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Delaney thanks UNF capital campaign donors

young woman smiling
University of North Florida President John A. Delaney is a grateful man.

As he walks through campus on a busy afternoon during spring semester reflecting on the highly successful The Power of Transformation campaign, the one word that keeps running through his mind is “gratitude.” He is incredibly thankful to everyone who supported the University and the campaign in record numbers during one of the worst financial periods in American history.

“We officially started this campaign in 2006 and our original aspirational goal was $125,000,000,” he said, stopping to look out over Candy Cane Lake and settling in against the railing to talk about the impact of this transformational campaign on the University, its alumni, current students, faculty, staff and the Northeast Florida community. “We had spent the better part of 2008 deciding whether or not to go forward with our plans. The stock market and real estate crash of the previous October had hit Florida particularly hard and we just weren’t sure it was the right time to go ahead with a capital campaign.”

But it was. Everywhere Delaney went and almost every conversation he had, donors and friends of the institution told him to go ahead with the campaign – that despite the economy, they would still give to UNF. It might not be as much, but they would still give. Heartened by their encouragement and dedication to the University, the decision was made to go ahead with the most ambitious campaign to date at the University of North Florida and the goal was set officially at $110,000,000.

“People feel strongly about what’s happening here at UNF, they feel strongly about the mission, they feel strongly about the leadership and the faculty, and they feel strongly that the future is very bright,” said Rad Lovett, campaign co-chair.

And that has always been true at UNF. People feel an affinity with the University and believe in its core mission in this community – even those who have never attended school here. They understand that Jacksonville is a better city because of UNF and UNF is a better University because of Jacksonville.

“During our first campaign, Access to Excellence, the bulk of the gifts came from non-alumni,” Delaney said. “And that is really because we are such a young University. At that time, most of our alums were in their early 30s at best and really not yet into their prime earning years. With this campaign, we knew we were going to be able to reach out to and include more alumni.”

With more than 65 percent of all UNF alumni staying in the five-county area that surrounds Jacksonville, it was not hard to get the message out about The Power of Transformation campaign and about all the good that was being done at UNF. And much good is being done at UNF. In the past few years, UNF has climbed in the national rankings, taking top spots in several elite polls by Forbes, Kiplinger’s, U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review. Undergraduate students are participating in Transformational Learning Opportunities in record numbers. UNF athletics teams continue to shine on and off the playing fields, with several teams bringing home championships and a number of athletes on the academic honor roll.

“Whenever I am out talking to alumni, I talk about the value of their diplomas,” Delaney said, watching a few students stroll by on their way to the new Osprey Café, smiling as they pass. “And in the past decade or so, as UNF has become more of an academic destination, the value of their diplomas has increased significantly. And as we invest more into UNF through the scholarships and fellowships to attract faculty and students to campus, their degrees will only get more valuable.”

UNF has come a long way since it began in 1972, when students were mostly around in the evenings and the occasional bear roamed the campus. Now, a bustling campus with about 16,300 students, there is always something to do. Students are living in the residence halls, including the 1,000-bed Osprey Fountains, which comes complete with its own convenience store, lazy river and swimming pool. They are eating in the new Osprey Café, a two-story, action station cafeteria that is anything but the cafeterias of yesteryear. They are working out in the new state-of-the-art Student Wellness Complex and they are studying in the new Biological Sciences building that has its own greenhouse on the roof.

“Being a UNF donor is one of the most gratifying things I've ever been involved in,” said Ann Hicks, honorary chair of The Power of Transformation campaign and Co-Chair of the Access to Excellence Campaign with her husband, David, and Blanche and Luther Coggin, as well as a 1995 graduate of UNF. “At this point, I’ve seen the University grow from a small college on the outskirts of town to a large, successful institution that is accessed by all sectors of the community. It's impossible to imagine Jacksonville without UNF now. It’s been exciting to help contribute to that growth as a donor, and the most recent campaign shows that many others share my excitement in contributing to UNF.”

UNF has chosen to invest in itself to build an institution that is worthy of the students and faculty who choose to make it a part of their lives. The Power of Transformation campaign was one way to allow others – including alumni – to invest in the future of UNF, its students and its faculty.

“I think a lot of the supporters in this campaign saw the need to supplement and enrich the lives of the students as they come here and that it’s a wonderfully rewarding gift to make,” said Rusty Newton, campaign co-chair.

Lovett and Newton, the campaign co-chairs, did not hesitate when asked to lead this massive fundraising effort. Both believe wholeheartedly in the mission and the purpose of the University and its role in the Jacksonville community.

“A lot has happened at UNF during the last 10 years,” Lovett said. “And a lot more is going to happen in the next 10.”

The monies raised by a capital campaign such as this one are really an investment in the future of an institution, Delaney said. They fund scholarships, fellowships and professorships that allow a college or university to attract the best and brightest students and faculty to campus and create an academic environment that stimulates learning and growth.

“I think more and more of our alumni realized how much their giving meant to UNF during this campaign,” Delaney said, beginning to walk back toward his office, stopping along the way to chat with students and faculty members. “Students tend to have fond memories about UNF and the further they get from their time on campus, the more they realize just how many doors their education has opened for them. And giving to one’s alma mater becomes important. Especially as they start to have kids looking at colleges and know how much a reputation of an institution matters. They understand the value of the education they received at UNF. And they want to give back.”

But it wasn’t just alumni who gave to the campaign – one of the most successful in the history of Northeast Florida. Friends, established donors, new donors and philanthropic organizations all came forward to support the University.

“When you really think about it, probably two-thirds of all the graduates are under John’s administration,” Newton said. “We don’t have the alumni base a lot of institutions do – though it continues to grow – yet it’s surprising how many non-UNF people have come and been a part of this. It’s really quite something.”

And it has been. During the six years of the campaign, the numbers have steadily climbed as the campaign staff worked tirelessly to meet with alumni, donors and friends of the University to help them understand what a gift would mean to the students and the institution. Each month, the numbers continued to grow, as did Delaney’s hopes.

“First we topped our official $110,000,000 goal,” Delaney said, as he stopped just outside the doors to J.J. Daniel Hall. “Then we blew through the $125,000,000 aspirational goal and then topped $130,000,000. Given the economic climate – especially here in Northeast Florida – it is remarkable. We will be able to make such a difference in the lives of so many students with the $132,325,638 that was so generously given by so many in the UNF family. I am so very thankful to each and every one of them.”