How Challenge Grants have helped North Dakota and UND

Knowing that their gifts will be matched provides tremendous incentive for donors, says DeAnna Carlson Zink, UND Alumni Association & Foundation CEO

DeAnna Carlson Zink

Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A with DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Q: The North Dakota Challenge Grant Fund provides $1 for every $2 raised by a state college or university through private donors. How has that program made a difference for UND?

DeAnna Carlson Zink: Our alumni and friends — the donors for this program — are completely and highly motivated by the state’s commitment to support philanthropy.

So, when we look at who is giving, seven out of 10 of our gifts come from outside of the state of North Dakota. That tells us people are so interested in investing in not just the University and our students, but also in the state, and they love the opportunity to partner with the state to create opportunities for students today.

Q: So even though someone leaves North Dakota to go to Minneapolis, Chicago or elsewhere, there’s often an affection and a loyalty to the state that they retain?

Carlson Zink: Absolutely. I’ve spoken with individuals who’ve been gone from the state for 40 years; but when I meet with them and we start talking about the University, and they start reminiscing about their days on campus. It’s like they are back now.

They have a great affection for this institution, as well as great respect for the impact it made on their lives and the opportunities they’ve had because they had a UND degree.

Q: I’ve also heard that when people have some wealth to donate, they find a lot of charities competing for their donations. So it makes a difference when the donor knows that his or her investment will go farther, because it’ll be matched 50 percent right away by North Dakota.

Carlson Zink: Very true. Furthermore, what we’ve also found is that donors often give more than they’d first intended. They come to the table thinking, “I want to make an impact, so I’m going to give this much.” We tell them about what the state has put in place via this match opportunity, and they end up giving even more than they had anticipated because they’re so sincerely impressed.

In other words, thanks to the Challenge Grants, our donors are willing to stretch themselves to have even more of an impact in partnership with the state of North Dakota.

‘Most of those dollars have been used for scholarship endowments,’ said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, in speaking about the Challenge Grant donations and state matches that have come UND’s way. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Q. What’s the history of the grants, and what kinds of activities has the money supported?

Carlson Zink: The history goes back to 2013. That was the first time we had an opportunity for the Challenge Grants. Since then, we’ve raised $38 million, which was matched by $19 million from the state.

Most of those dollars have been used for scholarship endowments. That has been very important, especially as we look today at how critical those scholarships are to ensuring that students can still get a UND degree.

And I would say it’s even more important when you look at the roughly 30 percent of our students who are first-generation students. Those scholarships are critical.

But dollars have also been used for endowed faculty positions and endowed programs. We even had a separate Challenge Grant this year for the School of Law, and it was incredibly successful as well. That grant was for the school’s Law Library and for an endowed faculty position.

In the end, every college on campus has benefited from these Challenge Grants, whether it’s through endowed programs, endowed scholarships, or endowed faculty positions.

Q: How does the money wind up in scholarships? Does the process go through the Financial Aid office?

Carlson Zink: All of these scholarships are endowed. Anything that comes from the Challenge Grant and gets matched, those are endowed scholarships; and the donor can decide how those scholarships will be used.

So, a donor might say, “I want this to be used by the College of Arts and Sciences for a student who’s interested in music.” It gets endowed in that fashion. Then Financial Aid will work with Arts & Sciences and make sure that the scholarship is made available.

The only scholarships that aren’t eligible would be athletic scholarships. Those scholarships, or any dollars for athletics, are not part of the Challenge Grants.

Q: Are there other elements of the Challenge Grants that are especially significant? 

Carlson Zink: One of the greatest things about the program is the partnerships that have been formed across the state. We know that we are better together, when we’re all moving in the same direction. And this is a program that’s supported by alumni and friends, by faculty and staff, by students, by our fellow North Dakota University System institutions, by the State Board of Higher Education and obviously by the governor and lawmakers, who have put dollars in the program since 2013.

The fact that all of those groups pull together and agree on this is phenomenal. And it tells you it’s a great program that works.

Q: How about philanthropy’s role in public education in general? Endowments have always been important among private colleges and universities. But in recent years, they’ve become more important for state-run institutions, correct?

Carlson Zink: Absolutely, 100 percent. Philanthropy is the margin of difference between public institutions in North Dakota and those elsewhere. And when you have alumni, friends, corporations and others who care so much about their university that they’re willing to give of their time, their talent and their treasures, that really can lift up our institutions.

We’ve seen that at the University of North Dakota; we have amazing alumni and friends. That’s been proven especially true over the last few years, when you look at two record fundraising years, as well as the fact that we now have the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration construction project.

That’s another great public-private partnership, where you have the state providing match dollars to encourage alumni and friends to donate all the money needed to build that facility, and then for the city to step in as well.

Philanthropy is a difference maker. And it’s one of the reasons we continue to push forward and try to do as much as we can for the University.

Q. What’s the source of donors’ desire to give?

Carlson Zink: Philanthropy comes when there are great stories and great ideas, when a university comes up with ways of impacting for the better our state and our world. And this University does that everywhere you look across campus, from the aerospace college, to the medical school, to the law school, and to all of the other colleges and schools on campus.

This is a place that changes lives, and changes the way we think and the way we conduct business.

Think of the political leaders who have come from here, as well as the engineers, the pilots, the nurses, the teachers. It’s phenomenal, and it’s a great investment.

People look at me and say, “Oh my gosh, I couldn’t imagine being a fundraiser.” And I say,“It’s the best position you could ever have, because you get to hear the stories from alumni.” You should hear our alumni talk about how important this University was. They get tears in their eyes even as they’re making their gift, they’re so thankful for the opportunities that they’ve had and that UND helped open up for them.

Furthermore, we also get to meet today’s students and see the work they’re doing. We see what they’re going to do to go change the world, and we’re even more inspired. The thank-you notes that we get from students, as well; I mean, they, too, will bring you to tears.

So we’re really at that pivotal point in people’s lives, where we get to see all of that happening and coming together. The Challenge Grants are vital in that regard. We actually have people coming to us and saying, “We want to give you money because of this program.” In the world of fundraising, how often does that happen?