‘Mega-gifts’ propel fundraising efforts

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UT’s capital campaign raised more than $134.5 million in private donations and pledges in the second quarter of 2010 — the largest amount received among 36 universities surveyed for a report released Sunday. Although philanthropy is down across the country, UT matched several mega-gifts — which amount to more than $1 million — that boosted the huge quarterly numbers. Donors and UT agreed on the gifts last year, but they did not go into effect until UT met challenges set out by the large donors for raising specific dollar amounts. When potential donors offer conditional gifts, the development team at UT can use that as an incentive for other donors to give to the University, said David Onion, senior associate vice president of development. Onion said the campaign did not change focus or increase its efforts during the quarter, but several mega-gifts came into effect at the same time. “We’re operating in a very tough economic condition, but at the same time, we can find a lot of positive things in the capital campaign,” he said. “While the valuation of our gifts have been reduced, the activity level tells me that our donors are interested and they’re making investments.” The Campaign for Texas, UT’s private donation drive that began in 2006, has raised $1.3 billion to date. Its mission is to reach $3 billion by Aug. 31, 2014, meaning they have raised only 42 percent of the final goal at the halfway mark of the campaign. Fundraising consultant John Ford, a former development officer at Stanford University, said the current downturn in the economy is the most serious situation he has seen in his 40 years in philanthropy. Even the turbulent economy of the 1970s did not compare to the difficulties that universities currently face. Donors are hesitant to make long-term, multi-year commitments because of uncertainty in the economy and tax requirements, he said. “[Donors will] give you a gift for that year based on their circumstances but not make a multi-year commitment, and large gifts depend on multi-year commitments,” Ford said. “Some campaigns will take a little bit longer to be completed in this kind of environment.” The mega-gifts that UT matched during the second quarter included a $30 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a $10 million gift from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, both of which are funding UT’s $120 million computer science building that is currently under construction. Nancy Hatchett, assistant director for UT’s Department of Computer Science, said the United States is falling behind other countries in the number of students graduating from top universities in science, technology, engineering and math. UT’s computer science department ranks eighth in the country, but has never had a single building to house the entire department since it began in the 1960s, Hatchett said. “[The new computer science building] will double our capacity to increase student enrollment and faculty, and that will help us feed the talent pipeline — not just for us, but for Texas and the economy,” Hatchett said. Eli Yim, a spokesman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said when UT approached the foundation about possibly making a grant for the complex, it saw an opportunity to invest in future thinkers and leaders. The Campaign for Texas’ largest gift to date is $55 million, and the largest gift during the second quarter of 2010 was a $15 million donation from James Mulva, chairman of ConocoPhillips and a 1969 UT alumnus, toward a new liberal arts building. James Southerland, assistant dean of business affairs for the College of Liberal Arts, said the Mulva gift saved the college millions it would have spent on the building. The gift also helped stave off an extra $5 million in cuts that the College of Liberal Arts would have made to the specialized area study centers from which the college’s Academic Planning and Advisory Committee recently decided to cut $3.75 million.