Three years ago, University administrators set the most ambitious goal in GW fundraising history – $300 million by the year 2000.
Now, with the new millennium on the horizon, the figure that was merely a number on paper in 1995 is two-thirds of the way to becoming reality.
This year GW celebrates the halfway point in its five-year Centuries Campaign, a crusade that one GW Trustee said “will enable the University to begin the new century as a leading university in the nation’s capital and in the nation.”
Donors to the campaign have established 219 new endowed funds thus far – 24 chairs and professorships, 50 funds for department and program support, and more than 100 scholarships.
“Things are exactly on target,” said GW Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs Michael Worth. “Everything is going just as we had planned.”
When GW launched the campaign in February 1996, University administrators said they were confident they weren’t biting off more than they could chew.
At the time, Worth called the $300 million goal “ambitious but achievable,” and GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the figure was a realistic one.
Today, all signs indicate they were right.
Donations to the Centuries Campaign run the gamut, from a $7 million contribution that will fund five professorships in the fields of systematics and evolution to a $52,000 gift that will support scholarships for law students.
To date, more than 550 donors have committed $25,000 or more to the campaign.
The campaign’s central purpose is to enhance GW’s endowment, which combines funds the University has invested and income from funds currently used to sponsor GW programs.
The estimated market value of GW’s endowment hovers in the neighborhood of $500 million in fiscal year ’98. But with some Ivy League schools boasting endowments in the billions, GW still lags nationally in the amount of endowment money it spends per student.
“There has been a greater emphasis on endowments in recent years at private universities,” said Timothy McDonough, vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “The cost to run a quality institution with a comprehensive academic program is climbing higher and higher. Schools are on the lookout for alternative revenue sources.”
And with increasing pressure to keep tuition at a reasonable level, private institutions like GW are looking more often to their endowments to support student aid, student activities, scholarships and special programs.
“Endowments help institutions build for the future, but at the same time, take some of the pressure off of tuition,” McDonough said. “Universities have to strike a balance between providing a quality education and making the school affordable for students from all walks of life.”
The result is a constant battle between quality and accessibility. But McDonough said a variety of ways exist to provide a quality learning experience at a low cost, and maintaining a hefty endowment is only one of them.
“Universities are becoming much more entrepreneurial in their approach,” he said.
While some schools choose to go the fundraising route, others enter partnerships with nearby schools, sharing facilities, faculty and other resources in the quest to provide students with as many options as possible.
Still others supported by state funds rely on tax subsidies to keep them going.
But in recent years, schools that measure up to GW in many ways have not been as ambitious in their fundraising efforts as GW, McDonough said. He estimated that at least half of the campaigns run recently are under $100 million in contributions.
And he said GW’s success at the halfway point is a healthy sign.
“Campaigns that are on target or ahead of schedule – like GW’s – have been well-designed,” he said, adding that GW’s sizable operation has been run aggressively.
Institutions that do boast campaigns the size of GW’s or larger are generally large public schools like the University of California at Berkeley, McDonough said.
GW is by no means new to major fundraising projects. In the 1980s, the University ran a campaign that raised about $75 million – only a quarter of the amount the current crusade is expected to accumulate. That project, the Campaign for George Washington, exceeded its goal by more than 10 percent, according to a 1996 report by the Office of University Relations.
That campaign netted a dozen new endowed professorships and more than 50 endowed funds for scholarships and fellowships.
“We’re moving at about the same pace that we did during the Campaign for GW,” Worth said. “But it’s difficult to compare since the Centuries Campaign is four times as large.”
With a little over two years to go in the Centuries Campaign, GW is looking to kind-hearted – and deep-pocketed – friends and alumni to help it reach its goal.
As Worth says, “Every dollar we get counts.”