Over the past few days, there has been a quiet discussion on one of the boards I peruse daily. The board is ScarletReport.com and the discussion has centered around the overall net worth of the foundations for each of the Big Ten Schools.
Before I go any further in regard to this topic, I would be remiss in not stating a disclaimer regarding this topic. First, my intent in posting these thoughts is solely to provide a basis for discussion. Second, in no way am I intending to harm anyone in the Foundation, nor am I trying to hinder or undermine any efforts to solicit donations or draw in individuals with the so-called “deep pockets.” Finally, be aware that all comments and views in this post are my own and are not to be construed as anything more. With that said, let us begin.
It is no secret to those who pay the slightest bit of attention to these issues that the Rutgers Foundation has had its issues over the last 30+ years of existence from staffing to gaffes with alumni. It is also no secret that the approach by the University has been to focus on near term projects to fund through donations of alumni and “deep pockets” instead of long term capital investment.
For those who would like to familiarize themselves with the current values of each Foundation in the nation, I would recommend reading this document. It is amassed by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).
While it is certainly the case that we can claim the alumni of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey to be “cheapskates” or “penny pinchers,” I believe there is something far more systemic that needs to be addressed. Our “Foundation” has struggled with the rudiments of how to garner interest among the alumni to donate. They have not connected and interacted in the right circles to draw in alumni with an interest to donate. The staff has been consistently unsuccessful in getting corporate matches or posthumous gifts. Those that have been obtained are usually from individuals who want to donate to the Athletic Program or to a specific Department because of a long-standing affiliation. The staff at the Foundation show themselves being too occupied with pleas for donations to cover current operating expenses instead of building a capital base that can make money for the University.
Senior staff at the Foundation do not seem to have a clue how to appropriately prepare to meet with individual alumni or even adequately target potential donors. Development officers who are employed there and know what they are doing leave quickly because, frankly, they cannot stand the stupidity of the senior staff. There desperately needs to be a top to bottom house-cleaning with a focus on bringing in legitimate foundation staff with expertise in the field and knowledge of the University, its history, and structure.
Based on my 17 years of interactions with the Foundation, I’m left shaking my head that such incompetence has been allowed to walk the halls at Winants and 18 Bishop and continue to collect a paycheck.
Certainly, the University has undertaken massive Capital Campaigns with quiet periods and public periods. Yet both were mostly about bringing in donations for improvements of existing buildings or construction of new buildings. This is all well and good for a rather young school that is trying to establish itself and bring on line a number of major programs and projects that will position it within a region or organization that it belongs to to attain a level of standing.
In the case of Rutgers, however, we are 247 years old. We have over 430,000 alumni ranging from the Class of 1945 through 2012 or 66 years. Yet, the Foundation was only established in 1973, almost as an afterthought. Sure it has the laudable primary goals of supporting and advancing the educational programs, faculty, and infrastructure at the University. Unfortunately, however, there have been very few campaigns that have been managed properly to draw in funding that can be invested. Rather, most of the effort has been to secure short-term funding to deal with budgetary shortfalls from the State.
Frankly, the Foundation needs to reevaluate its mission and recognize how that mission has been hijacked to address short-term needs that become recurring budget line items with minimal to no effort in secure donations that can be invested to make money for the University that can address these needs.
Right now, our current Capital Campaign is supposed to be bringing in $1 Billion. However most of this money is earmarked for things like endowed chairs in 28 different departments, funding of scholarships and fellowships, “world-class” facilities for teaching and research (such as the Center for Nutrition and Health on Cook), and funding of outreach. Certainly these are all tremendous and laudable undertakings. Unfortunately, none of these do anything, not even the scholarships and fellowships, to invest money to grown the principal invested by the Foundation.
While it is certainly true that Alumni Relations should be working to draw in donations as well, it is really the work of the Foundation staff that brings in the donations. They are the ones who do the sitdowns and articulate what the University needs and wants. What has not been expressed to them, however, is a goal by senior administration to grow the total monies invested by the Foundation. Instead, it has been all about upgrades and “new initiatives.” But nothing has been stated about sustaining gifts.
The sad part is, if each of our alumni donated just $100 to be put in the General Foundation Fund, we could add $43 Million to the $698,507,000 we already have amassed. If that was done each year for four years, we could add $172 Million to the Foundation. Over eight years, we could get the principal up to $1.04 Billion. Obviously not all alumni will be able to give even $100, and there are some who just refuse to donate for whatever reason. But there are other alumni who could be incentivized to give more.
Likewise, there are sufficient numbers of businesses in New Jersey that can be worked with to help with the near term investments, even if we have to listen to the faculty moan and claim that “academic objectivity” is being sacrificed because of a perception that the company will force certain results to be reported. (See the whole Mann issue at PSU to see the flipside of this argument as it relates to maintaining grant funding.)
A separate issue is that very few of the development officers employed by the University actually work with student groups on a regular basis to develop working relationships prior to graduation. As such, there are few, if any, working relationships that can be drawn on to elicit donations once students graduate. Granted, in the 50’s through the early 2000’s, many students were angered and resented the archaic administrative methodology used. Still, a quality staff at the Foundation would be able to reconnect with many of the graduates and give them the opportunity to express any sentiments of displeasure with the old way of doing things. Once that “venting process” is completed, the development officers have the opportunity to show what the University has become and how they can be a part of it through their support.
All of this leads to the reality that senior administration at the University needs to clearly articulate goals and objectives to the Development Officers and staff to
- build up working relationships with as many alumni as possible,
- enter into a decent dialogue with each alum to find out where the knowledge or information gaps are regarding what the University has been doing since the alum graduated,
- provide all alumni with information about the University and its position in society today,
- listen to, and more importantly, understand, the interests each alum has so as to marry up the alum with initiatives at the University for future “tapping,”
- invite alumni to support the University through yearly, nominal donations to the principal managed by the Foundation.
Yeah, it isn’t easy, but these are the types of steps that need to be taken in order to build up the principal funds the Foundation has to draw interest from. Until the Foundation is willing to take significant steps to involve themselves with current students and engage each and every alum, we will continue to lag significantly in donations for investment. And that is unacceptable for any institution of higher learning, but especially one that is a Colonial College.