GW is “playing catch-up” with universities across the nation by trying to lure more gifts from alumni, corporations and foundations. The current fundraising total for GW is significantly below those of rival schools and may be contributing to high tuition costs for students.
GW has raised 86 percent of its $500 million fundraising goal, or $430 million, since its Centuries Campaign began in 1996, according to fundraising reports from the development office.
Other institutions report receiving as much as an average of $1 billion a year.
Northwestern University, which is similar in size of undergraduate population and 30 years younger than GW, is attempting to raise $1.4 billion in its current five-year fundraising campaign.
Schools with better academic reputations than GW tend to have an easier time landing large gifts.
The California Institute of Technology received a $600 million gift from the founder of Intel a month ago, Emory garnered $300 million in a single year, and Stanford received a $400 million donation last year from the Hewlett Foundation.
According to fundraising experts and University officials, there are several possible reasons why GW has difficulty fundraising.
“The rich get richer and the poor make babies,” University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said, explaining why it is hard to make headway competing with schools that are sometimes billions of dollars ahead of GW.
Trachtenberg said “money draws money” and GW’s fundraising numbers have a lot to do with the history of the institution and nature of the undergraduate community.
“It is only within the last couple of years that our annual fundraising has been competitive with other institutions,” he said.
Trachtenberg said GW’s history offers reasons for hurdles in fundraising today: GW used to be largely a commuter institution that relied exclusively on tuition dollars; the University did not have many research initiatives or a large endowment.
“When we got here it was slaughterhouses and breweries,” Trachtenberg said. “What has transpired in the last 60 years is the transformation of GW into a world-class contender.”
In terms of fundraising, Trachtenberg said until about 30 years ago the University was “dribbling along.”
“I’m thrilled it looks like we are going to be successful now, but I’m never satisfied,” he said.
Late in the game
The fact GW is late in the fundraising game is a huge factor to take into consideration when looking at the numbers, said John Lippincott, vice president for communications at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
“Each campaign that a university undertakes will move the institution to another plateau,” he said. “With one or two campaigns, GW cannot close the gap with aspirational institutions like Stanford.”
While GW’s first campaign came 20 years ago, other universities like Northwestern and New York University have been pursuing fundraising systematically for much longer.
“There are several pieces to a good fundraising program. One is informing alumni of what is going on and involving them with programs they are interested in,” said Joel Sigelman, executive director of communications at Boston University. “When you graduate from Brown, you know you are going to have to give them money.”
Trachtenberg said the University is definitely “playing catch-up” in developing a strong pool of gift-giving alumni.
“We have to wait for the current undergraduates to get out there before we can ask them for money,” Trachtenberg said.
Lippincott said GW’s $500 million campaign goal is “ambitious” because GW is so new to the “fundraising game.”
“It is only reasonable to assume GW will have a lesser goal than an institution that has been fundraising for 100 years,” Lippincott said.
Lippincott said the University of Maryland recently announced a campaign for $700 million in seven years to be divided between 13 campuses.
Trachtenberg pointed out that a lot of the money some other schools receive comes from corporate sources that do not exist in D.C.
“We are only recently a selective residential institution, and a lot of it has to do with size of alumni body and the corporate community we are situated in,” Trachtenberg said. “If you look at the large foundations and their giving practices, they are not in Washington, D.C.”
This year Northwestern received a donation of $7.82 million from Ameritech (located in Chicago) and $3.3 million from Proctor and Gamble (located in Ohio). Emory received a $5.3 million dollar gift from Avon Products (located in New York).
“Of course, if you are in a city with many corporations it will help,” Lippincott said. “In D.C. it is primarily government facilities.”
George Ruotolo, a former chairman of the American Association Fundraising Council Trust for Philanthropy, an organization that publishes statistics on fundraising every year, disagreed with Trachtenberg’s assumption about D.C.
“If you have only been doing organized fundraising for the past 30 years, you are going to be a little bit behind other institutions, but it is not because Washington does not have companies or foundations to support the school,” he said.
Ruotolo stressed the importance of relationships with alumni to successfully raise funds.
