In the 24 hours known as the Big Give, more than 14,000 donors contributed more than $12 million to UC Berkeley students and programs. This year’s Big Give highlighted not only the power of the campus community, but it also emphasized the importance of philanthropy in the face of ever-dwindling state funding, as well as the lengths people are willing to go to win.
When it was first launched in 2014, the goal of Big Give was to provide students the opportunity to give back to their academic departments during Big Game week, according to campus spokesperson Elizabeth Costello. Two years into the tradition, however, the tables turned and campus invited student groups to raise money for their own causes, 34 of which seized the opportunity. In that year, Big Give brought in $11.6 million, more than double what they had raised in the years prior.
The 2018-19 fundraising event brought in two big changes: Big Give was moved to its current time on the second Thursday of March and campus created a leaderboard for student organizations and club sports that remains to this day, Costello said.
Fundraising doubled once again, totaling approximately $22.4 million raised, a number that has yet to be surpassed. However, the momentum didn’t last, with totals dropping to $4 million the following year as focus pivoted to participation rather than dollar amounts, Costello said.
“Previously, we had started with large gifts from established donors (known as seed gifts or launch gifts),” Costello said. “To help us make this shift in 2019, the UC Berkeley Foundation Board of Trustees challenged us to raise 10,000 gifts, and we quickly surpassed that goal.”
This year, Big Give garnered more than $12 million from more than 14,000 donors to be distributed among more than 800 organizations, 239 of which are student groups.
For student organizations such as Azaad — campus’s premiere Bollywood fusion dance team — Big Give is the only fundraising event in which they can secure enough money to cover the significant costs incurred throughout the year, according to Rajveer Bothra, one of the team’s finance directors.
Though they are able to raise about $10,000 from team dues, campus funds, corporate sponsorships and performing at different events, Azaad incurs costs of $20,000 to $25,000 per year as a traveling competitive dance team — costs usually paid for out of pocket by members, Bothra said.
Aside from travel expenses, the team incurs a $2,000 fee for every competition. Likewise, the amount of money they spend is often related to how well they perform.
“People ask why we spend so much on props and costumes,” said Suraj Kura, one of the team’s captains. “A lot of the dances and a lot of the styles that we’d like to perform are very deeply rooted in culture and if we don’t have the right materials, props or costumes to showcase some of those styles, we are doing an injustice to the stylist.”
In order to raise the necessary funds, each member of the team reached out to 10 or 12 people asking them to donate at certain times during Big Give using their specific ambassador link, according to Bothra. This strategy allowed them to win extra funding from various Big Give contests, such as for having fifth most donors of any student group.
Having raised $13,000 during Big Give, Azaad is now able to reimburse many of those students for their previous contributions.
“We have like $350 of dues every year that we pay and this year one of our motives was to give back as much of that money as we could because it is a very big financial burden on most of our members,” Bothra said. “We want them to enjoy dancing as much as everyone does but not have to pay for it.”
Other student groups, such as the SKY Campus Happiness Club, have similar financial concerns. The club — which aims to “put a smile on everyone’s face” — hosts annual happiness retreats to teach students leadership skills, emotional intelligence and meditation breathwork techniques, according to club president Kanchana Samala.
Samala added that with about 100 people in attendance, the cost of the retreat is significant, so the $5,000 they raised during Big Give helps to offset those costs and ensure the retreats can continue.
Similarly, The Cal Band Annual Fund was able to utilize their alumni network, social media presence and member dedication to raise over $100,000.
“Most of the donations we received during Big Give will go towards our new instrument campaign which aims to replace our fleet of aging instruments with brand new ones,” said Cal Band Fundraising Coordinator Miles Nash and Cal Band Public Relations Coordinator Justin Marc Alvarez in a statement. “These instruments will ensure that every potential Cal Band member has the chance to be a part of our life changing organization.”
Nash formerly worked for The Daily Californian.
Though much of Big Give consisted of above-board competition, a number of donors submitted inaccurate information, allegedly in an attempt to move groups up the contest leaderboards and win additional prize money, as first reported by the SF Gate.
While the majority of potentially fraudulent donors contributed the minimum of $10 and will likely not significantly affect the donation total, the incident is under investigation, according to Costello.
As long as the donation goes through, the funds will still be directed as intended, Costello added. However, groups found to have fraudulent donors will be disqualified from the contests.
As of press time, the “Go Big for Students” leaderboard displaying the student groups with the most donors has been removed from the Big Give website.
“We do not take this lightly, and for many reasons it is regrettable that this happened during a major fundraising event,” Costello said in an email. “One of the downstream effects is that it may take longer to get the money to the programs that need it. Additionally, it diverts staff time and resources from other fundraising efforts.”
Among the programs waiting to receive their donations are the campus colleges and other services, which have become increasingly reliant on philanthropic efforts over the years.
For example, Berkeley Law’s 2021-22 Giving Impact report reveals that 19.5% of the school’s operating budget comes from gifts and endowment income. Meanwhile, net state support has “plummeted” from 76% in 1990 to 5.1% in 2022.
“Currently, state funding covers about thirteen percent of Berkeley’s annual budget (compared to thirty-six percent in 1992),” Costello said in an email. “This funding, combined with tuition dollars, does not meet the cost of educating Berkeley’s students. For that reason, philanthropy has become increasingly important in recent decades as a source of support for our students, faculty, and programs.”