You are here


Reaching Higher

Success in campaign completion with today’s ambitious fundraising goals
University Business, May 2012
Loyola Marymount University’s dreams and ambitions included the $64 million William H. Hannon Library, which opened in 2009, thanks to campaign donors, and houses more than 500,000 volumes.
Loyola Marymount University’s dreams and ambitions included the $64 million William H. Hannon Library, which opened in 2009, thanks to campaign donors, and houses more than 500,000 volumes.

A couple of years into the initial, silent phase of Loyola Marymount University’s fundraising campaign, Dennis Slon stepped into his role as senior vice president for university relations and the chair of the board of trustees confided something about the campaign’s $300 million goal. The previous campaign had finished in 1997 and raised $144 million. So when the board first discussed more than doubling that goal this time, “there was a lot of intake of breath,” Slon explains.

The feasibility study of donors and collection of campus needs used to arrive at the goal weren’t off base, however. If anything, stopping there would leave money on the table. “Right Place. Right Time. The Campaign for LMU” publicly launched in 2005, with a target end date of 2009. At that time, Slon and his development team couldn’t help but notice “a great opportunity for us to celebrate in a big way”—the LMU Centennial, which concludes this month. They also recognized more donors to engage. Officials increased the target to $380 million.

As of mid-March, with $395 million raised, Slon was confident it would reach $400 million by its conclusion. Were LMU officials still waiting to exhale? Most certainly not.

Across the country, Boston College was beginning the silent phase of its “Light the World” campaign when LMU was publicly launching. The target: $1.5 billion. Thomas P. Lockerby, vice president for development and campaign director, recalls the feeling of anticipation. “It was obviously extremely ambitious, but also exciting. BC has been on this incredible growth trajectory really for four decades. The strategic plan [developed just before the campaign] was about cementing that growth, but really about trying to accelerate that growth in some key areas,” he shares.

The billion-dollar higher ed campaign wasn’t new. Just ask Rae Goldsmith, vice president for advancement resources at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. In 2010, CASE research uncovered 26 institutions with in-progress or completed campaigns of $2 billion or more, and 59 others with goals of at least $1 billion. “Most schools try to be realistic,” Goldsmith says. “But they also stretch themselves. You don’t want to set a goal up front that you know you can’t achieve. You do want to be ambitious and optimistic.”

Even in a tough economy? “Billion-dollar campaigns started pre-recession, but they stopped being announced when the recession hit,” she notes. The past year has seen a resurgence of large campaigns. That includes the largest ever announced—“The Campaign for the University of Southern California,” which launched in September 2011 with a $6 billion target—and the largest concluded—“The Stanford Challenge,” which hit $6.2 billion by February 2012. No one needs reminders of the need to be aggressive. But, donor dollars are becoming a bit easier to secure as they become more confident about the state of the economy.
For those who aren’t directly involved in fundraising but may be curious about the inner workings of a campaign—especially one with mega goals—here are 10 burning campaign planning and operations questions, answered.

How are goals set?

First, officials typically examine the institution’s goals and what would be needed to meet them, says Goldsmith. A feasibility study will show if those kinds of projects resonate with donors. During the recession, she noticed several short, mini campaigns with financial aid-related goals. For Boston College, the new strategic plan focused, in part, on the “broadest possible access for students regardless of ability to pay,” says Lockerby. Top insider donors were engaged to see how they’d react to a call for significant financial aid funding and other priorities. Testing the ideas and generating early gifts revealed that a goal of $1 billion to $2 billion was attainable.

The University of Cincinnati’s pre-launch phase was so successful, the initial target of $800 million was raised to $1 billion. It was the right reach. “Currently we’re at $877 million,” reports Bill Mulvihill, executive director of the University of Cincinnati Foundation, with the eight-year campaign scheduled for June 2013 completion.

How are projects prioritized as funding comes in?

With LMU’s campaign, which focused on financial aid and scholarships, faculty recruitment and retention, and new facilities, various schools received funds. Slon says one could think of the distribution like a matrix, with bricks-and-mortar money, current use money, and endowment money going to each division. “That’s one way to make sure everyone feels connected. This is a team effort. Comprehensive campaigns really do rely on everybody being committed to the goals.”

Institutional needs and priorities can be pretty broad and money does not have to be evenly divided across campus, Goldsmith asserts. “It’s not that you need something for every academic department to make sure they’re behind the campaign.” When the recession hit, priorities shifted toward operations and financial aid. Now they’re shifting back to capital projects and endowments.

How do schools manage during recessions?

“We, arguably, had more success after the economic downturn than before,” shares Beth Stroble, president of Webster University (Mo.). Launched publicly in 2010, the $55 million “Webster Works” campaign recently reached its goal. David Lamb, a senior solutions consultant for Target Analytics, a division of Blackbaud, says that, anecdotally, clients’ campaigns have been successful despite the recession, adding that a few were put on hold. “Rather than failing at reaching their goal, they just paused.”

How are potential big donors found?

In any campaign, prospective donors need to be actively engaged. “[Donors] get nothing tangible back,” points out Brian Kish, senior vice president for central development at the University of Arizona, which wrapped up its last campaign (meeting a $1 billion goal) in 2005. “They might get some recognition or tax breaks, but that’s not the driving factor. It’s to help them accomplish their own personal goals. You need to match university needs with their needs. When you find that crossover, the magic happens.”

“Before the financial crisis, chief development officers could kind of rely on their evergreen donors,” says Andy Reeher, founder and president of Reeher LLC, which offers a fundraising platform. New prospects—those with giving capacity—now matter much more. “Big campaign results have been driven by very large gifts,” he adds. “They’re driven by hedge fund managers, not hardware store owners.” In fact, according to the 2011 CASE Campaign Report, for campaigns with goals of more than $1 billion, 87 percent of total campaign dollars were provided by the top 1 percent of donors; the top 10 percent of donors accounted for 97 percent of total dollars.

