The new head of the University’s Office of Development outlined broad plans for increasing fundraising and called for the creation of a culture of philanthropy at GW Wednesdayduring a meeting announcing his appointment to the position.
Starting April 5, the University’s new vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, Michael Morsberger, will lead GW’s efforts to increase fundraising. A fundraising heavyweight, he most recently served as the vice president of development at Duke Medicine and has helped lead major fundraising efforts at the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins, including two campaigns worth $500 million and $3 billion. On Wednesday morning, he explained why he has spent more than two decades fundraising for universities.
“I’ll never have a Ph.D. I’ll never win a Nobel Prize. I may never be a multi-millionaire. But I get to bring the two together. It’s neat stuff,” Morsberger said, adding that development offices match departments and interesting ideas with people and organizations with resources available to make the big ideas happen.
Morsberger, who comes to a University that is in the midst of multiple major fundraising projects and has set a goal of bringing in $131 million for fiscal year 2010, said it was too early to get into the specifics of how he would revamp the Development and Alumni Relations department, but mentioned he felt GW’s medical center could be the source of more donors.
“I do hope that because much of my work has dealt with grateful patients and the medicine side that I’m able to particularly accelerate what’s going on at the medical center and medical school because I think that’s one area in which we’ve underperformed relative to fundraising,” Morsberger said. “I don’t think that’s going to hurt anybody’s feelings, it’s just real.”
Creating a culture of philanthropy is key to achieving the administration’s fundraising goals, Morsberger said. He called GW “a great institution” and said the University is “on the rise,” but noted there has not been a history of solid fundraising until recent years.
GW ranked among the bottom of institutions of higher education in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual Philanthropy 400. Among the 118 universities on the list, only 14 ranked lower than GW in fiscal year 2008, putting the University in the 104th spot among institutions of higher education.
To maximize the University’s fundraising efforts, Morsberger said he would like to hire a consultant to examine how peer schools raise money, including the sizes of their development staffs and their fundraising goals.
“We need to know where we stand in that mix of things,” Morsberger said. He added, “All things considered, the development shop has a good reputation as an outsider looking in and some great professionals, but I think maybe where we’ve been lacking is what are their marching orders. Besides just, ‘go raise money,’ I don’t think we’ve been particularly assertive in saying these are the priorities of this institution and lets focus on those.”
Morsberger said a list of fundraising priorities will be compiled by the summer but that some already-announced projects, such as the Science and Engineering Complex, will be on the list. In addition, Morsberger said he has been given a mandate by University President Steven Knapp to establish a new, specialized fundraising campaign.
“We’re raising money everyday, but a campaign means that we’ve identified areas, that we’re marshalling resources, we’ve got a sense of urgency, a designed period of time, a message, and we try to, you know, get everybody to jump on the bandwagon and be part of something special that only happens once every 10 or 20 years,” he said, adding that details for the campaign are still to be worked out.
Morsberger stressed the importance of reaching out to older alumni, who give to the University at lower rates than young alumni.
“The good news is that younger alumni give at a greater participation rate than older. So we’ve got this whole cadre of people in their 20s and 30s that had a special experience and are committed to the place,” Morsberger said, adding that, “Those folks who graduated in the 40s and 50s, 60s, we’ve got to re-engage them and I don’t think that’s just going to happen through the mail.”
While acknowledging that large gifts compose a significant part of development, Morsberger emphasized the importance of cultivating donors.
“The reality is that you would have no lifeline or pipeline of big donors if you didn’t start early,” Morsberger said. “Nobody goes from zero to a million dollars overnight.”
Bill Dean, executive director of Development and Alumni Affairs at Duke Medicine, said he has worked with Morsberger for eight years at Johns Hopkins, Virginia and Duke. Dean said Morsberger has been a “terrific partner to work with,” saying that Morsberger’s strength is his “donor-centric” approach to fundraising,
“GW’s gain is our loss,” Dean said.