Banging the drums for money: annoying, essential

September 30, 1994|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

It doesn't take a campaign to get colleges to send out missives to alumni, court wealthy past donors and identify potential new ones. In the year ending June 30, 1993, for example, the Johns Hopkins University raised $90.9 million. At that rate, Hopkins would top $450 million by 2000 without any campaign.

But the Johns Hopkins Initiative scheduled to be announced today -- part public relations offensive, part psychological appeal, part gamesmanship -- is expected to generate twice the amount of money Hopkins would otherwise receive during the next five years.

"I'm a proponent of campaigns, I like being associated with campaigns," university President William C. Richardson said.

"I don't know if any other mechanism other than a campaign to . . . bring those friends of the university, alumni and others, into the university family."

Such drives also focus an institution, requiring faculty and administrators to lay out their priorities. Johns Hopkins already is best known for training and research in the biological and medical sciences and the humanities, allowing it to project a firm identity to potential donors.

But the new fund-raising drive, which counts major gifts stretching back to July 1991 and started in earnest more than a year ago, comes hard on the heels of the university's last campaign, which wrapped up with $644 million in 1990.

"Donors jokingly, and sometimes bitterly, refer to the 'perpetual campaign,' " said Joel L. Fleishman, formerly the senior fund-raising official at Duke University. "But you can raise money, or you can raise tuition. That's it."

"You obviously lose your credibility over time," said John Ford, vice president for development at Stanford University. "Sophisticated donors understand that places like Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford and Michigan need additional funding. What you've got to be careful of is running out the door and banging the drums too frequently."

After helping to raise more than $1 billion for Stanford, helping the school recover from losses incurred in earthquake damage and research-funding scandals, Mr. Ford said, he does not foresee another such drive in the next 15 years.

Yet many schools are increasing the frequency of their campaigns. As tuition rates for private schools bump up against the capacity of parents to pay, as growth in federal funding slows, and as consumers demand a brake on the cost of health care, research universities now find themselves turning to capital campaigns more and more frequently.

In their first few years, such drives typically proceed quietly, as officials try to land about 30 percent of their ultimate goal in major donations before the drive is announced. Only after the announcement is the steady stream of gifts made to annual efforts included in the total.

Hopkins appears well-positioned for a successful campaign, as it already holds $274 million in gifts and pledges. But Hopkins faces real hurdles as well. It educates significantly fewer undergraduates than do the five Ivy League schools that have conducted billion-dollar campaigns, so the university expects to turn not only to misty-eyed alumni but to grateful patients as well.

"Nobody ever died from English," Dr. Muller said. "It's much harder to raise money for history, English and philosophy and other fields that don't have the excitement or impact of our medical programs."

And this new effort comes at a time of deep public skepticism toward many public institutions, including colleges and universities. In a February 1994 poll conducted by Louis Harris and Associates Inc., only 25 percent of Americans surveyed said they had a great deal of confidence in the people running colleges and universities. That's down from 40 percent a decade earlier, and from 61 percent in 1966.

Sparked by financial need and campus rivalries, nine major universities have staged $1 billion fund-raising drives, and several more are about to join their ranks.

"I remember sitting with Sheldon Hackney, the former president atUPenn, and him saying, 'You have to have a billon-dollar campaign, or you're not going to be considered part of the club' ," said Robert Zemsky, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Private organizations tend not to send money to bulk up $H endowment coffers, higher education experts said. Robert Schwartz, who oversees the $32.5 million in grants given out for education each year by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, said his foundation now seeks to start new programs but no longer wants to subsidize the operating costs on specific campuses.

As a consequence, schools like Hopkins will tap alumni and other individuals for larger gifts, such as the ones given by the Krieger and Sheridan families, which together total $70 million.

While in most campaigns, officials plan for 80 percent of the gifts to come from 20 percent of the donors, Robert L. Lindgren, Hopkins' vice president for development and alumni relations, said the university would rely even more heavily on a smaller percentage of individual donors.

But Dr. Zemsky said current campaigns also lay the groundwork for a massive round of future gifts from people who are in their 50s and older.

Even relatively small gifts condition people to make major donations before they die.

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