key. Deficits, dropouts and declining enrollment plagued private institutions of higher education across the country. At Stetson, though, record enrollment and rising endowments gave the ambitious campaign strong underpinnings.
“If you have a leader who understands [that] we are a mission-focused, non-profit business, you can succeed,” explained Jeff Ulmer, vice president for Development and Alumni Engagement. “You have to make enrollment. You have to be relevant in the eyes of the customer base.”
The Significance Campaign began with a study to determine game-changers for all aspects of the university. Over seven years, it evolved to meet emerging needs in ways that spoke to both new and longtime supporters.
Interest rose quickly in creating an Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience. The idea was to apply research to policy discussions in Volusia County and beyond. The concept began to attract grants and ultimately led to a $6 million gift from Sandra Stetson, a great-granddaughter of university benefactor John B. Stetson. The result was the construction of the two-story Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center along Lake Beresford, not far from the DeLand campus. The center is home to the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, as well as to Stetson Rowing.
Separately, funding life was given to Stetson’s health and science initiative when Hyatt and Cici Brown, Stetson trustees, financial supporters and longtime advocates of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), got behind the effort.
“The campaign gave us a platform to talk about substantive things we could do to save our waterways and springs,” Ulmer said.
The Carlton Union Building renovation and expansion further underscored the campaign’s ability to connect Stetson supporters in meaningful ways, said Lua Hancock, EdD, vice president for Campus Life and Student Success.
“We talked with alums from 20 and 30 years ago. We asked them what impacted them as students,” Hancock said. “If you walk around the CUB, you see what impacted them while they were here.”
Former student government leaders helped sponsor the CUB’s new student-government suite. A total of 10 rooms in the CUB are named for donors. Students created an environmental fund, which financed 231 rooftop solar panels.
Re-creating a first impression for the university became a study in partnering with go-to supporters to build an iconic, namesake welcome center (Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Welcome Center). Financed completely with donations, the environmentally certified landmark nods to the past with a partial red-brick facade while embracing the future with dramatic glass-banked walls that extend three stories.
The center is more than window dressing for the campus, according to Bob Huth, Stetson executive vice president and chief financial officer. While Stetson competes with larger, public universities academically, it must “show well” to entice new students, he noted.
Huth cited the campaign’s focus on both academics and athletics. That focus was the impetus for the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence, which benefited from an endowment from the Browns. Also, that focus helped to bring back football and launch a highly competitive women’s beach volleyball team. And, of course, there was the Carlton Family Team Room for baseball.
“This campaign was above and beyond the norm,” Huth said. “It ended up adding in a significant way to the number of friends and alumni who consider Stetson in their philanthropy.”
Amy Gipson, associate vice president of Development Strategy and Communications, said alumni responded strongly in another area: scholarships.
The campaign raised more than $30 million for the student financial aid packages that boost the school’s financial lifeblood — enrollment.
“That helps make Stetson affordable for students, some of whom may be the first in their families to attend college,” Gipson said. “Scholarships really struck a chord with alumni.”
Meanwhile, adding students meant adding relevant programs, and workforce demands had changed since the university last fully assessed its offerings. So, new donor-funded academic programs were added.
Overall, the broad menu of donor opportunities, together with an invigorated development staff, generated $19 million “from people who had never given a dime,” Ulmer said, placing that count at 5,600 new donors.
Stetson University College of Law also benefited, largely with new scholarship endowments to enhance recruiting efforts in attracting students with higher LSAT and undergraduate GPA credentials. The Stetson Law Annual Fund has grown by more than 50%, leading to expansion of the Merit Retention Scholarship Program.
“In the toughest market ever for law applicants, with LSAT takers dropping by about 50%, our College of Law steadied its enrollment with an uptick in the quality of its students,” said Libby at a meeting with faculty and staff back in August. “Law colleges around the country were dropping their standards to ‘make their class’ while at Stetson, we just kept pushing forward with our commitment to quality and rigor.”
Libby continued: “We endowed scholarships, started new programs in areas of excellence and started new areas of excellence. We have funded programs that undergird our students’ success in academic learning and in athletics. We have renovated and built new buildings and put aside money for their maintenance over time. And, we have planned for our future by raising over $60 million in future gifts from donors’ estates and trusts.”
During that wet evening of Stetson’s NCAA Regionals, alumni reclaimed their seats to watch the Hatters clinch victory and, later, advance to within one step of baseball’s College World Series.
Next time they head to a Hatters home game, they can stop by a campus that has been marked by transformation in recent years. And if it happens to be a stormy day, school officials just may have a special place for them to wait out a rain delay.
– Mary Shanklin
Stetson’s Beyond Success – Significance Campaign Celebration will be held on Nov. 8 on campus.
Christine E. Lynn, E. M. Lynn Foundation
Ginsburg Family Foundation
Ed Patricoff ’82, ’85 of Shutts & Bowen LLP
United Parachute Technologies LLC
Steven ’85 and Lee A. Alexander
Rich ’76 and Lilis George
Dean Hollis ’82
Ashley Lauren Kerr ’07 of ASHLEYlauren
Special Events Sponsors:
Charles A. Wolfe ’85
Welcome Lobby Sponsor:
Peter C. Brockway ’78 and Susan Perry Brockway ’79
Highlights of Campaign Support
Philanthropy tied to the Stetson University Strategic Map, 2014-2019
Demonstrate Stetson’s Distinctiveness and Value Proposition
- Endowed scholarships and fellowships support: more than $30 million raised (includes endowment for Stetson’s only full scholarship — Edmunds Scholars)
- Creation of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience
- Funding for Stetson’s Environmental Fellowships
- The Stetson Law Annual Fund has grown by more than 50%, leading to expansion of the Merit Retention Scholarship Program.
Enhance Excellence and Innovation in Learning
- Health and Science Initiative
- Academic chairs and visiting chair positions
- Faculty research and development
- Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence (professors/programming)
- WORLD: Rinker Center for International Learning
- International travel endowment
- Centurion Sales Excellence Program and labs in the School of Business Administration
- Endowed Templeton Business Ethics Case Competition
- Endowed Betty Drees Johnson Dean of the Library and Learning Technologies position
- Funded joint DeLand/College of Law Constitutional Law and Civil Rights Movement travel course (social justice experiential-learning endowment)
- Cancer research lab for Roslyn Crowder, PhD
- Faculty and student research support
- Internship support
- Bonner Scholar endowment
- Stetson Law Foreman Biodiversity Fellow
- Veterans Institute Program
Empower Lifelong Success and Significance
- Creation of the Hollis Student Success Center in the duPont-Ball Library (with endowment)
- Hollis Family Student Success Program
- Veterans Law Institute (expanded space)
- Athletics Expansion Initiative
- Opening of the Athletic Training Facility
- Cooper Beach Volleyball Pavilion
- Watson (football practice) Field
- Lacrosse and football endowments
- Renovation of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, with new Endowed Scholarship Fund
- Renovation to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house
- Renovation of the Jeffrey and Diane Ginsburg Hillel House, with funds for all programs
- New Edinger Golf Complex
Secure the Resources Necessary to Ensure Success
- Opening of the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Welcome Center to house Admissions, Career and Professional Development, One Stop offices, and meeting spaces (with endowment)
- Funding toward renovation and expansion of the Carlton Union Building student center
- Stetson Fund
- Current-use support for students and faculty
- Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center (with endowment)
- Health and Science building (planned)
- Florida Historical Society grant for law fountain restoration
- General Endowed Fund gifts
- Planned-gift inventory
Increase Organizational Resilience and Adaptability
- Purchase of Raiser’s Edge software for Office of Development and Alumni Engagement