“If an institution does not foster the spirit of giving right after (students) graduate, it is hard to get those men and women to feel like they need to give,” he said.
GW Associate Vice President of Development Joseph Hall said the “mega gifts” that institutions like Stanford and Caltech come from long-term relationships with alumni.
“The major source of donations across the nation is individuals, not corporations or foundations,” Hall said.
Sigelman disagreed, adding that BU receives 60 percent of donations from corporations and foundations. Boston University, like Northwestern, is younger than GW, but has a much larger undergraduate population (17,819 in comparison with GW’s 8,779), which could help its efforts.
“We received $14 million from a foundation in Virginia,” Sigelman said. “The marketplace for foundations is not a local one.”
Sigelman said a university looks all over the country for fundraising money.
Schools with significantly larger undergraduate populations have a better pool of alumni to draw funds from.
Trachtenberg said the reason GW does not receive as many gifts from alumni as other institutions like Duke University or Stanford is because GW used to be primarily a graduate school.
“It is a generational thing. The place where you were an undergraduate has a heavier hold on your heart than the place where you did graduate work,” Trachtenberg said.
Hall said GW has developed some strong ties with alumni and is pursuing more by getting alumni involved in school policy.
Past contributing alumni include:
o The Theodore Lerner family, which recently donated $5 million to the new Health and Wellness Center
o Barton Kogan, who gave $500,000 to build Kogan Plaza
o Jack Morton, who offered $1 million toward the Media and Public Affairs building auditorium
o Mark Abrahms, who donated $1 million for the new Grand Hall in the Marvin Center
Fundraising experts and officials from other selective Universities said an institution’s academic prominence is closely related to endowments.
An endowment is the money a University has saved in a bank, which accumulates interest. The interest allows a university to spend more on facilitates and student services, because it can use interest earned each year.
Robert Chernak, vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, said the interest on GW’s endowment gives the University about $2,500 extra to spend on each student every year. He said he hopes to raise that figure to half of tuition, or $13,000.
“That’s the money that’s coming in addition to your tuition,” he said.
Sigelman stressed the importance of endowments.
“Harvard has $19 billion sitting in the bank accumulating interest. It offers them huge amounts of financial support,” Sigelman said.
The GW endowment was $738 million during the last fiscal year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Institutions within GW’s “market basket” tend to have larger endowments.
New York University has a $1 billion endowment and Boston University currently holds $913 million.
Although several schools ranked alongside GW have larger endowments, the University’s amount is still competitive.
Georgetown’s endowment is $7 million more than GW’s, and Tulane is about $100 million behind.
Sigelman said some schools are more dependent on tuition dollars than others.
“When institutions don’t have a large endowment, they have to depend on tremendous revenue coming from tuition dollars,” Ruotolo said.
Ruotolo said there is a correlation between the academic prominence of an institution and its fundraising success.
“If a president from one university was to see one from a competing university, his competitor’s endowment would be printed on his head,” he said.
Pursuing the right goals
Hall said GW concentrates on its own goals rather than comparing itself to other schools.
“Our campaign in context of GW has been successful. We are ahead of schedule in terms of our goal,” Hall said. “It is not accurate to compare GW to other institutions because the nature of our university is different.”
Hall said some programs, like the Medical Center, are especially strong and receive a large amount of funding from gifts.
Hall said some Universities have certain research programs that draw millions of dollars in gifts each year. He cited the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown as an example.
Trachtenberg said successful fundraising is “slippy slidey” because the University receives gifts that can be used in any area.
“You have to prioritize. I have a soft spot for scholarships, but I have a list of 150 things we need and I need to decide what is most important,” Trachtenberg said.
In Northwestern University’s campaign $400 million of fundraising money is slated for facilities, $359 million put toward faculty chairs and $592 million will contribute to the Northwestern endowment.
Trachtenberg said the new Elliott School building is a priority because the American Bar Association pressured the expansion of the law school, which required the Elliott School to move from Stuart Hall.
Trachtenberg said the future holds more campaigns, with the University having little time to waste in the fundraising effort.
“My expectation is we will conclude this campaign, pat ourselves on the back and start on the next campaign,” Trachtenberg said.