Grounds for giving
UND business alum shares sense of philanthropy – and coffee – to support UND Spirit Week
When University of North Dakota alum Kyle Thorson took ownership of the Archives Coffee House in 2016, he wasn’t just looking to get quality caffeine coursing through the veins of the campus community.
He wanted to get a strong sense of giving percolating in their hearts.
“Archives is really a way for me to give back to the community,” said Thorson, who works an additional full-time job to make his income, pouring his coffee shop earnings elsewhere. “I’m just using the profits to keep the business up and contribute to local organizations as much as I can.”
Thorson used his business training from UND to become a community leader in action.
After completing his UND undergrad in political science, he opted to pursue a master’s in Public Administration – which opened his eyes to the world of social business.
“I was really intrigued by this idea of using private, for-profit business work to help local non-profit organizations. So I did that for the cognate courses for my master’s program, and I loved it a lot,” Thorson said.
Thorson has partnered with a variety of non-profit organizations over the past two years to offer financial assistance, event space and general support, including the Community Violence Intervention Center, Global Friends Coalition, ArtWise, the food pantry and several advocacy groups.
Now, he’s teaming up with UND and the Alumni Association & Foundation (AA&F) to help sponsor Spirit Week – five days of events (Feb. 19-23) showing students the impact of donor support and how they can find ways to say ‘thanks.’
In addition to monetary sponsorship of the celebration, Thorson will provide buy one, get one free coupons for coffee, allowing students to share their gratitude with a friend.
Amy Sansaver, Gorecki Alumni Center associate director of events and Spirit Week organizer, saw that Thorson’s business and passion tied in perfectly with the week’s themes.
“We went for a coffee shop feel because we were expecting that February cold,” said Sansaver with a laugh, “and we wanted a sit-down, face-to-face feeling. Spirit Week should drive casual conversation – we want people to understand the meaning of philanthropy over coffee.”
“Spirit Week and other events like it, where you can help people understand that even small amounts of giving or philanthropy can make a big difference, are important,” Thorson said. “To me, it’s about growing that opportunity for somebody else to get excited about giving.”
Saying thanks. Showing appreciation. Celebrating generosity.
The team behind Spirit Week has a clear message to spread.
Muriel Kingery, AA&F director of donor relations, says the hallmark of this year’s Spirit Week will be large green tags marking buildings, classrooms, labs and other spaces that were established through donor and alumni gifts, such as the privately-funded Robin Hall or the Gorecki Alumni Center’s Kratt Grand Lobby.
“Sometimes all the plaques we see can kind of get to be white noise – you don’t always notice them,” Kingery said. “This is just another opportunity for us to draw attention to all of the things across campus that have been made possible by the people who came before us.”
Students will have several chances over the week to show their appreciation at stations all over campus.
On Tuesday, a Memorial Union chalkboard wall will offer a creative canvas for visitors to express what philanthropy really means. On Wednesday – Pay It Forward Day – an answer to the question, “If you had $100,000 to donate, where would you give?” will earn students a 100 Grand candy bar and an Archives BOGO coupon. And on Thursday, they’ll have the opportunity to write donors personal thank you notes at their respective colleges.
“My favorite part about Spirit Week is providing students with a platform to say ‘thank you,’” said AA&F CEO DeAnna Carlson Zink, “It’s a natural way for them to connect with donors who impact their lives, and our alumni and donors love hearing directly from the students of today.”
One aspect of the UND Strategic Plan’s Goal Seven (engaging alumni and donors) is finding new ways to recognize friends and supporters of the University.
Assistant Director for Student Involvement Kristi Okerlund serves both on the Goal Seven implementation team and the Spirit Week planning committee. She says one of the goal’s first-year tasks is educating students on the significance of philanthropy – and Spirit Week is a first step.
“Many students don’t really understand why this kind of giving is important, depending on the values and backgrounds from which they come. They haven’t all had the opportunity to see what that looks like, or where the money goes and how it impacts others,” Okerlund explained.
The impact of a $100,000 gift, a hot beverage for a friend, or a simple handwritten note of thanks – it all comes together to open young hearts to giving.
And it’s the backing of alumni leaders like Thorson that helps brew that compassion.
“Kyle has taken the education he received here and has really put his money where his mouth is in supporting the University and the community,” Kingery said. “He’s stepping up and using the business success that he has from some of these students and their love of coffee to really do some good.”
“It’s not just saying thank you, but asking how am I going to use this money, or time, or whatever was given, to make UND or Grand Forks a better place,” Thorson said. “That thank you is the full circle of expressing, ‘We appreciate what you’ve done for us, and here’s how we’re going to care for your gift moving forward into the future.’”