March 27, 2013
By Leah Howard, U-M Public & Media Relations
Last week, from a makeshift command center on the second floor of the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center, Wolverine student-athletes took the time to reach out and say thanks.
As part of Michigan Athletics' third annual Thank-A-Thon, held in conjunction with the university's wider "Hail Yeah!" campaign and Student Day of Thanks, they used phones, handwritten notes and post cards to express their gratitude to more than 1,400 athletics donors. The phones were generously donated with unlimited minutes by Metro PCS through our existing partnership with IMG College.
Participation was not mandatory and no incentives were given, but the feedback from Michigan's student-athletes was overwhelming. Thank-A-Thon had student-athletes contributing during every hour of the three-day event, and every varsity sport on campus got involved with men's track and field and field hockey earning top representation.
"We put a little fire under them, telling them that Tennessee had a 100 percent participation rate and Michigan State had 200-plus student-athletes participate in their Thank-A-Thon events," said Annual Giving associate Casey Taylor. "They're student-athletes; they love competition. But along with that, I think they have a genuine desire to say thank you. They understand the importance of it."
"We obviously have great advantages and privileges here at Michigan that other schools simply don't have," said freshman wrestler Camryn Jackson. "Michigan is one of those schools where the alumni take such pride in their degrees and the experiences they had here. They want to give back, and that means a lot. It shows how much they care about this university and about us -- when they haven't even met us."
Taylor says the goal is to create a culture of gratitude and philanthropy among the student-athletes, and within the larger athletic department. As a former Michigan sprinter and jumper in track and field, she never thought about the sources behind her privileges as a student-athlete. It wasn't until after she graduated that she realized how many people invested and donated for people like her to have such opportunities.
It's a valuable lesson for the current student-athletes to understand while they're still going through it.
"It's important for them to feel that appreciation," said Taylor. "As a student-athlete, you are so caught up in the everyday routine of class, eat, practice and study that you don't have an opportunity to sit back and think about everything that goes into your experience. It's great for our student-athletes to have an opportunity to reflect on that, and it's a sign of their maturity and their engagement with the university and athletic department that they actually do take the time to think about what they're doing. They genuinely care about their experience here and all the people that make it happen."
"I love talking to people in general," said junior gymnast Reema Zakharia. "So it's great to reach out to these generous donors, make them feel special and make sure they know that what they're contributing isn't going unnoticed by our student-athletes at Michigan. I think it's caught most of them off guard a little, because they're not sure why we're calling. But once we explain ourselves, I think they really appreciate the gesture. They start asking personal questions about us and our particular sports. It feels really good, because they are clearly interested in our lives."
It's a win-win situation. At the same time that the Wolverine student-athletes earn great insight and appreciation through the Thank-A-Thon event, so too do the athletics donors. While opportunities to interact directly with student-athletes don't necessarily come often, they are found to be some of the most enjoyable and popular experiences among the donor base.
"When a donor can just talk to student-athletes, see what their majors are and really feel and hear and see who they're giving to, I think it makes our donors that much more appreciative and that much more engaged in wanting to give back," said Taylor. "They can actually get a sense of the tremendous impact that they're having."