Development office bulks up staffing

The University’s fundraising arm is settling into its restructured model and developing a strategy that top administrators hope will usher the institution away from its dependence on tuition revenue.

Searches for nine new and existing administrative positions – including an assistant vice president for development and several school-specific fundraising directorships – are underway, with a focus on improving alumni relationships and bringing in large gifts.

“We’re trying to become more philanthropy-dependent and less tuition-dependent,” University President Steven Knapp said. “Students who graduate today will benefit from the reputational growth of the University in coming years.”

Net tuition revenue is GW’s largest source of income, accounting for more than half of all funds to cover staff and faculty salaries and benefits, student scholarships, supplies, equipment and other expenses.

Intensified development will help keep GW’s roughly 3 percent tuition increases in check and provide resources to fund campus initiatives, Knapp said. Expanding philanthropy at GW has been a priority of the executive since his hiring in 2007.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the Board of Trustees before my arrival for having really planned to increase the investment in fundraising and realize that it would pay off in the long-run,” Knapp said.

A goal and time frame for the multi-year fundraising campaign will be approved this summer by the Board of Trustees, although its “quiet phase” will continue until the public launch.

The Division of Development and Alumni Relations, which oversees the University’s fundraising operations, employs about 200 staffers and administrators, department spokeswoman Patricia Danver said Tuesday.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger said he expects to increase staff by about 10 percent “over the course of several years,” in preparation for the 2014 launch of a comprehensive fundraising campaign.

Morsberger’s staff is evaluating which schools and departments may benefit from additional development staff in the future.

“We have to build a relationship. That takes people,” he said.

The division underwent major restructuring with Morsberger’s arrival in 2010, after tripling its staff between 2005 and 2009. The Board of Trustees prompted the overhaul after a study of some market basket schools showed development offices four times the size of GW’s that outpaced its fundraising coffers, Morsberger said.

“We just hadn’t in any aggressive fashion asked or made this a priority or made this a culture of giving back in philanthropy,” Morsberger said.

Since Knapp’s arrival, the number of alumni events has increased from about 200 to more than 300, Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations Adrienne Rulnick said.

About 10 percent of alumni make annual donations, a figure Morsberger hopes to see hit 20 percent by the end of the next decade.

Vacant development positions in the GW School of Business and the School of Public Health and Health Services are geared toward raking in large gifts. As the University rolls out its campaign, seven-figure donations will play a significant role, Morsberger said.

The University typically sees between six and 12 gifts of more than $1 million per year, he said, estimating that 80 percent of donations come from one-fifth of donors.

During the 2011 fiscal year, GW raised a record $113 million. This year’s goal stands at $119.5 million – a target the University will likely meet or surpass, Morsberger said in January.

“Much of the work of restructuring has been to increase the strength of the front-line fundraising and alumni relations teams,” Morsberger said. “Given the record fundraising results in last year along with increased alumni engagement it has been a worthwhile investment.”

The Board of Trustees approves the division’s budget annually, which covers their operations, personnel and outreach. While funding has remained relatively steady during Morsberger’s time at GW, he said his office has made an effort to be more efficient by consolidating travel, publication and event expenses.

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