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UMass turns to private fund-raising

AMHERST -- To shore up the state's flagship public university against what appears to be a permanent drop in state funding, the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has quietly launched a massive private fund-raising effort aimed at doubling the share of the budget supplied by private donors.

On a campus that lost 100 of its permanent professors to budget cuts in the last three years, Chancellor John V. Lombardi has increased the campus fund-raising staff by 40 percent.

The 94-person operation includes 18 professional fund-raisers assigned to UMass schools, colleges, and high-profile units such as athletics. Their job includes tracking affluent alumni through public records.

Calling the university ''a generation behind" in raising private money, the chancellor boosted the fund-raising budget by a half-million dollars last year and is laying plans for the most ambitious fund drive in campus history.

''If we don't generate revenue outside the state budget, we will not maintain quality, and we have no chance of remaining nationally competitive," said Lombardi, who was hired as chancellor two years ago partly on the strength of his fund-raising record at the University of Florida.

''We can do an ordinary university on what the state gives us. To be something beyond that, we have to have more money," he said.

Such fund-raising marks a sharp change of direction for the state's largest public campus, which has relied heavily on public money and State House lobbying since its early days as an agricultural college and its rapid post-World War II expansion.

After the deep cuts of recent years, the state provides one-third of UMass-Amherst's operating budget; around the country, many similar state universities draw one-quarter or less of their budgets from state coffers. The University of Vermont and the University of Virginia are just 8 percent state-funded, after decades of steady movement away from government dependence.

When longtime state Senate President William M. Bulger was hired as UMass president in 1996, education leaders saw his State House connections as key to keeping state money flowing into its budget. But when the state was hit with a fiscal crisis three years ago, even Bulger could not prevent more than $100 million in budget cuts across the five-campus UMass system.

Amherst's first major fund drive, held during Bulger's seven-year tenure, brought in $130 million, but came decades after the country's top public campuses had ramped up their fund-raising. Today, UMass-Amherst's $70 million endowment lags far behind its competitors: Indiana University-Bloomington, a school similar to Amherst in size and structure, has an endowment of almost $500 million, and flagship state universities in Virginia, Minnesota, and Texas have funds of more than $1 billion.

Just 2 percent of the operating budget at UMass-Amherst comes from private donations and endowment income, while 8 percent of the budget at the University of Virginia comes from private gifts, the same amount the university receives from the state.

Modeled on the powerhouse fund-raising efforts of the best-endowed public campuses, the Campaign for Amherst, now in its so-called quiet phase, will seek an unprecedented $350 million in donations in seven years. By contrast, fund-raising giant Virginia is in the quiet phase of a seven-year, $3 billion campaign.

Following the model of its richer peers, the UMass-Amherst campaign will be led not by the chancellor's fund-raisers, but by a circle of 30 to 40 prominent business leaders and philanthropists: the board of directors of the new UMass-Amherst Foundation, carefully assembled in the last two years and led by Gene Isenberg, an Amherst alumnus and chairman of Nabors Industries of Houston, one of the world's leading oil- and gas-drilling contractors.

By the time the campaign is officially launched two years from now and most of the 194,000 alumni are asked for donations, the university will have spent months cultivating major donors, and the school expects to be more than halfway to its goal.

The fund-raising goal will not be set until a feasibility study, designed to assess the campaign's potential, is finished this spring.

Roughly half the money raised is expected to pay for capital improvements to the aging Amherst campus. But gifts may have even greater long-term power to improve the school's status, by drawing top researchers to endowed chairs and helping their specialties become pillars of academic strength, specialists said.

''It would be hard to overstate the importance of the endowment," said former University of Minnesota president Nils Hasselmo, now the president of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious 62-member group to which the Amherst campus has long aspired.

Behind-the-scenes fund-raising has already had a clear impact on UMass-Amherst college deans and administrators. Cleve Willis, dean of the university's College of Natural Resources and the Environment, said he spent 5 to 10 percent of his time on fund-raising before Lombardi was hired. These days, more than half his work is cultivating donors, with help from the growing fund-raising staff that has set up shop in a suite of offices in his building.

The recent addition of two new endowed professorships in his college, both paid for by private donors and filled with outstanding researchers, has broadened enthusiasm for the campaign, the dean said.

''The culture of the place has changed, and as good things happen the faculty says, 'Hey, there is another way,' " Willis said. ''Even if the chancellor left, I suspect we'd stay on course."

Although many higher education leaders see the shift to private funding as the wave of the future for public universities, not everyone is happy with a system in which more time and energy are devoted to fund-raising and more attention is paid to donors' priorities.