Systems such as the Reeher Platform, Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge, and Equilar Atlas (which U of Arizona uses)—or advancement modules of an ERP system—help find those big donors. It’s an obvious fact: Development teams “don’t have time to ask everyone for a million dollars,” says Lamb. Technology can be used to cull 100,000 prospects down to 10,000. Further analysis, which in the past may have always been outsourced to a company like Blackbaud but now can be done with the help of software by an in-house analytics team, matches that group of names against other asset indicators. “The ideal is to find a consistent donor who is loyal to the institution but giving below their ability. That person probably just needs to be invited to give,” Lamb says.
Stroble concurs. “You don’t make an ask, you don’t get a gift.”

Technology can reveal, for example, which alumni own stock in public companies and who invests in real estate, Kish says, adding that this data helps officers know when and how to ask.

‘Big campaign results have been driven by very large gifts. They’re driven by hedge fund managers, not hardware store owners.’ —Andy Reeher, Reeher LLC

So technology is the key to campaign success?

It may unlock the door, but relationships actually open it. “The biggest misconception that we run into is that technology will save the day. It’s always been a person-to-person business and it always will be,” says Lamb. “People believe you can Google and find everything about everybody, but for most people, evidence of wealth is hidden.” Look only at public wealth, and “a lot of people remain invisible as major prospects,” he adds.

How does development track progress?

BC’s regular campaign reports, among other data, show the percent of goal reached; the balance of gifts from large, mid-level, and small donors; and the balance of gifts between different constituencies, such as corporations versus individuals or undergraduates versus graduates. “We’re transparent among senior leadership and volunteers,” Lockerby shares. “If we weren’t looking at it from a variety of perspectives—what areas we are outperforming or underperforming—we wouldn’t be able to correct or capitalize on successes.”

At LMU, Slon and the president get daily reports on pledges/gifts received over a certain amount. Weekly reports on overall progress reach all of the university’s senior leadership, with deans receiving specifics about their own schools, too. The amount of cash raised is a key data point. Older donors often give through a bequest, but universities will limit the amount of these donations in a campaign. “For us, it’s no more than 10 percent of the total,” he shares. “You don’t want to end the campaign and not have any cash.”

As Kish points out, few donors feel the need to give their money away now. “They’re on a slow pace, while the university’s on a fast pace. The universities need the money now.”

Still, that doesn’t mean a lack of major gifts in the past day, week, or longer indicates a major problem. At the University of Cincinnati, Mulvihill’s regular reports include updates on contacts being made and the movement of those relationships toward the asking stage, Reeher says. 

Should external constituents get updates?

Yes­—and not just because they want or need upates, Goldsmith explains. “You want to be reporting out at some level, maybe not in the deepest detail, to the public. People do like to give to success. Giving begets giving.”

How is momentum sustained?

“Fatigue of donors, volunteers, senior leadership, and frankly, the fundraising staff are all realities in long campaigns,” Lockerby says. Like LMU, BC is capitalizing on an institutional anniversary. Although “Light the World” is slated for a 2015 completion, the college’s 150th year in 2013 is being used as a “mezzanine milestone,” he explains. “We will invite donors back to campus for celebratory events. It will be a time for us to pause on the progress thus far, and will be a jolt of energy as we near the end of our effort.”

Anniversaries aside, Lockerby says new building construction is another good way to excite donors. Progress on a new liberal arts building under construction at the center of campus can be viewed via webcam, or in person through a hard hat tour. “It’s very powerful. ...There’s no progress like seeing a construction professional putting up drywall.”

As for those on campus every day, a pep talk never hurts. When University of Cincinnati President Gregory H. Williams arrived in 2009, “he visited with each college and unit and put his personal stamp on the fact that this was an ambitious campaign, it was an important campaign to the university’s future, and it was everybody’s campaign,” Mulvihill shares. And as that campaign nears the $1 billion mark, “the energy level goes up.”

He’ll remind his own staff of the need to articulate the institution’s dreams and ambitions in an exciting way—and that everyone must take personal ownership of what they’re trying to accomplish. “It’s not fundraising per say, but moving an individual through the institution. It’s not purely the dollars in, it’s what happens with the dollars when we get them.”

Why do some goals get raised?

Picture this: Your institution has hit its goal, and officials are now asking for more. Despite today’s mega goals, raising the bar even higher isn’t a rarity. It’s also “not a signal that they low-balled the original goal,” Goldsmith notes, but rather of greater success than projected. “It’s part science, part art.” For LMU, the centennial was just one part of the decision to go for more. “Campaigns reflect a certain set of needs at a certain point in time,” Slon says. “Going on 10 years later, those needs have continued to grow and new needs have come onto the radar.”

What does the development team do post-campaign?

Of course, their jobs are never done. “When you end a campaign, the needs do not stop,” Slon says. “The campaign is as much about meeting a goal today as it is about preparing the school for the next campaign and the one after that.” Savvy development officers keep an eye on even the small donors, who “may be in a better position later to make a significant gift,” he adds. Of young alumni in particular, Reeher advises, “Don’t underinvest in establishing those relationships.”

As Kish sees it, “a good campaign should elevate giving to the next level post-campaign. Hopefully, when you come out, that’s now your new norm. When we’re setting goals, we really try to never go back.”

Lockerby paints a sunny picture of the future of giving, particularly involving alumni and parents of current students, who are “amazingly loyal, surprisingly generous.” At BC and nearly every other campus, he says, “when you ask for help and demonstrate why their help is critical, they’re going to give you everything you ask for and more.”