Students Pick

Posted more than a year ago.

How do you engage 1,977 undergrads in a capital campaign like Thrive?

That’s the head-scratcher that’s worn a hole in my scalp these last few months. I’ve been consistent in my mantra that Thrive is for our students. But just because you campaign “for” a couple thousand awesome someones doesn’t mean you get the pleasure of campaigning “with” them.

And that preposition needs to change.

You already know that one major emphasis of Thrive is communication. We believe we can do more with this campaign than just raise money; we can transform culture. We’re doing that in part by telling the OC story more overtly and more transparently than ever before. And so far our donors, alumni, and civic community seem to dig it! (Thank you.)

But our communication goals go beyond the typical campaign audiences. For the first time ever, we intend to spend good time (and even money) on connecting current students with the campaign.

In Higher Learning - Higher Calling (Thrive’s very successful predecessor) we communicated victories to our students, but we didn’t bring them “behind the curtain” on the campaign process. As a result, many students (myself included) misunderstood how priorities were selected or financed. 

A common concern among students was that we were using their tuition dollars to fund non-strategic and/or unnecessary efforts. That wasn’t the case, of course. You might recall from previous posts that we don’t use tuition to fund campaigns and that projects are selected based on carefully thought out strategic needs and donor intent.

But perception has a tendency to become reality.

This type of misunderstanding is what I want to avoid in Thrive—not only because I want our students excited and involved in the campaign now, but also because I want to cultivate lifelong Eagles who trust and are willing to invest in their alma mater. (I’m looking right at you, students.)

We are building that sense of trust slowly, I think. But students are busy (can I get an amen?) and finding meaningful ways to get them involved is difficult business. How do we get 1,977 eighteen- to twenty-three-year-olds telling the Thrive story?

The answer came from one of our newest recruits, OC web designer and 2014 grad, Kendra Ribble…

Put the campaign “for students” in student hands.

From November 14 through November 21 we’re breaking all the rules and putting real money behind the idea that Thrive belongs to the students. In what promises to be an historic week at OC, a couple thousand of our favorite people will vote to determine where $275,000 cash lands in Thrive.

Only the student vote counts. Our favorite president doesn’t even get a say.

Meanwhile, as our Eagles explore and cast their decisions, we’re encouraging them to get involved in telling the Thrive story so far. As students share Thrive (@OCThrive) on social media, post on this blog, and submit ideas for future Thrive projects, they’re all entered to win some awesome prizes, like an iPad Air 2, Pebble smart watch, GoPro Hero4, and more. (If I was capable of making an impressed whistle in text, I would. These prizes are sweet.)

You might just see a couple thousand Thrive tees roaming around campus, too.

It promises to be an epic week. My thanks go out in a major way to Mark and Beth Brewer for entrusting our students with their gift and with this big decision. You can learn more about the whole week at

Students – if you’re reading this (which I hope you are!), you’ve got just over 160 hours to make history. Believe me when I say: I’m incredibly excited to see what you choose.

More as it develops.