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Thousands Strong providing strength to fundraising

Thousands Strong providing strength to fundraising

Just a year into a new fundraising platform, the University of Oklahoma has raised over $280,000 for programs and causes that in the past have had no direct way to raise money.

OU’s Thousands Strong, the university’s official project funding site, was launched in February 2016. It serves as an online tool to help students and faculty and staff highlight projects and raise funds to turn their ambitious ideas into reality. Whether a project needs funding for a student organization, faculty or staff research, academic program support, or even a university-led community initiative, Thousands Strong utilizes the power of the “OU family” to directly impact the world with each online gift – no matter how large or small. 

Campaigns on Thousands Strong, generated organically by individuals or teams, last 30 days. With the help of Laura VanGundy, the director of Digital Initiatives for OU’s Office of Development, project leaders develop a viable goal for the amount they can raise in that 30 days, based on factors such as the number of people project leaders can reach through email and social media, dollars needed to fund a project and a creative presence on the platform website, bolstered by descriptions, picture and video. The typical project goal is between $800 and $5,000.

“I tell campaign leaders, ‘it’s 30 days. Put out a call to action,’” VanGundy explains. “Tell people we need your help.’ If they believe in what they’re raising money for, they should have no problem. Get on Facebook and social media and ask everyone to support your program. Let them know you’re trying to raise money. People will really listen.”

And people have listened. In the year since its launch, Thousands Strong has attracted gifts from more than 2,380 donors, including more than 1,200 who are first-time donors to OU. Over 500 students have provided funding gifts. As for the traffic the site has generated, the 33 projects undertaken through January garnered an amazing 102,600-plus page views.

“These campaigns reach people that you might not normally reach as traditional donors,” VanGundy points out.

VanGundy also is careful to caution project teams Thousands Strong is not intended to be a final solution for long-term funding or a model to replace traditional university support.

“This platform mainly assists with a portion of what you need,” she stresses. “That’s how I look at it. It’s a 30-day campaign. It’s a way to provide an online platform to give. It’s not a manner to fund a project or program in its entirety over a long period of time.”

Scholarships, conference attendance for underrepresented populations, teacher certification costs, Big Event and the OU Class Gift of 2016 are just a few of the areas in which Thousands Strong has provided funding assistance.

The OU hockey team began its Thousands Strong campaign in late January. Seeking to raise $5,000 to assist with the costs of traveling to the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s national tournament in Columbus, Ohio this March, the club team has raised more than one-third of its goal in the first week of the 30-day campaign.

The team, founded in 2003, gives young student athletes a chance to pursue their higher education, as well as playing quality college hockey. The team does not receive athletic department funding and each player pays $2,000 at the start of the season to play. Oklahoma Hockey is classified as a club team that competes in the Division I level of the ACHA, in the Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHL) which consists of schools from Tucson, Arizona to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The Sooners have qualified for the national tournament for an ACHA record 13 straight times. 

“The fundraising for us is really crucial because it’s such an expensive sport to play,” Scott Hammerstedt, research archaeologist at the Oklahoma Archeological Survey and the team’s faculty adviser, explains. “A lot of stuff, these guys pay out of their pocket as well. Meals are not included in the $2,000 they pay. Bus transportation costs the most. That’s where it gets really expensive.”

Members of the Sooner hockey team are high-level players, mostly coming from the country’s junior hockey system. Most come to OU in their early 20s and are recruited nationally by both NCAA programs and top-level club programs.

Patrick Grace, a senior defenseman, who grew up in Texas and played at the junior level in Colorado, was recruited by OU assistant coach Austin Miller, who saw Grace playing in a tournament in Dallas. Grace, who was being recruited by several NCAA and club teams, said the quality of the OU program and its campus made for an easy decision.

“I got to know the coaches and they sent me some stuff about OU,” he recalls. “I was looking into OU and once you see the campus here it’s kind of tough to say no. Really just getting to know the program and the guys that had come here, seeing the university. It was an easy choice.”

Although OU hockey players do not fall under the classification of NCAA student-athletes, Grace says they face many of the same struggles.

“We skate pretty much every day. It’s very tough,” Grace says of the grind. “ We have to jump through different hoops when it comes to missing classes or scheduling classes. It’s hard. We’re kind of dealing with the same things student-athletes are. You get in to see your professors and let them know you’re involved in hockey and most of them are flexible with you.

“We’ll be on the road and it’s common to see guys studying and doing homework. You really have to be disciplined with it.”

OU plays about two-thirds of its games at home at the Blazers Ice Center in Oklahoma City. The other third, as well as the national tournament, mean bus rides to Edmond to play rival, the University of Central Oklahoma, and spots across the country such as Colorado, Ohio, Arizona, Arkansas and others.

Hammerstedt, a former club player at Penn State University who has served the Sooners as faculty adviser since 2008, says class loads and schedules aren’t the only struggles for his players during a season that begins with tryouts on the first day of the fall semester and runs through the national tournament in March.

“The $2,000 they pay to play covers only a fraction of it,” Hammerstedt says. “The rest is due to donors and fundraising.”

Hammerstedt says the program needs “six figures” to run each year. Transportation chews up the bulk of that figure and a trip to the national tournament often runs about $12,000 to $15,000.

“We haven’t done anything like this before,” Hammerstedt points out about the current Thousands Strong campaign. “We did some Kickstarter type campaigns in the past. but nothing like this. Having the OU built-in system will be outstanding. It will be a better way for us to reach people.”

To support the OU hockey Thousands Strong campaign, or to see a complete list of current campaigns, their goals and how their fundraising efforts are going, visit https://thousandsstrong.ou.edu.

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