Already paying tuition, parents triple donations to GW

Donations from parents increased almost three-fold last year after the University amplified its fundraising pitches to students’ families.

The University brought in about $8 million from parents last year, a 272 percent increase from the year before.

Michael Morsberger, vice president for development and alumni relations, credited more personal visits and an increased number of staffers dedicated to reaching out to parents.

“We’ve been much more direct in saying to parents, ‘This is a special place. You’ve entrusted your children to us. Help us give them the very best experience, even beyond tuition.’ And they’re responding to that,” Morsberger said.

Four full-time fundraising officers focus on parents, and two of those positions were filled recently, said Patricia Danver, senior executive director of development communications. Those staffers, along with the dozens of others who focus on regions across the globe, made more than 5,000 visits last year to about 34,000 potential donors, up from 4,331 the year before.

Danver said GW is “late to the game” compared to universities like New York and Duke that have long histories of intense fundraising. The more staff members who reach out to a specific population, the more likely that population will give, she said.

“It’s a contact sport. When more fundraisers are out, we get more parents and more people interested in being involved,” Danver said.

GW’s fundraising has mostly increased over the last five years, hitting its first downward slide last fiscal year. The Office of Development and Alumni Relations raised a total of $103 million, which compares to the $58.6 million raised during the 2007 fiscal year.

As the University prepares for a massive capital campaign that will likely aim to raise $1 billion or more, it will look to expand its traditionally small donor base, particularly alumni. About 10 percent of alumni give to the University annually.

The $8 million brought in from parents does not count parents who are also alumni, Morsberger said.

The surge in parent donations also comes from an increase in volunteers on the Parents Campaign Philanthropy Board, which now includes 50 families that have become de facto fundraising officers. They host events around the country and ask other parents they know to donate, Morsberger said.

Rodney Johnson, executive director of the Office of Parent Services, said more parents have felt connected to GW because of the support his office gives to parents trying to navigate the University’s bureaucracy. In turn, he said that prompts parents to donate more.

He said the more his office answers phone calls with “compassion” and helps parents quickly, the more they appreciate the University and want to give back.

“There’s a technology piece you have to keep up with. But when it comes right down to it, it’s how you communicate… how soon you get back to them, how well you listen,” Johnson said.

Paula Riordan and her husband, whose daughter Meagan will graduate this December and son John is a junior, have donated annually since fall 2009. They frequently fund departments such as the Center for Career Services and the School and Engineering and Applied Science.

Riordan said in an email that she and her husband started donating after her daughter got accepted to GW and they were asked to be on the Parents Campaign Philanthropy Board, which she said has prompted them to donate regularly.

“As both of my children attend GW, I feel very much a part of this community,” she said.

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