ECU celebrates historic Pursue Gold campaign

More than 30,000 donors answered the call to support East Carolina University and propelled the Pursue Gold campaign to a historic $526.9 million fundraising record.

“The ECU community has demonstrated a willingness to invest in our future in a remarkable way through the Pursue Gold campaign,” Chancellor Philip Rogers said. “Every contribution makes a direct and positive difference in advancing the upward trajectory of our institution. To all our donors and advocates in Pirate Nation, I say thank you.”

In modest and monumental ways, benefactors answered the chancellor’s charge and exceeded the ambitious $500 million goal. Donors contributed nearly $100 million in philanthropic support during the 2022-23 fiscal year, making it the most successful fiscal year fundraising endeavor of the campaign and setting the bar as the most robust fundraising year in the university’s history. Year-end gifts added a boost of more than $10 million to the campaign’s closing figure.

Previously, numerous donors helped build a foundation of philanthropic success during the university’s Second Century campaign, which raised $219 million from 2008-2012.

A leadership gift from Fielding and Kim Miller in 2015 establishing the Miller School of Entrepreneurship was one of the first commitments that solidified ECU as an institution where philanthropic investment can be transformational.

Efforts to reach the $500 million goal began in earnest in 2017. Due to leadership changes at the university and a pause during the COVID pandemic, the campaign covered more than seven fiscal years of fundraising. In each of those years, new and long-time donors followed the example set by those before them.

Photo by Cliff Hollis

Highlights of the campaign’s significant milestones include:

“It is clear that ECU alumni, friends and donors are all behind our great university. We had nearly 90 individuals, families and organizations who have committed more than $1 million each during the lifespan of Pursue Gold,” said Christopher Dyba, vice chancellor for University Advancement. “The campaign has served as a momentum builder for the university. Through this effort donors have seen how their gifts are fueling student success, alumni have reconnected with ECU, and the university has rallied support from every corner of Pirate Nation.”

Dyba said the enthusiasm for supporting the campaign has been building since Chancellor Philip Rogers’ arrival in 2021. Rogers kicked off the public phase of the comprehensive campaign in November 2021 and asked Pirate Nation to come together to help carry ECU into the future.

Pirate Nation donors supported, or pledged gifts, to more than 2,250 unique funds across campus priorities through the ECU Foundation, Athletics, ECU Health Foundation and the ECU Alumni Association, which is now integrated into the ECU Foundation.

More than a quarter of the gifts will create opportunities for student success through funding $184 million in merit, need-based and athletic scholarships.

Dyba explained that as a result of the campaign, the foundations have provided $161 million to the university since 2017. On average, each year, the foundations provide $23 million for university needs.

More than $201.6 million in campaign gifts sustain the university’s value and secure ECU’s endowment. Dyba said with more than 1,390 endowed funds, the amount the foundations earn and provide to the university will continue to grow.

“There will be a return on investment for years to come,” he said. “As a result of this campaign, funds provided to the university will further increase as pledges are paid, endowments grow and other commitments are fulfilled. Funds from Pursue Gold will continue to make ECU affordable and accessible to students.”

Catalyst for support

A comprehensive campaign generates funds for the university. It also serves as a platform to connect alumni and friends to the breadth and depth of work happening across the university and showcase the willingness of others to invest in ECU’s future.

Andrea, Sean and Ryan Smith showed their Pirate pride at an ECU football game. Sean Smith is president of the Pirate Club’s executive committee and Ryan Smith is a student at ECU. (Contributed Photo)

The Pursue Gold campaign has sparked conversations about ECU and expanded interest in the university.

One such connection happened for Sean and Andrea Smith, from Charlotte, in conversations with friends, Robert and Amy Brinkley. The Smiths have a passion for education and helping students go to college and were encouraged by the Brinkleys to consider ECU in their philanthropic endeavors.

Andrea and Sean both recall Amy Brinkley’s enthusiasm for how much ECU does for students through philanthropic support. Andrea Smith and Amy Brinkley were colleagues at Bank of America. Robert Brinkley is a long-time champion of ECU. He served on the ECU Board of Trustees including two years as chair.

“Wanting students to be able to get a degree without debt – or little debt – and not have to go to work to pay off college loans is really important to us,” Andrea Smith said. “The idea of Access Scholarships really resonated with what we want to do for students.”

Sean Smith said his own student loans made him reconsider his goal of attending law school after graduating from ECU because he didn’t want to take on more debt. The Smiths decided to endow an Access Scholarship so future students don’t have to make the same choice. They established the Smith Family Access Scholarship Endowment in 2018 and endowed a second Access Scholarship in 2022. They also have an endowed scholarship in ECU Athletics.

“We would get letters from the kids who had received our scholarship telling us how our support helped them stay in college. It’s very rewarding for us to hear from them directly,” Sean Smith said. “Being able to get an education positions people for success and impacts their social mobility. It greatly increases your odds of being successful.”

Since their initial investment, the Smiths’ enthusiasm for ECU has only deepened. Sean serves as president of the Pirate Club’s executive committee. In 2020, the Smiths’ son enrolled at ECU and they became Pirate parents.

During an Access Scholars luncheon, the Smiths were inspired by a conversation with students who shared that the idea of studying abroad had never occurred to them as an option. Soon after the luncheon, the Smiths created the Smith Family Study Abroad Endowment to promote study abroad opportunities for Access Scholars.

“There are so many things we take for granted that some students don’t have an opportunity to do,” Sean Smith said. “We want the students to have as many experiences as possible at ECU.”

The Smiths are committed to their efforts to make a college education affordable and accessible. They have provided scholarship support at the University of South Carolina, where two of their children attend, and at Andrea’s alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Texas. In Charlotte, they volunteer with organizations focused on mentoring students and helping them prepare for and apply to college.

“We see ECU changing lives and doing so much with (donor investments),” Andrea Smith said. “ECU is meeting people where they are, and it differentiates ECU. It’s a win for the kids which is the most important outcome.”

Fundraising efforts continue

While the comprehensive campaign has come to an end, fundraising for the university continues. Philanthropic efforts through University Advancement and the ECU Foundation will focus on university needs and student success through merit and needs-based scholarships for admissions and retention.

ECU Athletics will continue the Pirates Unite Campaign to raise $60 million to provide critical funds and essential training spaces that will transform the experiences of student-athletes.

The ECU Health Foundation will remain focused on raising philanthropic support for ECU Health, the ECU schools and colleges of the health sciences and Laupus Library.