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Student-driven Phil's Day highlights impact of private donors
Phil was here graphic

Melanie Slattery figured it must be a sign. Literally.

During her first year at the University of Iowa, Slattery started seeing the “Phil Was Here” logo cropping up on campus and online. “It stood out,” she says. “I wanted to know what it was all about.”

Then she started meeting classmates involved in the UI Foundation’s Student Philanthropy Group, the organization behind the campaign. She saw the project as a perfect fit for her interests in design and advertising.

Phil’s Day, 2013

A rundown of Thursday, May 2, events:

All day: “Phil Was Here” tags identify buildings and programs made possible by donations, honoring donors and recipients.

10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Prize patrol looks for anyone wearing an “I Am Phil” sticker—pick one up at the postcard signings and talk listed below.

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Postcard signings in Kautz Plaza (rain location: Hubbard Commons, Iowa Memorial Union) and the Medical Education and Research Facility let students sign thank-you notes to donors, get pics taken in a photo booth, and register to win prizes.

1:30 p.m.: Alumna Janice Ellig talks about “Life with Phil,” her personal experience supporting the UI and new generations of Hawkeyes .

More on the UI Foundation website .

Today, Slattery is part of the student team organizing Phil’s Day on campus, Thursday, May 2. The annual event demonstrates how private donations support facilities, student scholarships, research programs, and more.

For Slattery and other students, Phil—short for philanthropy—also has generated ideas for where they’d like to take their careers.

Guerilla advertising

Like most students, Slattery didn’t realize the difference UI donors make. Now her job is to spread the word.

“Students need to know that more often than not, where they’re standing and the opportunities they’ve had come directly from philanthropy,” she says. “And it’s becoming more important all the time.”

Phil’s Day is designed to make this impact visible—impossible to miss, really.

Early Thursday morning, teams of students will tag dozens of donor-supported facilities with gold “Phil Was Here” stickers, posters, and ribbons. A postcard signing on Kautz Plaza will give students the chance to personally thank donors. (See the sidebar for more on Phil’s Day events.)

“A campaign like this is really exciting. It gets your attention and makes you want to act,” says Slattery, a graphic design and communication studies major originally from Calamus, Iowa.

It’s also perfect preparation for the kind of work she’d like to do: marketing campaigns that break out of conventional venues.

“You sometimes hear this called nontraditional, ambient, or guerilla advertising,” Slattery explains. “It affects your view of the environment, and often looks to prompt an action that goes beyond buying.”

Getting social

Bryce Buckley points to the Pappajohn Business Administration Building, home of the Tippie College of Business.

“Every day, hundreds of people walk in and out of that building without thinking about the donations that made it possible,” he says. “There’s so much we’d be without if not for donors’ generosity.”

Buckley, a psychology major originally from Belle Plaine, Iowa, came to the UI in part because of a privately funded, hometown scholarship. One goal of Phil’s Day, he says, is to show all the places philanthropy touches.

“Scholarships and buildings often have names tied to them, but this campaign highlights a lot of the things you don’t necessarily see,” he explains.

Buckley and his peers have taken the effort online, too. The “Phil Was Here” Facebook pagehas been around since the campaign’s launch. It features regular news and a weekly trivia contest.

This year, Buckley helped develop an Instagram challenge, encouraging users to highlight examples of philanthropy via the popular photo-sharing service. His experience with Phil has expanded his perspective and ambitions.

“I’m planning on going into higher education student affairs,” he says. “I’d focused on admissions or housing, but the chance to connect with people across the university has opened up more opportunities.”

Visible impact

On Thursday, Sarah Robbins will be looking out for people wearing “I Am Phil” stickers. Get spotted and you have a chance to win a prize.

“The cool thing about Phil’s Day is that it sparks curiosity and pushes people to ask questions,” says the communication studies and journalism major originally from Grinnell, Iowa. “It’s a very visible way to help people understand.”

Robbins says her experience with the Student Philanthropy Group—she currently serves as president—has deepened her understanding of the university and provided great opportunities to network.

It’s also got her thinking about fund-raising as a viable career, particularly if she can direct her experience toward a cause she believes in.

“Fund-raising wasn’t really on my radar before,” she says. “Now I’m very interested in working in development for a nonprofit, hopefully in higher education or health care.”

Like Slattery and Buckley, Robbins sees Phil’s impact everywhere, from the scholarships that support her studies to the computer lab in the Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building.

“Philanthropy has changed my college experience,” she says. “It’s as simple as that.”


Kristin Beckman, UI Foundation, 319-467-3471
Lin Larson, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0042


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