Giving Day 2019 to Launch with College Sizzle

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Brian Britt's face was superimposed over a retro image.
Brian Britt's face was superimposed over a retro image.

Matt Gabriele was distracted. At the start of Virginia Tech’s inaugural Giving Day, the frequent tweeter had encouraged his followers to support the Department of Religion and Culture. But then, preoccupied with academics, he failed to watch his department’s standing in the Dean’s Challenge Grants.

When Gabriele finally glanced at the leaderboard just hours before the end of Giving Day, he felt relief and panic at the same time.

“Not last place!” he tweeted, along with a screenshot of the leaderboard. “Not last place. Not last place! (And still time for us to move up the rankings.)”

Blake Smith, the department’s information technology specialist, sprang into action. Smith superimposed the face of Brian Britt, then chair of the department, onto a retro image of a suburban barbecue chef and crafted an all-caps tweet.

“Brian Britt will throw a bacon party if Religion & Culture has the highest # of people donating or if we have the highest amount donated!” the tweet screamed. “Also willing to buy bacon or donuts for highest donor. Sizzle. Thanks!”

Although the department’s Hail Mary pass didn’t lead to a winning touchdown, the tweet went viral and Religion and Culture did climb the leaderboard. And Gabriele, a religion professor who now chairs the department, is hoping once again to garner support during the university’s second annual Giving Day, a noon-to-noon fundraising event that will launch on March 19.

“Giving Day allows us to do more than raise funds for our programs,” said Rosemary Blieszner, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, who last year offered $500 challenge grants for both donor participation and amount raised. “It also enables us to inspire a broad appreciation of the power of philanthropy to strengthen our college and all it offers our students, our community, and the world.”

Last year’s Dean’s Challenge Grants — both of which the Marching Virginians won — were not the only ones to kindle a friendly competition. Charles Phlegar, the university’s vice president for advancement, offered the colleges a $1,000 challenge grant for highest overall participation. The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences won, with an official total of 805 donors; the College of Engineering was a close second.

This year, the dean will repeat her challenge grants, with an extra sweetener: $250 grants for second place for both donor participation and amount raised.

Several alumni and friends of the college will offer their own Giving Day challenges. Leading the charge will be Donna Mitchell, who earned degrees in English and management from Virginia Tech in 1983. She will donate $1,000 to the college for every 100 gifts to any College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences program, up to $10,000.

If at least 25 donors make a gift to the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Harold McNair will donate $1,500 in memory of his wife, Marijke McNair, who earned a degree in Spanish and French at Virginia Tech in 1978. Dr. McNair, a professor of chemistry emeritus, will also match every dollar donated to the department, up to a total of $1,500 in gifts.

Timothy Menter, who earned his English degree in 1984, will donate $3,500 to the Department of English if 100 other donors also make a gift to the department.

Finally, The Marching Virginians are unlikely to go quietly. James “Jay” Muscatello, who earned his engineering degree in 1980, will donate $5,000 to the 330-strong band if 200 other donors also support the Spirit of Tech.

For his part, Gabriele has declared himself ready for this year’s challenges.

“We’re sparking up the grill,” he said, “and we’re hoping to bring home the bacon.”