Before $1 billion fundraising campaign, GW mobilizes closest alumni

GW is mobilizing 650 of its closest supporters to start laying the groundwork for its likely $1 billion fundraising campaign slated to launch this year.

The members of the 19 advisory boards make up some of the largest donor groups across GW’s colleges and departments, giving about 13 percent of total fundraising last fiscal year. But the University is also training the council members to court donors themselves, as fundraising officers feel pressure to expand GW’s historically narrow donor base.

Laura Taddeucci Downs, the head of the Council of Chairs, which advises the Board of Trustees, told the top governing body this month that the University could rely on council members – its “most committed insiders” – to help entice colleagues and friends to help support GW’s long-term goals.

“Our goal is to have these groups as strong as possible for the campaign,” Taddeucci Downs said.

Eighty-five percent of the members of the council donated last year, up 15 percent from the year before. Taddeucci Downs said she hopes to reach 100 percent in 2014.

The organization donated a total of $13.2 million last fiscal year.

Members will start learning about the campaign’s messaging at their summer retreat, preparing them to become on-the-ground fundraisers in their home cities.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger added that council members would play “a key role” in the success of the campaign because they act as philanthropic leaders and engage new donors.

“As key leadership bodies for the University, their engagement and participation sends an important message to others and they will play a key role in our success,” he said.

The University will have to fight off two nagging weaknesses if it is going fulfill what will become its largest fundraising campaign in history, likely launching this year. Only about 9 percent of alumni give back, and the University has failed to capture any mega-gifts to pay for scholarships or its half-billion dollars worth of construction projects.

That’s where the board advisors could help, though landing multimillion dollar donations often takes years of relationship-building and negotiation.

Mitch Blaser, chairman of the GW School of Business Board of Advisors, said that council members’ web of contacts “go beyond the average development officers’ span of influence.”

That effort could be as simple as a phone call, he said, adding that he became involved in the council after receiving a random call from another member of the business school council who shared his interests.

“We’re beyond the information age. We’re now in the age of instantaneous connectivity and we all know people,” Blaser said. “That may or may not be somebody who is an alum, it could also be an affiliation that has to do with the nature of the opportunity.”

Advisors across GW’s different boards also have high stakes, as many try to catapult themselves to the Board of trustees. Lauren Alperstein said she joined the Luther Rice Society Advisory Board to help recruit students to her alma mater from the south coast of Florida, where she now lives.

But after two years as a leading donor in the society, she said she’s set her sights on joining the top governing body, and thinks her experience on GW’s annual giving board will help sell her resume.

“I think you always aspire for more, and so I would hope that one day I’m more involved with the council so that I could be on the Board of Trustees,” Alperstein said.

Alperstein’s aspiration is not uncommon among her peers who serve on one of GW’s 19 advisory councils, helping deans run schools or weighing in on decisions about large departments, like the Office of Research.

While trustees nationwide are often looked at for potential fundraising capabilities, GW’s administrators and trustees contend that the Board does not pick new members based on financial capability – although philanthropy is expected, Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell said.

“GW has to be one of your philanthropic priorities,” Carbonell has said.

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