This past May I had the privilege of attending the commencement exercise for my daughter Emily at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

It was a glorious weekend full of pomp and circumstance as Emily enjoyed a very successful career at UNC.  She participated in four separate commencement exercises! Throw in all the parties we attended – she was active leader of the Chi Omega Sorority – and you know that things were pretty busy throughout the beautiful sunshine-filled weekend.

I was so proud of Emily.  She really had an incredible career at UNC.  She made a difference.  Tears streaming down my cheeks were the norm for the weekend.  So many faculty members, administrators, students and their parents raved to me about Emily.   As her dad I was very proud!

But there were other moments of pride I felt that weekend that went beyond Emily’s accomplishments.  

They had to do with the work I had done as UNC-Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor for university advancement for twenty-one years. 

I left during Emily’s junior year in high school.  While at UNC, we raised – and I mean it was a team effort – nearly $5 billion, including two major fundraising campaigns that I directed.

It was at the first two ceremonies of the weekend – the Buckley Public Service Scholars and the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship – where I was reminded that we fundraisers make a difference!  It was here that I was reminded of the power of philanthropy and how private support really does provides the margin of excellence.

Both of these programs were pipe dreams years ago.  Neither program existed.  Sure Carolina had a rich history of public service and entrepreneurship and it was part of Carolina’s core commitment to excellence.  But neither had a formal program to foster and build these two areas beyond its more informal status. 

But that changed when bold ideas hatched by visionary leaders met the generous philanthropic vison of individuals who understood the power of transformational giving!

Leaders like Buck Goldstein (Entrepreneurialism) and Lynn Blanchard (Public Service) took a dream and designed programs that would provide opportunities for students committed to public service and entrepreneurship in ways that hadn’t existed before.  And then philanthropists like Marjorie Buckley and the Shuford Family believed in these dreams to make a generous gift to fund them.

The Buckley Public Service Scholars program challenges students to expand their understanding of service, connect academic and community-based experiences and build positive impact through service.  Three hundred students were recognized with the prestigious Buckley Service Award

The Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship teaches students the necessary skills to be an entrepreneur.  One hundred students were recognized for completion of all the requirements for an e-Minor degree.

And as I sat watched my daughter Emily and her fellow students stride across the stage in both exercises, I was struck by the impact of the work I had done!  It wasn’t just me – it was a team effort – but I thought how rewarding is this to have been a participant in the creation of these exciting programs and to have helped raise private support to get these programs off the ground and running. 

To know that just 15 years ago these programs didn’t even exist and now they are thriving and impacting the lives of so many students was pretty overwhelming.  How cool to know that your fingerprints were all over these programs and now to see the full blossom of these dreams brought a real sense of pride!

When we fundraise, we tell donors that their philanthropy will make a difference.  We say it with conviction even knowing that we are asking donors to take a bit of a leap of faith with us!  We talk impact.  We talk about the opportunities for the students and faculty that will be created with these gifts of faith.  But we often don’t get to see that impact over a 15-20 year period because we often move on to another opportunity or retire.

But as I was watching Emily in her glory, I had a chance to witness right before my very own eyes the results of the work we do as fundraisers.  And it was amazing!!

Yes, my colleagues, we do practice what we preach!  Philanthropy is a game changer that opens doors and creates new opportunities for generations of students.

I saw it this past May at UNC’s Commencement.  We do make a difference with the work we do!!