Alumni gifts set record

About 4,000 more alumni donated to the University in 2005 than in 2004.

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Through initiatives like the University Scholarship Drive, more alumni are giving to the University than ever. More than 51,000 alumni gave to their alma mater in fiscal 2005, compared with about 47,300 the previous year.

The amount also has increased. Gifts to the University Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises and manages gifts to the University, said the donations it accepted increased by 24 percent in fiscal 2005, reaching $180 million.

Gerald Fischer, the foundation’s president and chief executive, said he feels “terrific” about this year’s giving.

“It’s particularly gratifying this year,” Fischer said. “That normally doesn’t happen unless they’re really happy with where the University is headed.”

Communications senior Larwin Kauffman, a student supervisor of Telefund for Excellence at Minnesota, with a staff of 90 students who call people to request donations, said they have added information about University realignment when they call.

The initiative, which aims to make the University one of the top three public research universities in the world, has resonated with alumni, Fischer said.

“They want a university that is maintaining and achieving excellence,” Fischer said.

Alumni donors

There also are different motivations for giving, said Martha Douglas, director of communication for the foundation.

Though the foundation focuses on raising money for scholarships, a lot of money comes in for research and capital improvements.

Alumni, who comprise the biggest group of donors, at 55 percent, donate money to the University because they want to give back to their alma mater.

Douglas Payne, an alumnus of the West Central School of Agriculture (now the University’s Morris campus), said he participates in the President’s Scholarship Match. The initiative matches the annual payout of endowments, doubling the amount available for students.

“We thought students are in need of scholarships, and with the offer of matching funds from the president’s fund, we could make a contribution that could have some real value for current students,” Douglas Payne said.

Mark Sheffert, an alumnus of the Carlson School of Management, said he donates because he believes the state needs a strong university system that contributes to the community.

Sheffert said alumni should contribute if they have the means, even if they don’t agree with the University’s politics.

“I don’t think people ought to use a few things they disagree with as a reason not to be philanthropic,” Sheffert said. “If I did that, I would never give a single penny away.”

Other donors

Douglas said many people not connected to the University donate to satisfy their philanthropic desires. The Medical School, for example, has a lot of grateful patients who give back.

“So many people who are not alumni give to the University,” Douglas said. “I think it’s because we are the main research university in the state of Minnesota.”

Corporations like 3M, Hormel and General Mills often donate money to fund research.

The Bernard Osher Foundation was one of the top donors in 2005, giving more than $1 million to the College of Continuing Education to fund the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

JoAnne Makela, office manager for the University branch of the Osher Foundation, said the foundation promotes “lifelong learning goals” for older adults in their more than 70 institutes nationwide.

The rules

The line between a corporate gift and a contractual agreement can fall into a gray area, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, University vice president and chief financial officer.

TCF’s sponsorship of the proposed football stadium, for example, wasn’t labeled a gift because the company got the benefit of advertising and branding.

“There’s always a judgment call that needs to be made,” Pfutzenreuter said. “(The TCF partnership) is different from a donor giving a scholarship to a student. The donor’s not getting anything back.”

When donors give to the University, they can’t have absolute control over their gift, Douglas said.

“A gift is meant to be a gift,” Douglas said.

The University had to refuse the help of T. Denny Sanford, a potential donor for the football stadium, when he wanted too much control over it, Pfutzenreuter said.

“Denny Sanford’s situation was a unique set of circumstances and he wanted more control over how money was spent and actions we found unacceptable,” Pfutzenreuter said. “But that’s the exception. The foundation folks do a good job of making donors understand the rules of the game.”

That is not to say, however, that there aren’t perks with giving.

To get a named scholarship, one would have to donate $25,000. To get a self-named building, any donor would have to cover at least a third of its total private investments.