Universities compete for donation dollars to improve campuses

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who published books for dummies donated $350 million to MIT for brain research, exemplifying a growing trend among universities to escalate fund-raising efforts, according to an Associated Press story Tuesday.

Georgetown University announced Feb. 22 that it had raised $520 million in the Third Century Campaign, which means the university is more than two-thirds toward its goal of $750 million.

Colleges and universities nationwide are competing for these donation dollars as many schools launch vigorous campaigns to raise money for pressing necessities such as campus renovations and recruiting more prestigious faculty. GW escalated its fund-raising efforts by starting the Centuries Campaign in 1996 and has more than doubled its endowment since 1994.

Sharon Block, director of Development Communication and Events, said GW finances are the key to making necessary improvements and competing with other universities. She said her department’s efforts to increase University fund raising give administrators the opportunity to do things such as offer more scholarships and respond to GW’s recent increase in students.

It’s all about making a better GW, she said.

Since February 1996, when GW officially announced the Centuries Campaign, an effort to raise money for endowments, program support and improved faculty and facilities, the University’s fund-raising efforts have grown to greater proportions, Block said.

Last year, GW took in revenue of $602,132,271 and spent more than $3 million on fund raising. Fund raising includes sending letters and calling alumni for smaller gifts and writing project proposals for larger donors, who might be willing to support a specific goal.

University administrators also invite potential donors to breakfasts around the city or evenings at GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s home. The Office of Development sometimes organizes recognition events, at which donors are thanked or honored, Block said.

As GW grows and gains more recognition, efforts to raise money continue to escalate. When the Centuries Campaign was first launched during the University’s 175th anniversary celebration, the Board of Trustees aspired to raise $300 million. But in 1998, the Board members increased the goal to $500 million by 2003.

GW’s growing reputation made it possible to think boldly about the future, requiring our continued efforts to secure the resources necessary to fulfill the University’s commitments as a leading institution of higher education and research, said Board of Trustees Chair John D. Zeglis, according to the Centuries Campaign Web site.

This money is already being used to support projects such as the new School of Media and Public Affairs building, the Health and Wellness Center and improvements at the Mount Vernon campus, Block said.

Before the Centuries Campaign the University was falling behind other universities of similar size and background, Block said.

GW compares itself to local universities like Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.

Georgetown launched the Third Century Campaign in May 1999. The program included regional campaigns in major cities around the country and began in Chicago. Georgetown raised $520 million as of last week. Block said Georgetown’s goal of $750 million can be compared to GW’s goal of $500 million.

The University of Maryland received about $250 million in gift commitments for its campaign, Bold Vision: Bright Future as of June 30, 1999.

Vassar College, located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is a small liberal arts college that fails to fit the same demographics as GW. But Vassar and GW have similar rankings because both raise similar sums of money from the public, corporations and private foundations. GW ranked 355 out of 400 non-profit organizations in the United States, and Vassar ranked 365 last year.

Ryan Hart, director of Reunion and Class Giving at Vassar College, said the school solicits about 27,000 alumni for donations each year, and about 12,000 to 13,000 people actually donate.

Vassar took in more than $191 million last year and spent more than $4 million on fund raising. But Vassar approaches fund raising in slightly different ways than GW. Hart said the money cultivated for the Annual Fund is used to supply the budget and funds current operations.

Vassar administrators aim to raise $7.5 million by the end of the year, Hart said.

We need to make it, he said.

Hart said Vassar administrators are considering creative financing. He said the college is looking into a bond offering and then using donated funds as a way to pay off the debt.

Vassar is raising money to facilitate a long-range plan that includes classroom renovations and residential life improvements.

Hart said Vassar typically compares itself to Wellesley and Smith colleges and Colgate University. He said small, private, highly selective schools offer a good measuring stick for Vassar. He said among about 30 to 35 similar schools, Vassar is the third highest fund raiser, behind Smith and Wellesley.

As for critics who say fund raising impinges on a university’s true goal of education, Hart said that simply is untrue. He said seeking donations is vital to the university or college’s academic and campus programs.

We’re not detracting from anything on campus, Hart said.

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