Associate Vice President for University Advancement John Barnhill ’92 has spent roughly 30 years giving back to Elon. Having stepped foot on campus in ’88, Barnhill started Elon’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity and Elon Volunteers as a student, helped build the Danieley Center as a part of Residence Life and kickstarted the first Elon Day — the largest day of the year for gifts and donations — in 2014.
This year, the 10th annual Elon Day also falls on the 100th year since the 1923 fire — amplifying the spirit of community and giving that the Elon community will embody this Tuesday.
“So the 1923 fire, Elon could have shut then. … The whole county came together and said ‘we're going to save this university,’” Barnhill said. “And that same spirit of Elon is still here. And you see that on Elon day, every year, where the whole community comes together and celebrates Elon day.”
According to Barnhill, Elon has received over 40,000 gifts at just over $16 million over the last 10 Elon Days.
In typical Elon Day fashion, the university will be holding a series of events throughout the day to encourage the community to come together, including a pop-up lounge in young commons with food, music and student DJs, a “Let’s Taco bout Philanthropy” event where students can win free tacos, a senior toast and an evening comedy show performed by Saturday Night Live comedian Alex Moffat.
Both Barnhill and Sara Merullo, special projects coordinator for university advancement, said they want to make sure donors know that they can give to specific areas of the university that they feel have helped or inspired them the most. As opposed to giving to one big university pot, donors can choose to put their money toward any specific school, scholarship program, club, organization, etc.
“I feel like you tend to act on your philanthropy when you have a passion for it, and so that's what we try to encourage people to do,” Barnhill said.
According to Barnhill, Elon’s scholarships, buildings and study abroad programs are mostly paid for through gifts. Both Barnhill and Merullo said they accept any gift, no matter how large or small.
“A lot of the students don't realize what Elon Day is. They're like, ‘yeah, there's some events. I think there's like a party sometime tonight.’ But the alums, because they've seen this as students, know this is a day where we give back to Elon,” Barnhill said. “People come together on Elon Day.”
Merullo also encouraged anyone wearing Elon spirit wear or participating in events on Tuesday to take pictures and post them under #ElonDay, so the university can repost them to show off community spirit.
“I think it's important for students to understand now, how much of an impact these donors make on our lives,” Merullo said. “When I studied abroad, I got a scholarship from a family that donated money to study abroad scholarships. … It makes a difference in students’ lives.”
Last year, the university raised the most money it ever had at nearly 5,000 gifts and about $3.5 million. This year, Barnhill said he would like the community to keep coming together to beat it.
“I used to get in trouble in my master's degree program when I would write about Elon because I would talk about it like it's a person. Like Elon thinks, Elon feels,” Barnhill said. “But I've watched this over the years and I've seen the feeling of the place — the pride of the place — unite on days like this.”
While anyone can donate, Merullo said seniors are most encouraged to get involved because this is the beginning of their transition into Elon’s alumni network.
Senior Lily Kays, who goes by they/them pronouns, is one of two chairs for the senior class giving project this year and has been working on it since June.
“I have a scholarship here at Elon and so to be able to give back to other people to put into scholarships, to put into programs that help students who have less fortunate means to pay tuition, is really important for me,” Kays said.
Kays said they are most looking forward to Elon Day’s senior toast, as it will be an opportunity for the Class of ‘23 to come together.
“It's an opportunity for the community to come together to look at everyone's needs and to support and give back,” Kays said. “It's not just about putting money into a big pot or whatever. … It's a chance and time for us to be a community in a big kind of way.”
Nearly 46 Elon Day events are also hosted all over the world for alumni who can’t make it back to campus. For more information on Elon Day and the gift-giving process, visit the university's webpage.
“When you see big banners on campus, when everyone's wearing their maroon and gold on that day, you get a sense of something bigger is going on,” Barnhill said. “As much as anything, what we want is not for students to give back on Elon Day. It's more of, understand that — look at the number of people. When we get 4,000 gifts on Elon day, that's a lot of people saying ‘I believe in you, I believe in this place’ and that's what I really want people to focus on.”