University banks on fundraising

Nicole Stempak

Despite gloomy economy, alumni still willing to give

Credit: DKS Editors

Kent State is having the best fundraising year ever and saw its best quarter from July 1 to Oct. 1, 2008.

“Last year at this time we raised $3.5 million; this year, we raised almost $7.2 million,” said Gene Finn, vice president for institutional advancement. He emphasized that much of the money was raised in August and September, but the contributions had developed over a period of time.

Finn said fundraisers are on target to exceed their goal of $30 million this academic year. The department raised $28.5 million last year.

According to a nationwide survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, fundraisers predicted a 0.3 percent growth in university fundraising for the last academic year and a 1.7 percent decrease for next year. Despite the recent economic news, Finn said Kent State is faring well in part because of its message to alumni.

“. . . what we’re really finding across the country is that people still have resources, and they still want to support worthy causes,” he said. “What our fundraisers are doing (is) they’re out talking to the alumni about Kent State and what the institution needs right now.

“. . . We’re doing a campaign to raise additional scholarship dollars for students, and alumni are responding and are willing to commit to that.”

Finn said the Office of Alumni Affairs, which is part of Institutional Advancement, has hosted a series of alumni receptions across the country. Finn, President Lester Lefton and Lori Randorf, executive director of the Alumni Association, visited alumni on the West Coast earlier this month.

“We’re not going just to these receptions,” Finn said. “When we’re on the road, we’re also visiting individuals who are donors to the institution. (Lefton is) thanking them, or he’s asking them for additional contributions.”

Only time will tell, but Lefton said he thinks the trip was very successful.

Finn said the office has already received donations from receptions in the fall and is very hopeful to receive more gifts.

“The whole purpose of my going to an alumni event is to tell them about Kent State, to tell them about the good work that we’re doing here, what our needs are for scholarships and for other kinds of support and to re-engage them in the life of the university,” Lefton said.

He said the alumni enjoy hearing his stories.

“I talk about our students,” he said. “I talk about our faculty. I talk about our programs. I talk about where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Lefton also tells a few jokes.

“One of the things I say is ‘How many of you lived in Terrace Hall?'” Lefton said with a smile. “People from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s say ‘I lived there. I lived there.’

“I say, ‘Well, it’s not there anymore. We have this beautiful parking lot. It is the best looking parking lot you could ever imagine.'”

Aside from charming the alumni, Lefton said the purpose of the jokes is to invite alumni back to campus to see how much has changed or to see new buildings like Franklin Hall, which reopened last fall after major renovations.

“We try to engage them and get them to come back to campus because engaged alumni are more likely to be contributors,” he said.

Finn said he and Lefton will continue going on these trips to reach out to alumni.

“You have to stay in touch with alumni year after year because if you only do it once, they lose touch with the institution, and it was a waste of time and a waste of energy,” Finn said, adding the Alumni Association is also working to build permanent alumni clubs in different regions across the country. “.Keep in mind these receptions are not solely about giving as well. The purpose of these events … is really to help build the Kent State community in these areas.”

Finn said his department is preparing for some donors who say they want to postpone donations.

“I haven’t seen a lot of it, but we have had some donors who say ‘You know what? I do want to give to Kent State, but I’m going to wait six months. I just want to see how my own personal finances shake out in the next six months.'”

Still, he said he is not overly concerned that the economy will impact fundraising as a whole.

Although the university has immediate economic needs, Finn said the staff is also working to secure the future financial well-being of Kent State.

“Each endowed gift we bring in means financial support for many, many years to come,” he said.

The problem, Lefton said, is that there are fewer donors from the annual fund, which includes money raised from letters and phone calls to alumni. However, dollar amounts are remaining steady.

He said to think of donors like children.

“Right now, there are lots of people in the United States, but if people stop having babies or are only having one child, eventually the number in the population is going to decrease,” Lefton said. “If you think of the donors the same way, if there are lots of donors now but fewer people are now giving, you may be bringing in more money now but eventually, there are going to be fewer people giving, and that’s not a good thing.

“But that’s a national trend. That’s a national trend that there are fewer people giving, period. At Kent State, the number of people giving are giving more dollars.”

Contact administration reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].