GVS(You) Week a chance to recognize donors

By James Kilborn | 2/19/18 2:30am

Grand Valley State University has been the recipient of many donations over the years. In an effort to bring awareness to those who have generously given in the past, the Future Alumni Association will be hosting GVS(You) Week, which focuses on teaching students about the importance of philanthropy in local communities. The events will begin Monday, Feb. 19, and will include writing thank-you notes to those who have given and continue to give to the university. 

Both Megan Ellinger and Mary Dreslinski were involved with planning the events and hope to inform students on the importance of philanthropy and how it relates to the university as a whole. The university began in 1960 as Grand Valley State College, but many challenges had to be overcome before the university took shape. Michigan in 1958 was in the midst of a recession, and with a budget deficit of more than $100 million, the state had limited funds for a new state college. Various local philanthropists and community organizations within West Michigan donated their time and funds to support the founding of the university. 

“From the very beginning, Grand Valley has been a school that’s based in community giving,” Ellinger said. “Initially, Grand Valley State College was established because around 5,000 people contributed to raise the first $1 million that was required before the state would allow them to become a school. From the very beginning, Grand Valley has been founded by community members giving back to make it a better place.”

Dreslinski also pointed out that giving back to the community is part of GVSU’s “Laker for a lifetime” initiative.

“Philanthropy is very important to Grand Valley because it created and continually funds the school we all love,” she said via email. “Without private giving, we would not have beautiful buildings to learn in or scholarships to help students afford college. Philanthropy at Grand Valley is also one of our four pillars of being a Laker for a lifetime. Stay informed, get involved, give back and have Laker pride. The emphasis we put on giving back to the community, and the school that shaped us, is what makes Lakers unique.”

While prominent philanthropists in the Grand Rapids area often receive the most attention, Ellinger said campus philanthropy is often an entire community participating to improve the university as a whole. 

“Looking around, there’s a lot of buildings that are named with those more recognizable names, like Seidman and DeVos,” Ellinger said. “But if you go into different buildings, there are walls full of names of donors. For example, walking into the library near Kirkhof, there’s a donor wall that lists thousands of people who gave back to the university to support the new library that was built. That includes thousands of donors, including community members and alumni, but also hundreds of students who gave back as well.”

GVS(You) Week is focused on giving back to those who generously gave in the past. While students are encouraged to write thank-you notes to past donors, other events will inform students on ways to donate their time and talents on campus. Ellinger said that while monetary donations come to mind when thinking of philanthropy, students donating their time and talents are just as important in driving change on campus. 

“Our major event given for getting people involved in philanthropy is on Tuesday,” Ellinger said. “It’s essentially an ice cream sundae bar where we’ll have some information about the importance of philanthropy and giving back to your community in general, whether that’s through your time, talent or treasures. ...

“Our goal is to write over 1,000 thank-you notes, and while it’s a lofty goal, I definitely think we can do it. Part of my job is also educating students on the importance of philanthropy, and that goes beyond just giving money—it’s time and talent as well. Volunteering your time, participating in community outreach, supporting people with skills or, if you have skills yourself, sharing them through tutoring or mentoring.”

Dreslinski sees GVS(You) Week as a way to encourage current donors to continue giving and also as a way to get students involved in the process. 

“I believe that thanking people for their contributions is extremely important,” she said. “Just like in current jobs today, if an employee does not feel valued, they stop caring about what they are investing their time into. This could be the same with donors."

Ellinger said GVSU is unique in that all donations can be specialized, meaning the donation can directly fund a specific program or organization.

“At Grand Valley, you have the opportunity to give back to essentially anywhere that you’re interested in,” she said. “If there’s a club that you’re really passionate about or a program that you’re a part of, or if you received a scholarship and want to give back to help future Lakers receive that same scholarship, you can give to anything you want. That could be a $5 gift or a $20 gift. It doesn’t have to be $1 million to name a building to make a difference, and that’s the whole point of GVS(You) Week: We’re celebrating all donors.”

Students are encouraged to stop by the Kirkhof Center this week to thank philanthropists and members of the community who have given back. Further information can be found at www.gvsu.edu/faa/gvsyou-week-8.htm.

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