Fundraising chief hints at a string of mega donations

Media Credit: Miranda Houchins | Hatchet Photographer
The Science and Engineering Hall will open in January 2015, but still needs more donations to cover costs. The University is on the verge of several large gifts.

Fundraising has been declining so far this academic year, but a top administrator hinted this week that the University will likely receive several large donations and finish with a record-breaking haul by the summer.

Donations slipped a few percentage points so far this year, after a $17 million fundraising slump last year. But in a rare announcement of potential gifts, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Michael Morsberger said multiple big donations will likely come to fruition this year.

“It’s not all wrapped up with a bow on it, but we expect to have two or three major gift announcements sometime this winter or spring,” Morsberger said. “The timing of those things is dependent on the donors. It’s their money.”

Media Credit: Samuel Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer
The School of Public Health and Health Services building will open by March.

He said he was “pretty confident” that the gifts will put 2014’s fundraising total over the largest total in its history, when GW raised $120 million in 2012. That total included the largest gift in its history: $25 million toward the GW Museum and Textile Museum.

Multi-million dollar gifts would help GW’s fundraising rebound after last year, when the office saw its first decline in five years. With a more than $1 billion campaign about to go public, likely in 2014, Morsberger said it would help the campaign start strong.

Michael Nilsen, vice president for public affairs at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said it’s common for colleges try to gain momentum near a campaign by waiting to announce large gifts.

“When you’re having a big campaign, you want to come out strong,” Nilsen said. “Major donors are looking at that campaign.”

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger said the University expects to surpass its largest ever fundraising total this year.

For years, fundraisers have searched for large donors to name the soon-to-open Science and Engineering Hall and the School of Public Health and Health Sciences building, as well as the GW School of Business. The University has raised less than 10 percent of what it needs for the science building, and administrators have been gunning to name the business school for the past few years.

But GW has struggled to bag large gifts compared to its peers. In nearly 200 years in Foggy Bottom, GW has counted just 10 gifts that top $10 million. The University’s largest gift is far behind that of Georgetown University which received a $100 million gift last fall to go toward its $1.5 billion campaign.

On average, university campaigns rely on large donors for more than three-quarters of the total gift amount.

Amid slow-growing endowments nationwide, more universities are putting more effort toward fundraising to make up for declining tuition levels. Ken Redd, the director of research and policy analysis at the National Association of Colleges and University Business Officers, said part of that is because of the high demand for financial aid.

“More schools understand the struggles families are facing financially and increasing financial aid support through fundraising is one key way of supporting students during the continuing struggles many are still facing,” Redd said.

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