Fundraising holds steady in weak economy

University officials touted stable fundraising numbers this week, saying the fact that donations to GW have not declined this year is a hopeful sign in a weak economy.

The University raised $40 million in the first half of the fiscal year, the same amount it raised in the same period a year before.

Patricia Danver, a spokeswoman for the development office, said the amount raised between July 1 – the first day of the fiscal year – and Dec. 31 are promising indicators of economic recovery, citing a $6 million decrease in mid-year fundraising numbers two years ago.

“We are still seeing the effects of the economy, so it’s not surprising that our mid-year numbers are steady. The good news is that unlike many of our peers, we have not gone down from this point last year,” Danver said. “We are confident that as the economy improves and we continue to tell the GW story that the trajectory will be upwards.”

Danver said the total number of individuals who contributed to GW rose 14 percent from this time last year, meaning more donors are giving to GW, although they are giving less.

Alumni continue to donate the most to the University, in both dollars and the number of gifts, Danver said, followed by parents, faculty and staff.

Danver said the Power & Promise Fund – which funds financial aid – received the most money from area-specific donations.

Last December, an anonymous donor gave $100,000 to Power & Promise, part of an alumni challenge that brought in gifts from 10,000 GW graduates. In all, the challenge raised more than $5 million and was one of the most successful fundraisers this year, Danver said.

“The fundamental truth is that fundraising is always about relationships and engaging our community in GW,” Danver said. “We want our donors to understand the University’s goals and aspirations and become as excited about the future as we are.”

Kathryn Masterson, a staff reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, said GW’s stable mid-year report does not strike her as unusual.

“I think a lot of institutions are finding that their fundraising is flatter,” she said. “It might be up or might be down, it’s harder to find the big gifts that used to be given in the past.”

Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Michael Morsberger reiterated that building relationships is central to fundraising.

“We have been increasing our research efforts to be sure we are aligning our aspirations with our donors’ needs,” Morsberger said.

The office’s donor-centric approach to soliciting donations seeks to communicate the University’s needs to donors, as well as listen to their needs, through personal conversations, events and publications.

“We want our donors to understand the University’s goals and aspirations and become as excited about the future as we are,” Danver said.

Morsberger said his office has so far held off on establishing a fundraising goal for this year, even though the fiscal year ends in about five months.

Last fiscal year, the University raised a record-breaking $94 million, $37 million short of its $131 million goal.

“Determining a fundraising goal for the University is not a task we take lightly,” Morsberger said. “We are in the process of determining what goals are most realistic for schools and departments.”

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