Mike Costello

Understanding the impact of philanthropy on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is as easy as taking a walk across campus.

Understanding the impact of philanthropy on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is as easy as taking a walk across campus.

Whether academic, athletic or residential, many campus buildings bear the names of those whose private support sustains this public university—and did so prior to the private University of Chattanooga’s affiliation with the public university UT system in 1969.

Patten, Guerry, Probasco, Maclellan, Brock, Lupton, Decosimo, Finley, Wolford. These Chattanooga families have been joined in recent years by the Rollins family and others from beyond the city in providing resources critical to the University’s upward trajectory.

The University of Chattanooga legacy continues to this day through the UC Foundation, a private corporation that manages UTC’s private endowment through Foundation board members working in tandem with the University’s Office of Development and Alumni Affairs. “The UC Foundation has given me a greater appreciation of the needs of the entire UTC campus,” says its chair, Mike Costello, also a shareholder, litigation services leader and fraud and forensic services leader at the business solutions firm Elliott Davis.

“The Foundation raises money to support the University, overall, primarily through scholarships, grants and professorships. It takes a lot of people doing a lot of relationship-building to help gather individuals who have a heart for the University.”

Costello has a heart for his alma mater. The Chattanooga native received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1975 and a master’s of accountancy in 1996—both from UTC. He has taught various classes for the Gary W. Rollins College of Business and served on the Accounting Advisory Board for the College.

“When I’m in a position primarily through business or through personal contacts, what I do is promote the University and the needs of the University,” he says. “The main thing that I attempt to do is to remind people that giving to the UC Foundation stays in Chattanooga and benefits the students of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.”

At the beginning of the 2010 decade, annual giving to UTC totaled about $6 million. Over the decade, repeated, record-setting gifts were recorded. Annual giving now averages $15 million. Costello says a lot of the growth can be traced to the way people in the UTC community determinedly take part in fundraising. Deans, faculty and the athletic department actively articulate the impact of philanthropy at UTC. UC Foundation board members have become increasingly involved in fundraising through referrals, introductions and joining development officers in meeting with prospective donors.

“The people in the Development House have the ability, the skills and are trained in meeting a prospect and developing that prospect into a donor,” Costello says. “That’s not my expertise. I don’t do that, but what I can do is talk about the University to clients, friends and contacts and explain what the University does and what the University needs. We have top business people on our UC board, and all these people are great relationship builders. That’s what makes this whole thing tick, in my opinion.”

The largest single private donation in UTC history came near the end of the last decade, in 2018, when 1967 alumnus Gary W. Rollins and his wife, Kathleen, made the $40-million gift for the College of Business.

Securing that gift from Rollins, vice chairman and CEO of Rollins, Inc., was a long-term process involving College of Business Dean Robert Dooley, Chancellor Steve Angle, UC Foundation Board members and development officers in identifying the College’s goals that aligned with Rollins’ passions. The gift is being used for capital renovations, student scholarships and increased faculty.

Costello says of the Rollins’ gift, “When you can improve programs, facilities and faculty with one gift, it has an incredible impact on students. That’s what this is all about—to have a positive effect on students. I’m hoping that what you might call a ‘seed gift’ will attract other large donors, as well. It could be that seed funding could inspire people to give to other departments of the College of Business and let individuals in the community know that people think UTC is worth funding.”

Costello says a dual emphasis on retaining lasting bonds and making new connections will continue. “We have to aggressively keep working to find the new Probascos and Guerrys and Decosimos and Pattens,” he says. “It’s those people, the successful people, you want to get in front of and say, ‘Here are some needs that we have here in our town at our local University.’ Hopefully, we can develop those new relationships that will lead to something down the road. It’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. You’re just building relationships with new people and keeping in communication with them. Hopefully, one day they’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s time for me to step up.’

“There’s so much going on here at UTC, and it’s easy to tell our story. It’s great to be able to bring somebody onto the University grounds and say, ‘Let’s walk this campus. I want you to see this place.’ When people do that, they come back and say, ‘Boy, I didn’t realize what we have here.'”


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