University lays out goals for academics, student support in $1 billion fundraising blitz

Media Credit: File photo by Desiree Halpern | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger will steer GW’s fundraising team through its first ever $1 billion campaign.

Updated: June 21, 2014 at 12:12 a.m.

The University announced Friday that it’s already reached the halfway point in its $1 billion fundraising goal.

After spending three years quietly courting donors as part of the campaign’s momentum-building phase, officials announced they will aim to raise the remaining funds by June 2018.

GW is looking to raise at least $400 million to swell its financial aid pool and fund student programs. It will earmark $500 million for hiring faculty and improving academics, as well as at least $100 million to cover construction projects across campus.

Those targets, laid out Friday as part of the official launch, will propel GW into its 200th year, University President Steven Knapp said. The funding pools will not only cover approved projects, like the creation of joint bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, but will also give donors the chance to pitch fresh ideas as long as they fall in line with GW’s broad goals.

The campaign will try to institutionalize a culture of alumni giving, Knapp said, which comes as GW’s finances depend more on strong annual fundraising to keep the University competitive with peer schools.

“One of the hopes is that when we finish the campaign, we’ll be at a higher level of annual giving than we’ve been at,” Knapp said. “That’s how institutions build their resources and endowments and become the strongest universities.”

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Knapp said the historic fundraising campaign coincides with the University’s decade-long strategic plan.

GW fundraising chief Mike Morsberger pitched potential launch dates to the Board of Trustees three times this year, and at each session trustees debated whether the University had pulled in enough to publicly commit to a $1 billion goal.

Georgetown University took about five years to announce its ongoing $1.5 billion campaign. Vanderbilt University also spent four years planning and courting donors before launching its $2 billion effort.

GW’s strongest push came this spring when billionaire philanthropists Michael Milken and Sumner Redstone donated a combined $80 million to the public health school, energizing the community for the official launch.

The University will have to struggle to overcome a lackluster fundraising history, but Knapp said GW fundraisers will get a boost from hundreds of volunteers, including parents, alumni and trustees.

As part of the public launch, those volunteers spent hours Friday learning the best ways to convey their enthusiasm for GW to potential donors, as well as skills to quickly hone in on a prospect’s interests.

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“It’s really a matter of listening to the donor to find out what that person is interested in and then understanding how you can connect that with GW’s goals,” Knapp said. “There are actually techniques. It’s everything from making eye contact to listening to them. Don’t try to tell jokes if you’re not funny.”

Those workshops allowed them to practice meeting potential donors and easing into a conversation about giving, he said. The best way to do that, Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell said, is by steering the conversation to why they volunteer.

“We want our volunteers to tell their own stories,” Carbonell said. “They’re learning how to tell their story about why they volunteer their time.”

Conversations with donors are most successful when their passions are able to shape programs at GW, Morsberger said. They have to match with the University’s interests, but if a donor funds a specific topic of research, for example, that focus will last down the line.

Redstone’s gift to the public health school, totaling $30 million, highlights how a donor’s interests can impact a school’s trajectory: His seed money is meant to help focus the school on obesity and prevention research.

“When a donor’s needs meet our institution’s aspirations, that’s when the magic happens. We’re trying to find that intersection,” Morsberger said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW was looking to raise $500 million to support financial aid and student programs. The University is actually trying to raise $400 million for those purposes. We regret this error.

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