In the summer of 2014, officials launched the largest fundraising campaign in the University’s history, clinking champagne glasses with well-heeled donors at the Mount Vernon estate.
Nearly three years, 65,000 donors and countless global fundraising trips later, officials were once again toasting champagne – this time in the Marvin Center with the outgoing senior class – as they announced the campaign had surpassed its $1 billion goal Friday. Experts said the campaign’s success – meeting its target one year earlier than originally scheduled – demonstrated that officials had effectively engaged donors in the effort, showcasing the direct impact that their contributions would have on students and faculty.
The announcement marked the signature achievement of the University’s efforts to use donations to fund campus projects rather than dipping into tuition revenue. But even as the milestone passed, officials said there were still areas of the University – like the medical program – that had not been fully explored as sources of donations.
Board of Trustees Chairman Nelson Carbonell announced Friday that the campaign would still collect donations until its official end June 30.
University President Steven Knapp said that he hoped GW could set even more ambitious fundraising targets in the future, especially for student aid.
“Once you set the bar at a certain level, you want to keep exceeding that,” Knapp said.
Inside the campaign
Donations to the campaign funded everything from student scholarships to endowed faculty positions, construction projects and even the University’s athletic program.
Most of the donations — 59 percent — went to academic priorities, helping to attract top-ranked faculty, buy new equipment and provide scholarships for students with unpaid internships. The Knowledge in Action Career Internship fund received $200,000 in donations from alumni, parents and trustees.
Eighteen percent of the money raised from the campaign funded new research projects – a major focus of Knapp’s tenure – while 17 percent was funneled into scholarships and fellowships for students known as the “Power and Promise Campaign,” according to the campaign’s website.
The fundraising blitz raised $170 million for student financial aid, Knapp said in an interview Friday. But he said officials should focus on attracting even more donations for student aid in the future.
“It helps us competitively because then we don’t have to take as much money out of our tuition revenues because we’re getting scholarships philanthropically,” he said. “Which means we can spend those resources on other things that will enhance our university.”
Richard Ammons, a senior consultant at Marts and Lundy, a firm that advises organizations conducting fundraising campaigns, said the way donations are spent varies based on a university’s priorities, but the variety of areas that received funding from the $1 billion campaign could have encouraged more people to donate.
“It’s good when a campaign identifies a variety of ways in which people can get involved because not all donors want to support the same thing,” Ammons said.
Knapp said the success of the campaign came in part from being able to show alumni and donors how their money is helping the vision of the University.
“You want to find out what people are passionate about and what you want to do is marry their passion with what the University needs,” Knapp said.
The Milken Institute of Public Health received a total of $80 million from Michael Milken and Summer Redstone in 2014 – the largest donation for the campaign and in the University’s history.
The University also attracted a $3 million donation to the career center and $2 million to career services in the business school from former Trustee Mark Shenkman. In return, the University renamed the Ivory Tower residence hall Shenkman Hall in 2014.
Josh Newton, the president and CEO of the fundraising department at the University of Connecticut, said if the University wants to continue successfully fundraising, officials should take time after the campaign – and as a new president takes over – to assess the University’s standing and update their fundraising priorities.
“In a couple years, I think the institutions will want to then align another campaign with the academic needs of a new president, new leadership,” he said.
Officials and faculty said during the presidential search last semester that they wanted the new president to focus on innovative fundraising strategies.
Knapp said the campaign was a way to not only fund University projects, but also to engage alumni in GW’s goals. The University has historically lagged behind its peers in attracting alumni donations, but 41,000 of the 65,000 donors to the campaign were alumni.
Knapp said in future fundraising drives, the officials should focus on garnering donations for student aid and reach out to patients from the University’s medical programs, an area he said other universities had tapped into for donations.
“It’s kind of an unrealized potential, something that’s out there that we haven’t had a chance to do,” Knapp said.
Brian Gowar, vice president of research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a fundraising consulting company for universities, said institutions are increasingly tying the end of major campaigns to events on campus, like Knapp’s impending departure as University president.
“You have to remember in a billion dollar campaign people will make truly transformational commitments,” he said. “What we’re seeing with donors is that they want to be really involved and engaged during their lifetimes.”
He said that a tiny fraction of all universities nationwide would be able to launch and complete a campaign like GW’s because it requires extensive resources to create engaging campaign material and attract a broad, diverse group of donors.
Duke and Wake Forest universities launched campaigns to raise $1 billion around the same time as GW, most recently with Duke raising $3.25 billion a year ahead of schedule from their 2012 launch.
Gowar said after a university completes a major fundraising drive, most launch another campaign after taking a few years to adjust fundraising strategies and showcase the impact of donations to the campaign.
“And then we do find that after a period of time institutions strategically think about things and probably go into planning another campaign within a few years,” he said.
Liz Konnecker, Callie Schiffman and Leah Potter contributed reporting.