The daughter of a teacher, student philanthropist Erin Regan ’18 first learned about giving through example. Her mother ran the student services center at the school where she taught, instructed senior citizens on computer skills, and worked in soup kitchens preparing meals for the homeless.
This philanthropic impulse has an equally powerful hold on Regan. So as the University conducted its Day of Giving on Tuesday, April 25, she and the other student philanthropists comprising the award-winning URI Student Philanthropy Council (SPC) were hard at work on their own campaign to make philanthropists of their fellow students.
The work of the 25-member Council focuses both on promoting the impact of philanthropy on URI and on fundraising for the University of Rhode Island’s Students First Fund. The Fund, created in 2014, provides emergency financial assistance to students who find themselves in immediate and unexpected crises – think of a house fire that leaves student tenants temporarily homeless or a death in the family that requires a cash-strapped student to buy a plane ticket, said Regan, SPC chairperson.
“I really like the idea of students on campus donating money to help other students,” said Regan. “These (situations) could happen to anyone. I tell people, it’s a new way to love URI. This gives me a love of the entire student body – to know people are willing to give back or to sit and listen. It’s nice to know they care enough to give back.”
On Tuesday’s Day of Giving, the SPC solicited donations and treated donors to Del’s Lemonade as a thank-you. The SPC had been promoting the event on its Facebook page. Marketing events, oftentimes, is about drawing simple equivalents. “It only takes giving up two coffees to donate $5,” Regan said.
Recently the SPC was recognized for its work with a $2,500 Generous U prize given by the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University. This is the third consecutive year the Council has taken a prize. In 2015 and 2016, it was a runner-up. The Council has won other prestigious honors, too. It received a CASE ASAP Award for Outstanding Emerging Student Organization and Regan is a past winner of a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Affiliated Student Advance Programs (ASAP) award for outstanding student leader.
The Council will use its prize to advance its mission: to educate students about the impact of giving and foster in them a spirit of philanthropy, Regan said.
In five years, the Student Philanthropy Council has helped more than 60 students in crisis – as well as set an example for the entire URI community, said Lil Breul O’Rourke, president of the URI Foundation, which helps staff the SPC.
“Building a culture of philanthropy at the student level is so important,” O’Rourke said. “And when students like Erin and her fellow council members recognize the impact private gifts have on their overall experience at URI and then work—at the peer-to-peer level—to build on that, it’s very effective.”
The Student Philanthropy Council demands 100 percent participation of its members, Regan said. She estimates 10 hours of her week is devoted to planning and executing philanthropic efforts on behalf of URI.
“Throughout the year, we run events, have booths and lead conversations,” Regan said. “Sometimes students are reluctant to donate because they feel they already pay tuition, but once they understand where their contributions are going and how they are helping fellow students, they are much more likely to donate.”
The SPC is also lobbying graduating seniors to participate in the Rhody Senior Challenge, an effort to encourage lifelong support of the university led by Stephanie Otis ’17. Senior donors will be given chords for their gifts.
Julia McCormick ’17, a mathematics and secondary education major, said she happily answered the call to give. “I was inspired to give back to URI because I wouldn’t have been able to stay here if it wasn’t for the help of faculty, staff, and my peers. I almost had to transfer freshman year, but I was led to financial support by people who genuinely wanted me to stay,” McCormick said. “From there, URI has taught me who I am.”