Nearly 2,500 students ‘let their thanks fly’ to scholarship donors
Ballroom overflows with flock of grateful letter writers in first large-scale ‘Notes from the Nest’ event
“Gratitude is the bridge that connects the dreams of our students with the generosity of our donors. Writing thank-you notes is not just a courtesy; it’s a powerful act of appreciation that ties students of today to the past and fuels the legacy of giving into the future. It is ‘Forever UND’ in action.”
— DeAnna Carlson Zink,
CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation
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Though an impromptu and unscientific survey of UND students revealed very few ever had heard of Emily Post, it was clear at least one golden rule from the quintessential queen of etiquette had not been lost on them: They understood the value of a handwritten thank-you note.
Nearly 2,500 students took part in the first-ever “Notes from the Nest” event Monday and Tuesday in the Memorial Union Henry Family Ballroom.
The air-conditioning was out, the room was packed and yet the line snaked all the way to the opposite ballroom as the students just kept on coming to have a moment to ponder and then pen their own personal messages of gratitude to the donors of 5,866 merit and endowed scholarships.
“In this day and age of quick texts and easy emails, these handwritten messages are extra special for both the donors and the students,” said Jenn Lukens, director of Stewardship & Donor Appreciation for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. “The method and mediums may have changed over the years, but the grateful hearts are still there. This event just gives the students a time and place to express their deep appreciation.”
Helping hands from across campus
Lukens said more than 40 volunteers — among them student ambassadors and representatives from UND colleges, Student Finance and Student Affairs — stepped up to help the Alumni Association & Foundation pull off the massive letter-writing event almost without a hitch.
“Total hats off to all the volunteers,” she said. “They’re the ones who are making this wildly successful.”
Similar events have taken place on campus, but never one this large in scale, Lukens said.
“We thought, ‘What if we just do a giant day, or two, to help streamline some of those efforts?’,” she said. “We thought this might give us a better pulse on all the cards going out through all of our partners across campus.”
That turned out to be an excellent idea and brought about an event filled with excitement and fanfare. As a special playlist sounded in the background, students were ushered through several UND-branded stations complete with balloons, pom-poms and tent cards with tips on how “to say thank you in your own way.”
Deek’s chipped in 180 boxes of pepperoni, cheese and sausage pizzas — on Day Two, there were sweet sprinkled doughnuts — and students were able to enter a drawing for another $1,250 scholarship from Student Finance. A second scholarship drawing in the same amount was being made available for distance learners and others unable to make it in person.
Those students have until Monday to send their messages of gratitude via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Lukens said they can refer to an email sent earlier by Student Finance to get their donor names.
In their own words …
On Monday, UND Today tried to catch students between the Media Wing — where they were getting mini Polaroid snapshots to include with their cards — and the Grab Your Grub pizza tables. Here is what some of the students had to say:
Cole Guttormson, freshman Chemistry student from Minot, N.D.: “Honestly, the impact of these scholarships is pretty huge. I plan to use the money to fund myself through college and get a head start in going to medical school. … Being able to send a handwritten note just means a lot more. It shows the people that you don’t take it for granted, and that you really do appreciate it. Every college student needs the money. If you just blow it off like it’s a little thing, they might not feel like helping other students in the future.”
Lance Leigh, a freshman in Commercial Aviation and History from Chicago: “Writing personal thank-you notes always has been important in my family. Scholarships affect you in a really positive way. It takes my mind off the worry of finances, so I can be a better student. So, it’s really important to give back to those donors by showing your appreciation.”
Alexandra D’Allaird, a senior Honors student majoring in Biology (Pre-Dental) with a minor in Psychology, Duluth, Minn.: “It feels nostalgic coming here, because one of the first things I learned in school was how to address an envelope. It brings you back. … I think it’s really important for students to be able to express their gratitude. I didn’t know who gave me my scholarship, so I wanted to be able to thank them and let them know they’re making a difference in my education. I have four more years of dental school, which is going to add up pretty quickly. Any extra help I can get from a scholarship is really helpful, and I’m very thankful for it.”
Connor Ferguson, a junior in Information Systems and UND vice president of Student Government from Maple Grove, Minn.: “I think it’s so important for alumni to know how impactful their scholarships are on the whole student experience. Their gifts allow students to focus on their studies and also to become more immersed in the UND culture. It helped me find my success in Student Government and my academics. It’s so important for us to let alumni know how beneficial and important they are for student success here at UND.”
Students were able to choose from three glossy cards to write their messages, and they weren’t scrimping on their words, Lukens said.
“They were filling those cards up, top to bottom,” she said. “And they were really taking their time to think about what they wanted to say.
“Donors love to hear a little more of the personal side — what the student is majoring in, what their aspirations are, how the scholarship is impacting them and what they hope to do with their degree.”
She added that the development officers who sometimes visit the homes of donors often are hurried into the kitchen to be shown those same thank-you notes proudly displayed on the refrigerator. The personal stories that students share cultivate connections, she said, and often become talking points when students and donors meet at in-person events during the year.
And that very act of gratefulness can spark new giving.
“Once a donor reads about the student who’s been impacted by their scholarship, it can be so inspiring,” Lukens said. “That’s why it’s wonderful to see all these students eating this up. They’re putting effort into showing their gratitude, and that’s so cool.”