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As the first graduate of his Houston public high school to attend an Ivy League university, G. Leonard Baker Jr. was somewhat awed when he came to Yale on scholarship in 1960. Not the least of the impression, he recalls, “was that I found myself in a place where you didn’t have to apologize for being genuinely interested in intellectual things.”
Now a venture capitalist in Palo Alto, Baker looks back on his Yale years as a period that “really defined my life.” So when a representative of Yale’s development office called on him for support at the beginning of its $1.5-billion fundraising campaign, he was eager to respond. As a campaign volunteer, Baker helped raise $15 million-$6 million more than the goal for his region. Not surprisingly, he asked that his own portion of the total be devoted to teaching in Yale College.
Yale was not a tough product to sell, Baker says: “Over and over again I was amazed by Yale’s ability to move people’s emotions. More than any other institution I’ve been involved with, Yale has this remarkable ability to engage people.”
Five years after the official launch of the effort (dubbed “and for Yale” to remind alumni of their obligations beyond God and country), it is this sense of alumni engagement that gratifies Yale’s fundraisers almost as much as the money itself. According to John J. Lee '58, '59 MEng, the campaign’s national chairman, almost 80 percent of the money came from private individuals, most of them alumni of Yale College. “The numbers speak for themselves,” he says. “Yale’s alumni body has always been open to long-term continuing support of the University. This result places Yale in a class by itself in terms of fundraising by a private institution.”
The momentum established by the $500 million that was gathered before the launch only accelerated as the campaign continued, despite a number of bruising public relations setbacks. With the help of more than 2,000 volunteers in this country and abroad, the campaign took in $180 million in each of its first three years, $225 million last fiscal year, and $320 million in 1996–97 for a total of $1.7 billion. Terry Holcombe '64, the University’s vice president for development and alumni affairs and the chief steward of the campaign’s day-to-day operations, put the process in some perspective by explaining that raising just $200 million a year meant averaging about $1 million for every working day. (“We tried to avoid sitting there thinking, ‘Here it is, 11 o’clock, and I should have raised $400,000 by now,’” he quipped.)
When President Benno Schmidt officially launched the campaign with an offbeat blend of pomp and humor in May, 1992 (Yale Alumni Magazine, Summer '92), it was hailed as the most ambitious fundraising effort ever undertaken by an institution of higher learning. Yet behind the enthusiasm of the kick-off ceremonies, there were some concerns about timing: namely, the prospects of raising such an unprecedented sum in a period of retrenchment. Much of the country was still mired in recession, and on campus the mood was decidedly tense, with academic departments facing cuts of up to 10 percent under Schmidt’s controversial restructuring proposal.
Development officials, however, said the goal was reasonable and not out of line with what other institutions had been seeking in recent years. Stanford broke the $1-billion barrier in 1987 with a $1.1-billion campaign to usher in its second century, and the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Cornell had also mounted $1-billion-plus efforts.
“There is a saying that there is never a good time for fundraising,” Holcombe said prior to the campaign kick-off. “But we can’t be concerned about the timing. We need the money now. And who knows what the economy will do in the next five years?”
Only the most confident prognosticator could have foreseen the economic turnaround that helped push giving to higher education to record levels. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in March that colleges and universities received $14.2 billion in fiscal 1996. That was 11.8 percent higher than the previous year, and the steepest increase in such support in nearly a decade.
While the continued bullishness of the stock market prompted much of the generosity, academic fundraisers across the nation also said a renewed focus on major gifts was crucial. “It’s a matter of paying close attention to that group of people who can make an extraordinary difference,” Young P. Dawkins, vice president for development and alumni relations at Oberlin College, told the Chronicle.
Before the campaign, Yale had identified a “top tier” of 110 donors with the potential to give $5 million or more. The goal for the principal gifts division, headed by Charles Pagnam, was $430 million. There was also a “middle level” of 10,000 individuals considered likely to donate between $50,000 and $5 million, for a total of $300 million. That meant about 10 percent of Yale’s 100,000-plus alumni were being asked to contribute almost half of the $1.5-billion goal.
Yale did extremely well in cultivating top-tier donors prior to the start of the campaign. Prominent alumni contributed some staggering gifts to put the University ahead of its goal of raising a “nucleus fund” of $500 million by the kick-off date. On May 1, 1992, Paul Mellon '29, donor of the Yale Center for British Art, pledged $50 million in artworks, historical documents, and endowment funding. Mellon’s gift-the largest ever to Yale by an individual-brought the nucleus fund to about $572 million, or 38 percent of the total. “Never has so much been raised in a short time, and never has so much remained to be raised,” President Benno Schmidt told the crowd at Woolsey Hall.
It was largely Schmidt’s formidable fundraising skills that helped to get the campaign rolling even as he was being criticized on campus for a distant leadership style. Accompanied by development officials, Schmidt was on the road for much of the two years of the “pre-campaign,” priming alumni with explanations of the University’s pressing needs, from the rising costs of attracting the best professors and students to the need to rehabilitate Yale’s aging buildings.
Yet just as the campaign was gaining momentum, Schmidt stunned the Yale community with his surprise announcement the day after the 1992 Commencement that he would be resigning as President.
Schmidt’s resignation was to be the first of a number of high-ranking personnel changes during the campaign’s official five-year run. Howard Lamar became Acting President in June of 1992, and served until Richard C. Levin was elected in April of 1993. The original chairman of the campaign, Vernon Loucks Jr. '57, stepped down from that position, as well as his post as Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation, in August of 1993. Loucks was succeeded by John Lee, the campaign’s vice chairman.
