University Announces $400 Million “This is Why” Campaign

By Christina Norris and Lily Baggott, News Editors
Monday, February 18, 2013

The University is kicking off the public phase of its latest fundraising campaign, the first phase of which began during the 2008 fiscal year. During the first phase, called a “quiet” or “nucleus” phase, administrators solicited donations from members of the University community and received over $270 million. The goal for the entire campaign, scheduled to last approximately eight years, is to raise $400 million. Over half of the money raised will go into the University’s endowment.

The campaign’s theme, “This is Why,” is meant to encourage donors to think about why one might donate to the University.

“Instead of us telling students, alumni, and parents why they should support the University, they should tell us why they care about Wesleyan,” said President Michael Roth. “They might say, ‘I don’t like what the administration’s doing, but this is why I love Wesleyan,’ or maybe, ‘Because I’m on the volleyball team, this is why I love Wesleyan.’ Someone else might say, ‘This is…because of the lab work I did,’ and someone else will say, ‘It’s because I met my spouse there.’ We don’t need to homogenize it into a single stream.”

Manager of Media Relations and Public Relations Katherine Carlisle explained that while the bulk of the money raised will be put toward financial aid, many aspects of University operations will benefit from the donations.

“It will help support recruiting faculty who are the best and the most talented, which is what we want to have working here,” Carlisle said. “[It will] also help support a lot of the programs that are very important to Wesleyan: the interdisciplinary programs, research funding, stipends for internships, and other types of student engagement which Wesleyan is known for.”

Carlisle and Roth explained that when planning the campaign, administrators decided against some more standard approaches to fundraising.

“When we started talking about this as a campaign, the issue that arose pretty quickly was that campaigns are marches, parades of people singing the same songs, wearing the same clothes,” Roth said. “This kind of doesn’t really work at Wesleyan. When we talked to our consultants about how to do this public phase...[they really thought] that Wesleyan would be better served by a campaign made by the constituents of the University rather than made by the administration or by a consultant.”

In a search for a new style of fundraising, Roth explained, campaign planners decided on the “This is Why” theme in order to elicit vocal support from donors.

“The support has been really encouraging,” Roth said. “There are people who are upset about need-blind. There are other people who are upset the football team hasn’t won enough games. There are lots of reasons not to give, but so many people are, in fact, supporting the University.”

Roth said that the University has decided against having an expensive launch party or sending “glossy” pamphlets to potential donors.

“It’s a little bit of an un-campaign,” Carlisle said. “It’s not traditionally the way a lot of our peer institutions have a somewhat more traditional approach to fundraising. This one has a lot more Wesleyan feel and appeal to it.”

When donors give to the University, money goes either into the endowment, a long-term savings and investment vehicle, or the Wesleyan Fund, an annual fund used for more immediate needs. According to Editor and New Media Writer Lauren Rubenstein, this year’s goal for the Wesleyan Fund is $10.25 million.

Of the money raised in this campaign, about $200 million, half of the $400 million fundraising goal, will be committed to financial aid, which will come either from the University’s endowment or the Wesleyan Fund. Another $140 million raised will come from endowment donations and be used to enlist faculty and foster distinct University programs. The remaining $60 million will be devoted to community engagement, internships, and research.

According to Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson, during the last fundraising campaign, which closed in December of 2004, the University raised $281 million.

“We are right on target for the current campaign and will go public having already raised very close to the total amount of our last campaign,” Wilson wrote in an email to The Argus. “That is great news!”

Wilson explained that during this campaign, certain groups will be approached more than they were in past years.

“We are trying our best to engage younger alumni (GOLD: Graduates of the Last Decade) and parents, as well as our traditional, core donors from the last campaign,” Wilson wrote.

Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts explained that the University has various revenue streams, the largest of which are tuition, the endowment draw, and the annual Wesleyan Fund. Meerts said that these streams are incorporated into a long-range financial projection for the University.

According to Meerts, many donations are designated for specific uses and projects, and although they increase the overall budget, they do not necessarily relieve existing strains on the budget.

“So not necessarily all of the money that comes in is going to be unrestricted and therefore ... budget-relieving, so it [only] makes it possible to do other things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” Meerts said. “And of course I like the campaign, of course I like the $400 million, quite a bit of which we have already received, but I just want to make sure that it’s understood that the net of this is that we will pretty much continue to do what we are doing right now.”

However, some restricted donations do help alleviate current strains on the budget, such as donations for new constructions or renovations that the University was previously planning. The donation would then free up money previously set aside for the construction or renovation and thus allow that money to be used for other purposes at the discretion of the University. Still, Meerts noted that unrestricted money would be the most beneficial for the University’s budgetary planning.

“So the best thing that could happen is tons of unrestricted money. People say to Wesleyan, ‘Here, we love you, Wesleyan. Here’s money, you decide what to do with it,’” he said. “It doesn’t always work that way.”

Nevertheless, Roth expressed optimism about the campaign.

“We’ve been very encouraged by the gifts we’ve received,” he said. “I shouldn’t jinx it, but the end of this year should be the best two years we’ve ever had of fundraising, even in a terrible economy.”

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