''Do big money donors want the same kind of university that ordinary citizens want?" asked Dan Clawson, a UMass-Amherst professor and president of its faculty union. ''My impression is that big donors like to give money to buildings. . . . We need better physical facilities, but the key problem on campus is the decline in tenure-track faculty."

Others worry that greater fund-raising success could mean the loss of more state money. ''The danger is that the Legislature and governor will say, 'You're doing so well, we don't have to give you any money,' " Hasselmo said. ''And the donors are not happy if they think they're filling in for the state."

To send the message that the state will carry its share of the load, Massachusetts legislators agreed last fall to match private gifts to all five UMass campuses, a program that existed in the 1990s but was dropped in the recent budget crisis. If the university raises $100 million in the next five years, the state has pledged to contribute $50 million, barring another major economic crisis.

Ann Reale, education adviser to Governor Mitt Romney, called the university's push for private money ''absolutely a good thing," given the unpredictability of the state budget. ''State revenues will always be fluctuating, and the campuses should do what they can to be prepared," she said.

To seek more help in building endowment, the university's new fund-raisers have scoured the nation to build a database of alumni. Elizabeth Dale, UMass-Amherst's vice chancellor for advancement, said that more than 20,000 new addresses have been added since 2001 and that 92 percent of all living alumni are now on the school's mailing list.

By tapping into public records, Amherst fund-raisers have also collected information on graduates' stock holdings, real estate assets, philanthropic histories, and past political contributions, allowing them to target donors wealthy enough to make significant gifts. An elite group who might be just 10 percent of all donors, gifts from such high-capacity donors could compose the bulk of fund-raising, UMass officials said.

The university has an abundant supply of such donors, Lombardi said.

In the next 12 months, he will travel the country to 30 so-called leadership briefings with small groups of powerful alumni. One such meeting later this month will be hosted by Isenberg at an exclusive Palm Beach club.

University leaders say they have been stunned by the popularity of quarterly networking breakfasts that draw hundreds of Boston-area executives with UMass degrees.

A plush alumni club that will open next year in Boston's financial district, modeled after those run by private colleges, is designed to strengthen graduates' ties to the university. Major fund-raising campaigns are also in the works at UMass branches in Lowell, Worcester, Boston, and Dartmouth.

At Amherst, campaign preparations have ranged from big-picture strategies to seemingly small details. Lombardi banished the old UMass logo from campus and replaced it with the state seal, to differentiate Amherst from the rest of the system for gift-givers and to give the flagship a more historic image. Donors now receive thank-you gifts from UMass, ranging from maroon-and-white M&M candies to plush UMass beach towels and fancy pens.

Recent appeals for donations are also slicker and more creative. Last February, in a scheme borrowed from Howard University, Amherst fund-raisers sent valentines sealed in pink envelopes to about 8,000 alumni couples. ''One dozen red roses: $74.99 . . . Being a UMass Amherst alumni couple: Priceless," the card read. ''Please consider making a Valentine's Day gift . . . in honor of your special connection." Almost 350 couples did, sending back checks that totalled $17,400, Dale said.

Alumni newsletters, once published and mailed by individual colleges, are now overseen by fund-raising officials, who check to make sure the letters look professional and include UMass successes.

For the 62-year-old Lombardi, who raised $700 million in his nine years at the University of Florida, the larger concern is that the fund-raising culture he creates becomes a permanent part of the institution and that alumni relationships continue to be nurtured, so they continue paying dividends for decades.

''The problem is motivating people [at the university] to focus on fund-raising, because they live in the current world, and it's hard to take the long view," he said. ''I know I'm going to be asking for things that will be enjoyed by my successors. It's an act of faith."

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.


Top public endowments (2003)
Texas A&M University $3.5 billion
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor $3.4 billion
University of California-Berkeley $1.8 billion
University of Virginia $1.8 billion
University of Texas-Austin $1.6 billion
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities $1.3 billion

New England public flagship endowments (2003)
University of Vermont $193 million
University of New Hampshire-Durham $141 million
University of Connecticut-Storrs $112 million
University of Maine-Orono $83 million
University of Rhode Island $49 million

Annual giving among selected Massachusetts universities with more than $20 million in federal research (2002 data)
Harvard University $478 million
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $221 million
Boston University $91 million
Tufts University $82 million
Boston College $56 million
Northeastern University $28 million

SOURCE: Prepublication data from 2003 fiscal year from Top American Research Universities (2004), a publication of The Center at the University of Florida; 2002 data is from ''Top American Research Universities (2003)."

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