February 8, 2006

C.U. Continues Major Fundraising

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Cornell administrators are preparing to set in motion the public phase of the University’s fourth capital campaign. $650 million has already been raised for the initiative, which is scheduled to last until 2011.

Planning for the campaign began in 2002. Laurie Robinson, director of development for the office of alumni affairs and development, explained that Cornell has several projects in need of funding. Among them, the new Life Sciences Technology Building and the West Campus Residential Initiative. When these fundraising objectives started to “pop up,” the need for a university-wide fundraising campaign came into focus, Robinson said.

According to Laura Toy, interim vice president for the office of alumni affairs and development, there are three reasons the University launched the capital campaign. First, Cornell’s needs have expanded enough to require an influx of money. Second, government support for the University has decreased. Finally, the campaign is a way to involve a new set of donors. Right now, the University’s major patrons are alumni who graduated in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Now, graduates from the 1970s and 1980s have come of age and many are in a position where they can start to give back to the University.

Chip Brice, director of gift planning, agreed with Toy that reaching out to alumni from the 1970s and 1980s is one of the major goals of this campaign. He explained that the campaign is not just about money, but also about establishing connections that will cultivate the next generation of Cornell leadership.

In May 2004, the Board of Trustees received a plan for the capital campaign. After approval, the “nucleus fund” was officially launched on July 1. Staff from throughout the University are now assessing campus priorities to determine where funds would be most useful. Toy said that priorities will be set through a bottom up process: ideas start within the individual departments, move up to the deans and eventually reach Provost Biddy Martin, who will decide on the potential areas for growth. Robinson expects that when President-elect David J. Skorton comes into office, he will add his own objectives into campaign priorities.

Toy explained the current thoughts about Cornell priorities. Academic investments will be placed in areas where Cornell is positioned to be a leader. These include areas in life sciences, sustainability, computer information and one humanity department, which is yet to be determined. Money will also go towards helping students pay the hefty tuition so that the University will remain accessible to students from every socio-economic class. Maintaining the faculty will require funding also. Within the next ten years, one-third of Cornell faculty will reach retirement age. Because other prestigious schools are facing this same demographic, Cornell will not only need money to attract new upstanding faculty, but also to keep the current stars from leaving Ithaca. Finally, the most visible placements of the funds will go towards building facilities. Several buildings are already underway, such as the Life Sciences Technology Building, Milstein Hall in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, a new building for the physical sciences and facilities for Gates Hall, the new Computing and Information Science building.

At the end of the day, however, the donors will ultimately determine their money’s allocation. Toy said that generally, donors tell the University where they want their gift to go. It is hoped that they will choose from among the projects that are most important to Cornell.

Gifts to Cornell are also increasingly taking forms other than cash. According to Brice, more then 80 percent of the donations to Cornell have been “planned gifts” which include real estate, artwork, trust arrangements and stocks. The University often turns these gifts directly into useable funds. For example, if an alumnus donated 100 shares of a stock to the College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell would take ownership of the stock and sell it. The revenue would then go to the designated college. “Planned gifts are a component of a successful campaign,” said Brice.

Over the campaign, Robinson and Brice will keep raising private funds for Cornell in mostly the same way as they have always done, but their demands will increase. Another difference of this capital campaign is its objective to raise money for very specific projects. As Robinson and Brice talk to potential donors, they will now be pushing certain University priorities.

Right now, the Alumni Affairs and Development Office, Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III, Provost Martin and the deans are contacting potential donors and assessing initial gifts. Through this touch-and-go process, the final financial goal will be determined and announced as the campaign shifts into its public phase. The goal is to have 30 to 40 percent of the commitments in hand before then. Toy predicted that the campaign may be launched into its “public phase” even as soon as next fall. She hopes the start will be “something with a lot of splash to let every Cornellian know what the academic aspirations are and subsequently how the campaign will help fund those aspirations.”

Right now, $650 million has already been collected. Toy expects to have received $900 million by the end of June. The overall campaign will last seven years – two years in the nucleus fund stage and five years in the public stage. This is the same time period as the last capital campaign completed in 1995, which helped build the Kroch Library and the Goldwin Smith Lecture Hall D.

Toy herself, is well prepped to take care of such a large initiative. She has been at Cornell since 1990 where she has lead smaller campaigns, including the renovation of Lincoln Hall and the campaign for athletics.

Toy became the Interim Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development when Inge Reichenbach, resigned in spring 2005. Toy said the search for a permanent replacement was on hold until the Board of Trustees named a new president. Now with the selection of Skorton, Toy said, “the search is underway once again.”

President Skorton also is likely to be up to the challenge of a multi-billion-dollar campaign. He recently finished a $1 billion campaign at the University of Iowa. Those fundraising skills were noted as one of the major reasons he was chosen as Cornell’s next leader. Toy said she expects Skorton ” to be an engaged and involved partner.”

Countering the assumptions that former president Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 withdrew from his office last summer because he did not meet the fundraising expectations of the board, Toy said, “I do not think that is a fair assessment.”

Toy emphasized that Skorton will not be the only fundraiser. “We shouldn’t underestimate the role the deans are playing in the campaign and that they will continue to play,” she said. She also felt that it was very fortunate that I Rawlings jumped back into office and kept the new campaign from being derailed by Lehman’s resignation. Since the beginning of the nucleus fund phase, Toy has seen momentum increasing. She attributes this progress to Rawlings, the deans and the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development.

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer