A yacht docking at a National Harbor resort will take trustees and donors to the estate of the University’s namesake June 20, where they will celebrate the formal launch of GW’s first $1 billion fundraising campaign.
At the Mount Vernon estate, hundreds of attendees will clink champagne glasses as top officials reveal the details of the landmark campaign they have carefully planned over the past three years, according to documents obtained by The Hatchet.
The event will be the highlight of the annual three-day retreat for trustees and members of schools’ governing councils. By the time they arrive at George Washington’s former home, they will have already spent hours watching videos and receiving training from GW’s fundraising team on how to bring in donations themselves.
“Hundreds and hundreds of donors and volunteers are coming together for the retreat, and at the big dinner on one night, that certainly would be a good time to launch something,” a University insider said.
The formal launch will set off a wave of alumni outreach as officials look to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for financial aid and to hire a core of top-tier professors – ideas that were laid out in the strategic plan that trustees approved last year.
GW’s fundraising chief Mike Morsberger has said that his office will aim to raise at least $1 billion, but administrators will announce the exact target and the campaign’s end date with the official launch. They will also break down dollar goals for financial aid, construction and academic support funds.
Administrators have kept the launch date under wraps for the last three years, as they have quietly solicited donors to give to the University during the campaign’s momentum-building phase. GW now boasts a $300 million haul that will count toward its comprehensive goal.
Donors to become fundraisers
Dubbed “The Campaign for GW,” trustees and top donors will learn how to weave campaign taglines like “We can’t do it alone” into conversations with alumni and potential donors, according to internal documents. They will also attend breakout sessions with titles such as “What do I say when…” to equip them with the tools to deliver a consistent message.
Sessions held by Morsberger, Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles and chair of the Board’s fundraising committee Steve Ross will be spread throughout the morning on Friday. Board chair Nelson Carbonell and University President Steven Knapp, who both did not return requests for comment, will also address the trustees during the weekend.
This will be the most formal training that trustees and school directors have undergone in recent years. But one GW leader who has attended the retreats said trustees and school council members already have the necessary experience to make a successful fundraising pitch.
“If you believe in a story and you have some facts, you’ll do a great job. We feel comfortable telling the GW story already, but these retreats are about learning even more,” he said.
He added that the University extends retreat invitations to school council and other community members about once every four years, particularly when the agenda centers on big news. The last conference focused on the strategic plan, which top administrators have said will usher in a “decade of transformation” on campus.
Volunteering to bring new donors into the fold
Hundreds of top donors, who fundraisers have quietly courted over the past three years, will attend the launch party, which means billionaire philanthropists Michael Milken and Sumner Redstone could make an appearance.
Their combined $80 million gifts to the public health school this spring elevated GW’s fundraising portfolio and energized the community for the fundraising blitz. They were also the brightest green light for trustees, who had debated at three Board meetings this year whether the University had pulled in enough to publicly commit to a $1 billion goal, insiders say.
The campaign dialogue will rally around those gifts as fundraisers hope to land other donations that break the $50 million mark.
Before Milken and Redstone’s donations, GW counted just 10 gifts that topped $10 million in its history. As competitors across the nation raked in $100 million donations, GW’s largest-ever gift was just $25 million.
GW is still looking for big gifts to name the business school, which comes with a price tag of at least $50 million, and another multi-million dollar donation toward the Science and Engineering Hall.
Bart Kogan, who gave $500,000 to name the on-campus plaza 15 years ago, said next week’s party will mark the first time GW has marketed a fundraising effort this enthusiastically.
“They’ve had various dinners honoring donors after the fact, but this is new to have a big kick-off dinner. They have the staff now to plan this and bring us into the big leagues,” Kogan said.
His relatively small gift in 1999, by today’s standards, landed him on the list of GW’s largest donors of all time, highlighting just how far the University had fallen behind other colleges. But the campaign will look to transform GW’s reputation for having a weak alumni giving base.
Kogan said he would travel from Los Angeles for the event.
“It’s bigger than the Oscars, I’m telling you,” Kogan said. “It will build enthusiasm and a buzz that we’re the real deal.”
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to say how much the launch party would cost.
Carbonell and Alumni Association president Steve Frenkil also unveiled the plans to several members of the organization Friday, explaining the details of the launch and the role GW alumni would play in the campaign.
National data suggests that college campaigns of $1 billion or more rely on alumni to donate at least a third of the total haul. At GW, about 10 percent of alumni currently donate each year.
Frenkil declined to provide specifics, saying “the Alumni Association will certainly play a critical role in the campaign, but we are not in a position to share these details until after the University has officially launched.”