Ignite co-founder Stephen Fain reflects on a decade of impact

Stephen Fain, Ed.D.

In this issue of SOAR, we speak with Stephen Fain, Ed.D., the founding director of Ignite, founding member of the FIU faculty, and professor emeritus in the former College of Education (now the School of Education and Human Development). Since its creation in 2011, Ignite has become the most successful faculty and staff fundraising campaign at any public university in the United States.  

SOAR: Ignite is now marking its 11th year of outstanding faculty and staff philanthropy. What are your reflections on the Ignite Campaign as we transform A Decade of Giving into A Decade of Impact? To what do you attribute its phenomenal success?  

Fain: The Ignite campaign is rooted in my experiences as a member of the FIU founding faculty, where our vision was unlimited, and everybody assumed that anything was possible.  

When I was approaching my 30th year and preparing to retire from the faculty, (FIU Foundation CEO) Howard Lipman and I discussed the idea of a faculty and staff campaign. I said I envisioned a campaign where people were not recognized for how much they give; my idea was that everyone would give what they were comfortable giving. He said, “Why not think about donor-directed giving, where people can pick the part of the university they want to support?” From that germ grew the idea for the campaign.  

Our success reflects an inherent aspect of the personality of the people who choose to work at FIU. So many people come here with the idea of making a positive difference in other people’s lives. There is an overall belief that each one of us is contributing to someone else’s success. And that is just in the air. I think that’s why we succeeded, and I believe we get better as time goes on.  

SOAR: What do you tell people about why they should give to Ignite and its importance to our FIU?  

Fain: Remember our slogan: “Don’t give ’til it hurts, give ’til it feels good.” That’s the idea. It’s a campaign focused on participation. Our symbol is a coffee cup – why not pledge a cup of coffee? We don’t ask for an endowment, just a contribution. That’s how we started. You ask people, “Don’t you want to make a difference somewhere?” And 83 percent of the people who work here find that to be a reasonable question, and they respond (by making a gift). We’ve raised collectively more than $32 million over the first 10 years of Ignite.  

There are over 5,000 full-time faculty and staff at FIU, and many, I don’t know, recognize me because I’ve had the good fortune of being the face of this campaign. They come up to me and say things like, “Hey, I gave, I gave!” And they like it, they feel good about giving. I think that strengthens our community. And I am proud to be associated with this effort.