Staff Editorial: GW should set a higher fundraising goal

If you were skeptical that GW would be successful in its goal of fundraising $1 billion by 2018, you aren’t alone.

GW brought in about $550 million in 11 years with its last campaign, which ended in 2003. At the start of the $1 billion campaign, the University didn’t have a long history of huge donations. And alumni giving rates have historically lagged in comparison to peer schools.

That’s why it’s so refreshing, and a bit surprising, that GW has already raised nearly 80 percent of its goal for the “Making History” campaign, putting it years ahead of schedule. Now, officials are tasked with deciding whether to end the campaign once it reaches $1 billion, or expand it — either by its length, its goal or both.

At the end of August, University President Steven Knapp said he’ll talk to the Board of Trustees about how to handle the rest of the campaign. Students might expect officials to wrap things up once they hit $1 billion, but they’ve proven they can be successful and shouldn’t stop. While the momentum is strong, it makes sense for officials to push their luck just a bit further.

It wouldn’t be wise to extend the deadline, though, as experts seem to agree that it can lead to donors getting tired of the campaign — and tired of giving.

We aren’t fundraising experts, so we aren’t going to tell GW how high to set its fundraising bar. There are probably conversations taking place behind the scenes, and it’s good that officials are weighing their options carefully. But the new goal should be on par with similar campaigns run by peer schools like Georgetown University, which is close to finishing its own $1.5 billion campaign. On the higher end of the spectrum, Duke University is working toward a $3.25 billion goal.

Whatever GW decides, officials should set new goals for key areas and court donors with those interests. The University has already pledged $400 million to financial aid and student programs, $500 million to faculty and academics and $100 million to construction. These categories are admittedly vague, and it’s understandable to be wary of where the University will actually put the money it raises.

But in an ideal world, anything raised over $1 billion should be split equally between faculty and student interests — both of which are important to the community. However, it’s crucial that the University avoids spending any of the extra funds on brand new construction projects.

Enormous new buildings shouldn’t be a priority for GW right now, especially after the fundraising debacle that accompanied the completion of the Science and Engineering Hall last year. It’s clear that donors want to invest in people with whom they feel connected — not mortar and brick.

The latest campaign has been so successful because it allows some donors to connect with professors whose departments and research will directly benefit from contributions. This method of fundraising has allowed faculty to get involved by showcasing their own work and research, which is sure to be a morale booster.

And alumni donors are likely energized by the prospect of helping to increase the value of their degrees through better, more robust research. GW is a much different institution than it was 20 or even 10 years ago, and the changes keep coming. Alumni should be excited at the prospect of helping to push GW into the future, both for the University’s benefit and for their own.

It’s essential that the University capitalizes on the fundraising momentum of the past few years by setting a higher goal. It will help GW create a culture of giving, something officials have been working to boost, and can lead to a more consistent stream of alumni gifts.

With the chance to go beyond $1 billion, the University has the unique opportunity to exceed expectations — and they should take advantage of it.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with managing director Rachel Smilan-Goldstein, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design assistant Samantha LaFrance and copy editor Brandon Lee.

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