KSU Foundation manages gifts to the university

Jackie Valley

For Giovanna Orlando, senior middle childhood education major, being awarded an annual $3,000 Founders Scholarship played an integral role in her decision to attend Kent State.

And, its impact has continued throughout her duration at Kent State.

“I don’t have to work during the school year, so that really allows me to study,” she said.

A founder’s scholarship is just one example of money managed and filtered through the University Foundation – the non-profit entity that processes gifts to the university, including scholarships.

The foundation involves the combination of two operations – fundraising headed by Gene Finn, vice president for institutional advancement, and finance management overseen by Mike Strebler, director of financial administration at the University Foundation.

Getting the Money

No two days are the same for Gene Finn, who spearheads Kent State’s initiative to grow its fundraising efforts.

“Days are so varied, which is the very fun part,” he said. “If you looked at my calendar, every day is a mixture of all different kinds of activities.”

Finn, who came to Kent State in April, said his previous job at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. was similar to his role now, but he dealt with a much larger fundraising operation totaling about $100 million per year.

“What I’m brining is an opportunity to make recommendations to grow the fundraising operation here,” he said.

Last year, Finn said Kent State raised nearly $28 million, but he hopes to expand that number to $30 million this year.

Finn said his daily activities, which include traveling to meet potential donors and developing programs to keep alumni engaged in the university, all involve the University Foundation for which he is the executive director, or the day-to-day manager of the fundraising aspect.

“The University Foundation is the only operation here on campus out asking money for projects that directly benefit students,” he said, such as scholarships, buildings and programs.

To attain those funds, Finn said he occasionally takes trips with President Lester Lefton to other states to influence potential alumni donors, but most of his time is spent within Ohio – home to about 70 percent of Kent State alumni.

Finn said he persuades potential donors to invest in Kent State by showing them what makes the university special and how their contributions can help.

“This is an institution where a vast percentage of students coming to Kent State are first-generation students,” he said. “Those are the types of things donors are excited about and want to help with.”

Managing the Money

While Finn works on the fundraising end of the spectrum, Mike Strebler works with the finances: Receiving gifts, investing the money from the gifts and distributing the gifts.

Strebler said the foundation’s total assets are about $150 million. The foundation makes available money annually from five percent of its $88 million endowment, and also unrestricted and restricted funds, which can be distributed immediately.

He said the foundation manages $1 million in unrestricted funds and $20 million of restricted funds, in addition to the endowment. Restricted funds must go toward the donor’s specific wish, such as, financial aid, equipment or buildings, while unrestricted funds can be used at the discretion of the foundation’s Board of Directors.

“The foundation is very rigorous in making sure the donors’ funds are spent for the appropriate purpose,” he said.

Last year, Strebler said the foundation made an 18.1 percent return on its endowment investments, better than the market’s 16.8 percent benchmark.

While Strebler said the foundation seems complicated as a result of its impact on all aspects of campus, he said the foundation only employs six people.

“Most people don’t realize that it’s a small, highly technical, professional operation,” he said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].