Over the past five years, the Board of Trustees has been directing resources to the Office of Development and Alumni Relations in hopes of exponentially increasing the number of philanthropic contributions both alumni and others make to the University.
Though progress has been made – the University raised the largest amount in its 200-year history in 2009 – it has been a slow ascent. The $84 million the University raised in the fiscal year 2009, which runs from July 1 to June 30, landed it in the bottom third of research institutions of GW’s size, according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
That’s where the newly hired Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Michael Morsberger comes in.
The soft-spoken administrator is a fundraising heavyweight who led campaigns worth $500 million and $3 billion at both the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University. He believes the University has the means to double the amount of alumni contributions the University takes in over the next few years. He began his tenure April 5, and said he hit the ground running, meeting with students, parents, alumni and faculty to help create a culture of philanthropy at the University.
“I’ve spoken at a couple of CI events which are so much fun, and I’ve attended some Alumni Association functions and the Board of Trustees meetings,” Morsberger said in an interview with The Hatchet. “The excitement is palpable. You can feel it. Folks are just sort of like, ‘Tell us what to do. We’re ready. We love this place’.”
Morsberger said he sees the opportunity for philanthropic growth at GW.
“While I enjoyed great experiences at – most recently Duke, and at UVA and at Hopkins – I will say they’ve been in the fundraising game, they’ve enhanced their culture of philanthropy over 30, 40, 50, 100 years. We’re a little late to that dance,” Morsberger said.
He added that GW has, “all the ingredients for something exceptional.”
“Those other institutions I mentioned, their ability to grow is sort of incremental really, because they have been in it so long,” Morsberger said. “Here, I actually think we can grow … to potentially double digit kind of growth in the years ahead.”
Fundraising, Morsberger said, begins the second a student sets foot on campus. Students need to understand that their part as members of the GW community is more than just attending the University as an undergraduate or graduate student, that giving back is part of their responsibility. Morsberger said that mindset starts with ensuring students feel a connection to the University while they are attending GW, and that their communication with GW lasts once they become alumni.
“It’s reminding people that you are part of a very special enterprise here, and we want to keep you engaged in that enterprise, and one of the ways you can do that is by being a donor. Another way of doing that is by being a goodwill ambassador, that’s telling young people you should apply to GW; that’s helping us with a send-off for students who are coming to school in the fall, or through networking,” Morsberger said.
Morsberger added that publicizing what is going on at the University, and how donations could help fund research, events and financial aid at GW are also necessary to increase the amount of fundraising happening. The University has begun to publish its own e-mail newsletter, GW Today, which publicizes these types of events.
“It’s not enough to say we have needs, you have money. That’s not a case,” Morsberger said of asking for donations. “We have to show you how that will impact lives, how that will touch a patient, how that might affect a professor’s research, how that will cure cancer, or give someone of needs a scholarship. And we’ve got 101 of those stories, we’ve just got to go out there and tell them all.”