Goodbye gifts: Knapp sets out on fundraising trips during final semester

University President Steven Knapp is jetting off during his final few months at GW, touching down in at least six more cities this spring to attend conferences and lock in donations.

Graphic by Yonah Bromberg Gaber | Graphics Eidtor

Coordinate System: Albers Equal Area Conic
Map Source: ESRI
Source: University spokesperson Candace Smith

Knapp told the Board of Trustees at their meeting earlier this month that this will be a “busy semester” for travel as he meets, for the final time as president, with remote alumni communities and finalizes outstanding gifts from international donors. He will visit alumni and prospective donors in Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Mexico City and parts of the Middle East.

These trips, which began last weekend when he attended a climate conference at Arizona State University, are the last chance for him to nail down donations he’s been working toward over the past few years.

Knapp has traveled extensively during his time as president, both domestically and internationally. Faculty and experts say his jet-setting ways are common for university leaders, especially as their terms come to an end, and are essential to building the University’s global reputation and pulling in foreign donations.

University spokeswoman Candace Smith said in an email that these trips are part of the University’s efforts to close out the $1 billion fundraising campaign. She did not confirm what cities in the Middle East Knapp will visit, saying that the details of the trip are still being worked out.

While most of the stops on Knapp’s farewell tour will involve him speaking on panels, participating in conferences and attending alumni events, the two international trips to Mexico and the Middle East will be to meet with “a number of prospective donors,” he said in an interview.

Gifts from foreign donors have been a significant part of the University’s philanthropic cash flow during Knapp’s time as president. Some of his visits with donors during these trips will likely lock in the final few donations of the $1 billion campaign, he said, which is less than $32 million away from reaching its goal.

Over the past seven fiscal years, monetary gifts from foreign donors have totaled nearly $20 million, according to self-reported data catalogued by the Department of Education. The most profitable time period of foreign fundraising was in fiscal year 2013, when the University brought in more than $6.6 million from those donors.

The relationship between the University and wealthy members of its foreign network has also led to numerous revenue-generating partnerships, like the University’s exchange program with Koç University in Turkey. When setting up this partnership, Knapp spent a week in Turkey with Mustafa Koç, a billionaire and alumnus of the GW School of Business’ master’s program, who died last year.

Knapp said in an interview that bonding with the University’s international alumni network is a way to engage young alumni and increase their giving rates. GW has alumni in more than 150 countries around the world, with the largest populations in South Korea, Taiwan, China and Japan.

“Anywhere you go in the world there’s going to be GW alumni,” Knapp said. “The more we can build a sense of community here on campus before students graduate, the better job we’ll do at engaging young alumni once they do graduate.”

During his upcoming trips, Knapp will attend alumni receptions and one-on-one meetings with alumni and donors. He said alumni enjoy hearing about what’s happening on campus and taking advantage of the opportunity to network with other alumni in their areas.

“They really appreciate hearing what’s going on back in their intellectual and cultural home here in the nation’s capital,” he said.

Jeremy Gosbee, the president of the Alumni Association, said in an email that although visiting alumni in other countries is an expectation for a university president, Knapp has been particularly dedicated to strengthening GW’s worldwide network because of the University’s reputation as a global institution.

“His efforts are always appreciated and well-received,” Gosbee said. “I’m grateful for all the efforts he has made to connect our alumni back to GW, whether that’s here in D.C. or in the farthest reaches of the globe.”

Michael Morsberger, the chief executive officer for the University of Central Florida Foundation and former vice president for development and alumni relations at GW, said alumni who feel closer to the University by meeting the president face-to-face and hearing updates about campus are more likely to donate generously.

He added that it’s important for leaders to “go where the money is” to bring in substantial gifts, rather than wait for wealthy alumni to make donations.

“In hockey you go to where the puck’s going,” Morsberger said. “And that’s kind of what the development office is doing and Dr. Knapp there, they’re going to where the constituents are and where the philanthropy potentially is.”

Morsberger said that because nearly 20 percent of GW’s students are international, University leaders need to continue strengthening global alumni ties.

As GW approaches its June deadline for the fundraising campaign, international donations are part of the reason they will reach the $1 billion goal one year before the original deadline, Morsberger said.

Charles Garris, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said that while establishing solid relationships with wealthy alumni can bring in large gifts, it does not always immediately pay off. Knapp’s international visits can help boost GW’s reputation around the globe, which translates to donations down the road, he said.

“Sometimes having a strong presence in different countries, especially with the alumni, enhances the reputation of the University,” Garris said. “I think having the president go there and meet with the alumni and meet with recruiting people and show interest in the country does enhance that.”

Shannon Rose, the associate director for International Alumni Engagement at the University of Oregon, said these types of trips encourage alumni who do not live locally, and therefore are less likely to follow GW sports and news, to give.

“In Asia or even in Europe, you know you can’t rely so much on your sports teams to kind of keep your alumni engaged,” Rose said. “On a national level, it’s easy to keep people engaged because the sports are always in the news, but whereas on the international level, the timing doesn’t always work out, so you can’t get people together to watch a Ducks game because it’s at 2 a.m.”

Fiona Byon contributed reporting.

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