The Race to $1 Million in 48 Hours; Illini Fundraising hits Milestone

The Race to $1 Million in 48 Hours; Illini Fundraising hits Milestone

By Sean McDevitt

Author John C. Maxwell originated a phrase that has become a cliché these days, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” It’s the kind of sentence you might find on a motivational poster.

Howard Milton, Executive Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Development, has led the Office of Athletic Development and the I FUND since 2016. In 2021, he achieved something that hadn’t happened in the program’s history. His department secured more than $30 million in new business production for the fourth consecutive year.

Hitting that distinctive mark was made by doing another thing that had not happened before: securing $1 million dollars in two days.

As you might have guessed, it was a team effort.

Thanks to the sprint campaign, DIA has secured over $291 million of its $300 million goal as part of the With Illinois Campaign ending on June 30, 2022

“Why not put the foot on the gas?”

Milton andZach Goines, Associate Director of Athletics, Development, were doing what they always do in early June as the end of the fiscal year approaches: presenting to Athletics Director Josh Whitman and Vice Chancellor for Advancement at the University of Illinois Foundation Barry Benson year-end numbers, prospective donor projects, and future opportunities. Walking through the presentation, they explained they had passed the $20 million fiscal year goal, but were $800,000 to $900,000 short of hitting $30 million, which had been achieved since 2018.

Whitman then challenged Milton and Goines.

“Josh saw how close we were, and he pushed us,” said Goines. “He said we’d done $40 million for three years in a row. First time in history at Illinois in athletics. Why not put the foot on the gas and cross the $30 million mark this year?”

Immediately Goines and Milton started mapping out how it could be done. The hard part was both were on long-planned vacations.

“Howard was gone and I was on vacation the same week,” Goines said. “We’re just on the phone talking and texting to make it come together. As I look back, the 29th and 30th ended up being the two craziest, busiest days for us.”

DIA secured six gifts of $1 million or greater in FY21

“It’s a great example of what we did as a team.”

Making a fundraising sales sprint like this isn’t easy. It helps to have years of effort cultivating friendships and gauging the interest of critical parties. The most important being the development leadership group. The development leadership group was established during the last capital campaign and has grown to about 50 key donors that have made sizeable investments into Illinois athletics and have been very loyal to what the department is trying to accomplish.

“We knew we could lean on our leadership group,” said Goines. “We ended up with about 15 to 20 people giving something. And then we had five to seven people step up and put us over the line. We were up against the clock to hit the number before the year was done on July 1. It was a real testament to our fundraising group because all the gift officers were working hard. It’s a great example of what we did as a team.”

Mapping out the sprint strategy in the last few days started back in February when the Development team held a meeting to figure out the game plan for the rest of the fiscal year.

Milton explained, “We put together the sales team, and we all mobilized over COVID, adhered to COVID policy socially distancing sitting in a room at a hotel because we weren’t in the office, and put together the right plan for the annual fund, premium seating, and major gifts. Creating the strategic plan helped us. Without that, we don’t hit $30 million. I go back to February. It’s where it all started.”

DIA has secured more than $30 million in new business production in each of the past four fiscal years (FY18, FY19, FY20, and FY21)

“It was unique for us.”

With the new fiscal year upon the team, a different emphasis is on the horizon.

“I think we are borderline elite when it comes to our major gift fundraising,” said Milton. “I think we’ve been outstanding. What’s next for us is enhancing our annual fund. We want to be able to do more in our annual fund program and be consistent.”

The team is focusing on finding innovative ways to get more fans and alumni excited to give in any amount. Milton says one way is to spend time in places where they can raise the most money and look at new ideas from an annual fund and premium seating standpoint.

“We’re always looking to improve and do something unique, so it doesn’t get stale,” said Goines. “From a stewardship standpoint, we have done a really good job, and that gets back to what we’ve done with our campaign leadership. That’s how we ended up getting $1.3 million in 24 hours.”

Generating more than a million dollars the last two days in June to meet a remarkable goal is hard to fathom. Milton and Goines tried to think of a time something like this happened before. “It was unique for us,” said Goines.

While a big push from big donors can make a difference to the athletic program, the team is always looking for help. The recently launched Strength in Numbers campaign is the perfect way to invest in Illinois athletics.

“Joining the I FUND with the Strength in Numbers campaign is something almost anyone can do,” said Milton. “Your entry-level gift can be as low as $50. Loyal fans and alumni can make a simple gift, and it makes a difference for our coaches, student-athletes, and the entire campus.”

DIA achieved 110.4% of its I FUND annual fundraising goal for FY21

Originally published at on July 30, 2021.