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The GW Hatchet

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Cameron Lancaster | Contributing Photo Editor


Road to $1 billion

Expectations and ambitions for GW’s massive fundraising campaign are at an all-time high.

This story is part one of a yearlong series on GW’s fundraising efforts as it drives toward its comprehensive campaign.

GW’s top administrators have traveled across the world over the past year to meet with dozens of top donors and trustees, quietly revealing plans for the largest fundraising drive in the school’s history.

Details of that campaign – at a time when GW’s spending and ambitions are also at a high – will likely come to fruition this year. The fundraising team will brief the Board of Trustees in October and February, when the body can decide the best time to publicly announce its goal – when they are assured that GW will be able to reach it.

Officials and experts have repeatedly hinted that GW could raise at least $1 billion over the next decade to transform academic programs, faculty cores and campus buildings. It’s an eye-popping number, but one that has become a common goal at GW’s competitor schools like New York and Boston universities. To get there, GW has invested heavily in more development staff, international travel and relied on academic leaders to pulls in funds, transforming GW’s priorities.

So far, the investments have mostly paid off. The University tallied $223 million in the two years since GW tiptoed into the campaign’s first chapter, known as the “quiet phase.” But last fiscal year, however, GW saw a double-digit dip in the size of its fundraising haul.

Michael Morsberger, the chief development officer, said need-based scholarships – like the Power and Promise fund – top the list of priorities, followed by construction projects and endowed professor spots. He said a “working goal” for each amount the office wants to bring in for each target likely won’t be announced until later this year.

The Development and Alumni Relations Office has brought in about $223 million over the past two years.

Media Credit:

Donors have also expressed interest in supporting career services, veterans and study abroad programs, which are all goals that coincide with GW’s nearly $400 million strategic plan released last May. Morsberger said that nationally, donors prefer to pay for academic or research programs for the buildings than the construction, which typically comprise 10 to 15 percent of a fundraising campaign.

To get to a potential $1 billion goal, the University must rally its traditionally low-donating bases of alumni, as well as faculty, parents and trustees. Less than one-tenth of alumni donate annually, while the percent of parents giving back has tripled since last year.

The ambitious campaign also relies on all 11 of the school’s deans and touches all areas of GW. After University President Steven Knapp arrived in 2007, he pushed deans to increase their fundraising duties to take up about 40 percent of their time to help carry the heavy fundraising load.

The GW Law School is aiming to raise between $100 and $120 million, Associate Vice President for Law Development Rich Collins said. That target could be higher if the school pulls in large gifts in the first few years, giving momentum to the campaign, which hopes to create programs like $5 million in endowed professorships.

He said each college is now focusing on pulling in big-donor prospects to set the tone for the campaign.

“A $10 million gift that was committed early would give us confidence that we could go to a higher goal,” Collins said. “One of the things we’re doing in the quiet phase is to get to those seven-figure prospects and eight-figure prospects, so we’re exploring where the ceiling is.”

Funding ‘a decade of transformation’

With GW on the cusp of a potentially $1 billion campaign, the huge target is also a sign of how far the University has come.

The last campaign ended a decade ago when it pulled in $552 million, creating almost 300 endowed funds for department chairs, professors and scholarships. The University only has about 80 professors paid for by endowed funds – far fewer than most of the colleges it competes with.

Since the last campaign, the University brought in Morsberger – an experienced fundraiser hired away from Duke University three years ago. Before that, he spent nine years at Johns Hopkins University, where Knapp was formerly the provost. Morsberger’s office, which grew 30 percent in the last three years, pulled more than $103 million into scholarships, academic programs and construction projects over the past year.

“The reality is, philanthropy to some degree has become one of the last influenceable lines of income that the nonprofit world has, and certainly that higher ed has,” Morsberger said.

The University’s 10-year strategic plan is estimated to cost up to $400 million.

This year, though, the development office saw some growing pains, as donations slowed down to the lowest year-end total of the past five years.

And two of the largest donations in GW’s history – for the GW Museum and Textile Museum, as well as the Churchill Archives – will fund gifts that have faced flak from students who wanted to see that combined $33 million go toward student needs.

There were silver linings, though, such as a slight increase in alumni giving, more annual gifts and more planned gifts.

Two-thirds of the campaign’s donations will likely come from individuals with direct GW connections: alumni, parents, faculty and trustees, Morsberger said. The rest Morsberger expects to see from corporations, local business leaders and GW Hospital patients.

Knapp said GW’s fundraising potential is high as it begins its much-hyped “decade of transformation” and concludes its 100th year in Foggy Bottom.

“The fact that we are on the verge of beginning our third century, along with everything we are right now doing to prepare for that, will help us galvanize the university community, and that energy and excitement will be contagious, I hope, when it comes to engaging potential donors,” Knapp said.

But GW’s solid academic programs suffer from the University-wide reputation that still sticks it far behind competitors like New York, Northwestern and Georgetown universities. By bringing in academic chiefs like Knapp and Provost Steven Lerman from research-heavy institutions, officials hope to recruit more star faculty and raise the level of GW’s graduate programs.

A national effort

“Capital campaigns,” as the funding drive is called, are spreading across higher education as colleges try to reel in donors post-recession. Longtime competitor to GW, Boston University, is knee-deep in its first capital campaign.

More than 30 colleges are currently running capital campaigns of $1 billion or more, said Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the Center for Advancement and Support of Education. She added that the number of multi-billion dollar capital campaigns “has been on the rise since 2000.” The typical campaign, she said, spans seven years.

After the 2003 campaign, the development office tripled its staff between 2005 and 2009.

“Institutions are pretty confident they can make it, or they wouldn’t be doing it,” Russell said.

“The public phases were longer, but during the recession it was difficult to get these gifts in, and they were really doing more engagement and supporting of donors during the quiet phase,” she said.

Media Credit: Nick Rice | Visual Director

Of the 14 institutions GW considers its peers, 11 recently launched or completed campaigns of $1 billion or more.

Finance editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education Lee Gardner said the recession made it harder to raise funds, but it also forced many institutions to set higher goals.

“Institutions are being more ambitious. The billion-dollar campaign is becoming more and more common,” Gardner said.

– Cory Weinberg contributed to this report

This post was updated Sept. 3 at 10:08 p.m. to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the number of years GW has been located in Foggy Bottom.

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