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Above: Senior Brooke Hertenstein places a handwritten thank-you note on the mural template during Thank a Giver Day 2018.

Students express gratitude to the donors who make their educations possible

Thankfulness is a sentiment that can never be overdone. For Ohio Northern University’s “Thank a Giver” (TAG) Day 2018, a total of 1,024 handwritten thank-you notes proved just how appreciative ONU students are of the donors who make their pursuit of higher education possible.

TAG Day was established as a way for students to show their appreciation to, and engage with, donors on a deeper level. Set up in the McIntosh Activities Room, the event asks students to write short messages of gratitude on 3-by-3-inch cards, which, when placed together on a large template, comprise a 9-by-9-foot mosaic image. At the end of the day, that image reveals the face of one of the founding figures of the University; this year it was professor John Gamble Park. Following TAG day, the cards are sent to donors to acknowledge their contributions.

When students receive their financial aid package, scholarships are always a welcome source of funds, but more often than not, the students don’t think about where that money actually comes from. It seems like free money, but it’s not. Every dollar from a scholarship is a gift from an ONU donor. That’s not to say that the students aren’t thankful; it’s just not something that naturally comes to mind.

For Thank a Giver Day, students signed thank-you notes to donors, and they were combined into a mural of John G. Park, an Ohio Northern University original trustee, as well as a professor of English grammar.What TAG Day does is provide a rare opportunity for students to relate to donors on a more personal level and see things from their point of view.

“The students are exposed to the cycle of a donor, realizing that the funds they receive from scholarships actually come from an individual or a family who makes a gift to the University,” says Ellie McManus, director of annual programs and donor relations. “It helps close up the gap a little bit so that the students really understand how important donors are.”

As a result, students identify more closely with donors, many of them alumni who used to be in their shoes. They just want to give back to say “thank you” for their own opportunities, which were likely made possible by the donors before them. It’s a perpetual cycle of gratitude.

Fifth-year pharmacy major Clayton Miller had such an experience. Along with participating in TAG Day, he has also written thank-you notes to donors for the scholarships he received in past years. All of it opened his eyes to something that had never really crossed his mind before.

I had no idea I even benefited from a donor before,” he says. “I realized I was getting a significant amount of money from them. I’m very appreciative and thankful. Having these people, who we don’t even know, care about us is huge, so it’s just one of those things that ONU has to offer. It’s amazing.

Junior public relations major Victoria Middlebrooks, on the other hand, is actually well-acquainted with the donor cycle. Since her freshman year, she’s worked as a student caller for Phonathon, an ongoing fundraiser that annually reaches nearly 30,000 alumni, parents and friends of the University. Therefore, she knows why supporting ONU is so important to its donors. 

“I just realized how much it means to give back to your institution, watch it continue to grow and watch all the programs continue to expand,” she says. “That is the reason our institution continues to grow: Our alumni and friends are more than happy to give back to us.”

For virtually every student at ONU, there is a donor, or donors, supporting them in some way. Donors are what make the University such fertile ground for opportunity and, as Middlebrooks puts it, “the reasons why we are able to come here and follow our dreams.”

If you would like to become a first-time donor or give again, join the ranks for our Founder’s Day Challenge 2018 on April 11.