University on track to meet fundraising goal

Kelsey Ruane

The University is on its way to reaching its $40 million fundraising goal for the fiscal year 2010, according to Vice President for University Advancement Mike O’Neill. 

As of last Friday, $38.6 million in donations had come in, up 14.5 percent from this time last year, according to O’Neill. 

“We expect to reach it,” O’Neill said.

This year’s projected success comes after a less successful 2009 in which the University did not meet its goal of $41 million, bringing in a total of $38,804,640, down 11.5 percent from fiscal year 2008. O’Neill attributed last fiscal year’s shortfall to a natural drop-off in donations following the close of a capital campaign, which is a fundraising initiative spanning a specific period of time. The Transforming Minds and Hearts Campaign raised $303 million from 2000 to 2007.

The newly released Strategic Plan will be the focus of the University’s next major, extended fundraising effort, according to O’Neill. The nation’s economic downturn also ran through the majority of the fiscal year 2009. Last year, philanthropy to American colleges and universities dropped 11.9 percent, while donations to private liberal arts colleges dropped 18.3 percent, according to the Voluntary Support of Education survey released by the Council for Aid to Education. 

“We’re back to fiscal year 2008 levels,” O’Neill said of this year’s rebound.

Contributing to this year’s success is the addition of 1,648 new donors. The participation rate, or alumni giving rate, which describes the number of alumni who make donations, is an area that the University is trying to focus on, because it lags behind the rates of peer institutions, according to O’Neill.

“It’s surprising, because we have very loyal alumni, but it hasn’t transferred into a broad scope of participation,” O’Neill said.

The participation rate is expected to reach at least 19 percent this year and has hovered around 18 percent for the last several years.The University’s goal is to increase the participation rate to 30 percent, according to O’Neill. 

The newly released Strategic Plan relies heavily on fundraising efforts and growth in the endowment. The stakes are high, according to O’Neill.

“If we don’t reach our [fundraising] goals, then we’re not going to reach the goals of the Strategic Plan, which are fairly ambitious,” O’Neill said.

In the year 2009, Boston College had a participation rate of 24 percent, Georgetown had 27 percent and Notre Dame had 50 percent, according to the Council for Aid to Education.

The University’s fundraising methods include direct mail and telemarketing. The Telefund employs students who call alumni for 11 months per year. As of April 12, it had raised $900,959 since September.

“We’ve been much more aggressive and frequent in our outreach,” O’Neill said.

Major giving to the University is considered a gift of $100,000 or more and tends to be designated for a specific purpose, such as athletics or academics. Alumni with the potential to give major gifts are courted by University Advancement employees who look to engage them in Villanova life. University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., also plays an important role in fundraising efforts.

“It’s relationship building — not a cold call,” O’Neill said.