After latest budget cuts, U relies more than ever on private donors

WBy Tom Conlon While budget cuts have forced some University departments to cut staff, they have made one group of workers more essential – those who work in fund raising for higher education.

Private giving now makes up approximately 10 percent of the University’s budget and could rise to 17 percent within 10 years, according to a presentation University President Bob Bruininks gave to the Faculty Consultative Committee on July 8.

University officials said that after the 2003 state funding cuts, private donors play an increasingly important role in providing crucial extras that help keep the University in the top tier of research institutions nationally.

Dramatic economic growth in the 1990s allowed public universities to benefit from budget surpluses, University Executive Vice President and Provost Christine Maziar said.

“The 1990s were largely an anomaly,” Maziar said. “We were in the middle of a bubble economy. We can’t count on that happening again soon.”

Unlike most state government functions, higher education has other sources of revenue such as student tuition and private research grants – making it difficult for legislators to protect higher education budgets among competing state needs, Maziar said.

University officials, deans, development officers and others today play a greater role in fund raising as part of their duties, she said. Development officers cultivate relationships with donors and promote a positive University image to help raise funds.

She would not say what percentage of her time is devoted to fund raising, but she said she talks positively about the University wherever she goes to build a positive image that will hopefully lead to more University support.

Donors typically give the University money for special projects rather than salaries or operating costs, said Martha Douglas, director of communications for the University of Minnesota Foundation, which raises private funds for the University. Ninety-eight percent of the private funds go toward purposes such as scholarships, lab equipment, libraries or special facilities.

“Our donors want to change the world and invest in the future,” she said. “When state funds go down, we see that could even be a demotivator for giving.”

Despite state funding cuts, Douglas said a 7-year private fund-

raising campaign called Campaign Minnesota has gone well. The final results for the campaign will be announced in September.

University schools and programs have their own development units to benefit specific needs in their areas.

John Derus, former chairman of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners and a 1965 alumnus, puts his time and money toward supporting the Student Parent Help Center, a program administered by the General College but accessible to any University student who is a single parent and demonstrates need. The center provides day-care grants for students who might otherwise be unable to attend school and balance expenses.

Betsy Taplin, interim director of development and alumni relations for the General College, said the college had no development office until 1999.

“We’ve had to do things differently in these economic times,” Taplin said. “We’re reaching out to alumni and friends in new ways.”

The program was primarily funded by the state and one major donor until last year, Taplin said, but whether these sources will be available in the future is uncertain.

Andrew Staupe, a music sophomore, benefits from private-donor scholarships at the University.

“I could not afford to attend school without them,” he said. “But public funding should also aim to keep tuitions low so the average student can attend school.”

Tom Conlon is a freelance writer.

The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]