U obtains donations with growing efficiency

Raising funds from private gifts has become more streamlined as state support decreases.

Mike Rose

With record private funds flowing to the University this year amid dwindling support from the state Legislature, raising private money has become a sophisticated and imperative process, which has transformed into a profession at the University over the years.

Chief Executive Officer at the University of Minnesota Foundation, Gerald Fischer, will present to the Board of Regents on Friday the record-breaking year the foundation and the University encountered, as well as outline new trends and plans.

“I think we’re in a very good period,” Fischer said.

A record $251 million in private gifts came to the University during the 2007 fiscal year – 10 percent of the University’s budget. Meanwhile, state support has dwindled while tuition has increased by as much as 14 percent in recent years (this year’s hike was exceptionally low at a 4.5 percent).

University President Bob Bruininks said the percentage of private gifts to the University will increase by an estimated 5 percent in the next decade.

“The level of state support has declined in the last 30 years,” he said. “The role of private support has really increased greatly.”

Although he expects private support to increase its role, Bruininks said he wants to reinvigorate state support and keep it at a consistent level.

“I think the state needs to increase its investment,” he said. “Private support will never replace the importance of state support.”

In the meantime, however, nonprofit organizations, such as the University of Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Medical Foundation, are experiencing increased pressure from the University to boost private support to uphold the University’s goals. These goals include Strategic Positioning – which seeks to put the University among the top-three research institutions in the world.

Patricia Porter, vice president for development at the Minnesota Medical Foundation, who until recently had been raising gifts at other Big Ten universities, said that with increased pressure from universities to raise gifts comes increased involvement from their administrations.

A sign of increased involvement includes officials at the Minnesota Medical Foundation sitting in on interviews with department chairs, Porter said.

“I do think it’s interesting to see how development jobs have grown from little mom and pop offices to being really sophisticated and programmed,” she said. “Every university I’ve been affiliated with, the importance and expectation that private funding will contribute has increased.”

Many challenges come with fundraising entities at universities becoming more sophisticated. Among the biggest challenges, fundraisers said, is balancing time and developing relationships with donors.

This is especially taxing considering that fundraising entities, like the University of Minnesota Foundation, must balance the needs of over 80,000 donors.

“People are really busy,” Fischer said. “It takes a lot of calls.”

Chris Mayr, senior director of development and principal gifts for the Carlson School of Management, serves as a conduit between the University and donors.

He and others said “stewardship” is one of the principles gift-raising is dependent upon.

Mayr noted that with increasing student involvement, the University has had more of an impact on students and thus, they will be more likely to become involved and donate to the University after graduation.

This is opposed to the “factory”-like atmosphere at the University in the 1970s, when Mayr was a student here.

“Ideally, it starts at the day you are admitted as a student,” he said. “Day one, you come in and you’re alum for life.”

Kate Wolford, president of the McKnight foundation, a longtime donor to the University, said a business-like approach to attracting grants and donations is a good method.

“We wouldn’t discourage a business-like approach,” Wolford said. “I think all organizations look for ways to be efficient.”

According to a National Association of College and University Business Officers, the University is ranked 25th nationally for its endowment assets report for the 2006 fiscal year – a 13 percent increase from the previous year – and ranked third among Big Ten universities.

A $27.6 million gift from the estate of James Cargill, which includes ownership interests in Dinnaken Housing, contributed to the record year in 2007.

Capital projects, such as the construction of TCF Bank Stadium and expansion of Carlson School’s Hanson Hall, also upped the pot this past year.