Fundraising on par for engineering hall

The University has raised $19 million toward the construction and support of the Science and Engineering Hall, outpacing administrators’ expectations.

Philanthropy as of March, led by seven-figure gifts from a handful of University heavyweights, marks the first phase of efforts to collect $100 million within the next decade.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger said no exact time frame has been set for fundraising commitments.

About $6 million of the money raised will pay for the building’s construction, which is estimated to tally $275 million.

Morsberger said the fundraising office has actively courted potential large donors, so far reaching out to a range of about 75 educational and science-related organizations requesting as many million dollars.

While a handful have made commitments, most are still considering donations – a process Morsberger said cannot be rushed.

“The economy’s been a little iffy for the past two years and when you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars, people have to talk to their accountants and bankers and things,” he said. “I remain optimistic.”

Morsberger added that the University has approached several potential “naming” donors, who would need to commit a $40 to $50 million gift to claim the title of the engineering hall.

“One gift of that size, and suddenly we’re halfway there,” Morsberger said.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz presented a decade-long projection of the hall’s financing at last December’s faculty senate meeting. Katz estimated that philanthropy will escalate over time – bringing in a total of about $10 million toward the science building by the close of fiscal year 2015, followed by double-digit hauls in each of the following seven years.

The cash funding report warned that “fundraising receipts are projections of expected cash flows” that depend on the timeframe and preferences of donors.

Pledge periods – the amount of time over which a donor spreads out payment of a gift – can span up to 10 years for large donations, Morsberger said.

University Trustee Mark Hughes made a $1 million donation this semester, which will ensure an auditorium in the building is named for former physics professor and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman. Lehman retired in 2010.

Trustee Scott Amey issued a challenged to School of Engineering and Applied Science alumni to raise $1 million by next summer – a sum he promises to match, which will then be added to the tally. Morsberger said alumni have met about 75 percent of Amey’s challenge to date.

“Every dollar is a good dollar,” Morsberger said. “It all benefits us.”

Of the total money raised, $13 million is dedicated to engineering programming and scholarships, which includes an $8 million donation by A. James Clark last fiscal year. Patricia Danver, a spokeswoman for the development office, said donors’ ability to direct their gifts toward specific initiatives within the Science and Engineering Hall has fueled “strong interest in this building.”

Dozens of other naming opportunities exist throughout the hall, including its aquatics suite and rooftop terrace.

Katz projected in December that the University would spend about $30 million on the new academic building in fiscal year 2012, which ends June 30. The following two years will each see more than triple that sum spent on the project, according to the proposed capital budget. The bulk of funding for the building will come from rent payments by tenants in The Avenue.

“So far, so good. I mean, we’ve got a long way to go,” Katz said of the University’s individualized approach to soliciting gifts. “This was something we were under-invested in, but we’re no longer underinvested in it.”

Last year, GW raked in more than $113 million in a record fundraising year. The University’s development staff tripled between 2005 and 2009 and saw a major restructuring under Morsberger in 2010 – part of an effort by the Board of Trustees to ramp up fundraising capabilities.

GW announced in October that it was in the planning phase for a comprehensive fundraising campaign, the goal and time frame of which have not yet been determined. All Science and Engineering Hall fundraising will count toward the multi-year effort.

Since the announcement of the comprehensive campaign, Morsberger has acknowledged that large gifts will play a major role in catapulting the University into the top tier of philanthropic institutions.

“If we can have double-digit growth year after year for the next six or seven or 10 years leading up to the bicentennial, we’ll go from what is a $100-, $110-million operation a year to a $200-million a year operation, and that’s what we want,” Morsberger said. “We want to have greater sustainable fundraising capacity, regardless of the project.”

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