Navy cashes in with drive

4-year fundraising campaign brings $253 million for the academy


The U.S. Naval Academy Foundation's recently concluded "Leaders to Serve Our Nation" campaign raised more than a quarter-billion dollars in money and pledges - more than in the previous 154 years at the institution combined - the foundation announced last week.

The 4 1/2 -year campaign, which ended last year and raised $253.7 million, was part of a strategy to augment government funding at the academy with private money that would go to professorships, lecture series, capital projects and renovations, admissions outreach and academic excellence initiatives.

"The foundation was a vehicle for all alumni to be philanthropists," said George P. Watt Jr., president and CEO of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation and a 1973 graduate. "Now our challenge is to keep this going. We want to be like the New England Patriots; we want to keep winning. We want to create a reputation and legacy here that we can pass on to someone else."

Such campaigns are standard fare at many public and private institutions, but they are new at a service academy, where alumni have long eschewed donations because the institutions are primarily supported by the government. Since the foundation was formed in 1999, it has regularly reached the "Philanthropy 400," an annual list by the Chronicle of Philanthropy that ranks the largest 400 charities in the United States by assets. The other service academies have yet to make the list.

Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, superintendent of the academy, said in a written statement that the campaign has had a "transformational effect" on the Annapolis military college, helping to meet strategic priorities and changing "what we are able to do from merely functional to inspirational."

"Private gift support provides an important margin of excellence and the academy is a much stronger and better place because of it," he said.

For the most recent rankings, the Naval Academy ranked 347th with its annual total of more than $40 million in private donations. That paled in comparison to the Johns Hopkins University, which ranked 27th and raised more than $300 million.

Still, alumni leaders say, the point of the campaign was to create a culture of philanthropy at the academy that could fund not just adequacy - the limit of what the government can provide, Watt says - but excellence.

Since its inception, the foundation has financed the $40 million Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium renovation and the academy's new Jewish chapel; 17 faculty and administrative positions that are under way or being planned; the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, as well as a writing center and undergraduate research; several athletic programs; and various speaker series associated with the Center for Ethical Leadership, which is funded by the foundation.

But with that funding comes a lingering concern: Will the foundation's attempts to fund "excellence" at the academy lead the government to cut its funding, as has happened at public institutions across the country that are virtually kept afloat through private funds?

This came up most recently at the academy when part of the funding for the school's new 144,000-square-foot field house was in doubt. Many wondered if the foundation would have to help finance the field house, which will be named after Wesley Brown, the school's first African-American graduate. Those concerns were assuaged late last year, when the funding for the project's first phase was included in a military construction bill.

Watt said that the Department of the Navy sets funding priorities for the academy and has yet to defund any aspect of academy operations. Senior Navy leaders, most of them academy graduates, "are very familiar with our strategic plan and the role of the foundation," he said.

Sitting in his office on the second floor of the centuries-old Alumni House on King George Street in Annapolis, Watt spoke proudly of the foundation's accomplishments during a difficult time for fundraising.

When the campaign began in 2001, nationwide charitable donations were focused on Sept. 11-related causes, leading to a decline for other groups. That was followed by an economic downturn and then a series of natural disasters - including the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 - that again focused donations on recovering from those tragedies.

When Katrina made landfall in August, Watt said, the foundation immediately suspended fundraising in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida and sent out an e-mail to 38,000 donors asking them to give to the American Red Cross, an unusual step for a fundraising organization.

"I received some mild criticism, but most people believed that doing the right thing was more important than meeting our goals," Watt said, noting that the foundation still met its goals and even raised nearly $8 million in unrestricted funds in 2005 despite the natural disasters. "It was a tribute to those who believed in our cause, who believed in philanthropy and in the power of good deeds."

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