Such turnover could have seriously stalled the campaign. The fact that it did not is, in the view of many alumni, a tribute to the confidence engendered by the University’s leadership. Says Robert A. Lawrence '47, who made a major gift to the renovation of Sterling Memorial Library and served as regional chair for New England in the campaign: “I think Benno’s role should not be underestimated. He drew people’s attention to the facts of life at Yale-and not all of those facts were pleasant. He got the campaign started, and Rick picked up where he left off. He showed he was the right man at the right time for the job.”
Early on in Levin’s tenure, however, the University endured a major embarrassment, when a $20-million gift from Lee Bass '79 to establish a new program in Western Civilization was returned under controversial circumstances (see Sum. 1995). The donation had been made in 1992 as part of a mammoth $85-million pledge to the campaign by members of the Bass family. Publicly, Yale acknowledged it had “mishandled” the gift, although administrators also said the money was returned because the University could not grant Bass’s belated request for final approval of faculty for the new program.
Two years after the gift was returned, the affair still angers some alumni, particularly members of the Class of 1937, who have urged Yale to make public the findings of an internal investigation into the matter. Class Secretary Rynn Berry predicted at his 60th reunion this spring that Yale’s refusal to do so could cost the University future donations from the Bass family and others. (The University responds that the study was an internal effort from the outset and was never intended for publication.)
Time will tell whether Berry’s prediction will be borne out over the long term, but while the news of the Bass incident made headlines all over the country at the time-and Levin and top Yale officials dashed from city to city to reassure perplexed alumni-the campaign continued ahead of projections. Indeed, donations in the two years since the flap over the Bass grant have set records for annual giving to Yale.
Nevertheless, the University administration has not taken the impact of the Bass affair lightly. It prompted Yale to institute a system to track major gifts from the time they are received to the time they are implemented. Previously, gifts would arrive at the development office and then be sent directly to the provost, with little follow-up or coordination. Moreover, a stewardship committee has been established, and regular reports on the status of gifts are now made to donors. Stepped-up communication became a major theme of the campaign, prompting semiannual letters to alumni from the President, programs like “Conversations with the Corporation” and a “Day with Yale” in several cities, and annual Class Leadership meetings in New York City.
“It was a very unfortunate incident,” Levin said recently of the Bass matter. “We admitted our error and admitted responsibility. But I know it created a loss of confidence on the part of some alumni, and we have labored hard to restore that confidence. I think most people weighed up the ways that Yale continues to be a strong and remarkable institution and made up their minds to continue supporting us.”
Prominent alumni like S. Roger Horchow '50, who pursued a successful career in mail-order merchandising before turning to Tony Award–winning theater, tend to agree with Levin’s analysis. “The story [of Yale’s needs] was so compelling that people rallied round,” says Horchow, whose campaign contribution funded a significant portion of the renovation of Calhoun College. “You can’t let one or two incidents upset the whole thing.”
That argument is especially compelling in an environment where competition for philanthropic dollars is intense and Yale is hardly the only institution from which alumni-wealthy and otherwise-hear calls for help. “Yale is sometimes a victim of its own success,” Holcombe says. “Looking at Yale’s large endowment, some donors feel that Yale doesn’t need their gifts. Many feel that their contributions, both in effort and money, make a bigger impact locally.”
As the University struggled through more than a year of labor unrest before finally settling contracts with its two unions last December, critics challenged Yale to reconcile its belt-tightening, deficit-cutting efforts in light of an ever-burgeoning endowment. The endowment topped $5 billion in 1996-97, boosted by an annualized 13.5 percent return over the past decade, the highest among its peer universities.
But in its quest for campaign dollars, Yale also had a highly visible asset on its side: the scaffolding, drop-cloths, and other symbols of construction clinging to central campus landmarks like Sterling Memorial Library and Payne Whitney Gymnasium. After pursuing a policy known as “deferred maintenance” for decades, Yale has had to play catch-up in a big way. More than $250 million worth of restoration and renovation projects are currently underway, and another $700 million is scheduled over the next five years.
Much of that amount will be covered by the proceeds of the recent campaign. Fully a third-$500 million-of the total goal was earmarked for renovation and maintenance, with another $500 million for the endowment, and $500 million more for current and unrestricted use. (None of the other billion-dollar university campaigns approached Yale’s target for maintenance; Columbia, Cornell and Stanford planned to raise only 20 percent of their totals for facilities.) But renovation and maintenance are notoriously difficult areas for solicitation. Upgrading balky plumbing, antiquated wiring, and leaky windows may be an absolute necessity, but the finished product is often visible only to the workers. Yale helped its cause, however, by publicizing a schedule of major projects in the campaign’s third year, detailing the plans and time frame for each one.
The University’s clear enunciation of its facilities goals proved surprisingly attractive to donors. Where giving for that segment accounted for about 20 percent of the total in the first three years of the campaign, it climbed to more than 40 percent in each of the last two, with the final tally estimated at more than $400 million-short of the goal, but an impressive achievement nonetheless.
Among the stalwarts of the facilities portion of the effort was William Wright '82, who made a major contribution toward the restoration of Sterling Library. “The library is in many respects the heart of the University,” says Wright, who is now a principal in mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley in New York City. “To see it restored and brought up to highest standards of preservation and environmental control is very important to me.”
The success of the recent campaign owed much to lessons learned during the one that preceded it. That campaign-with a goal of $370 million-was launched in 1974 and scheduled to end within two-and-a-half years. But by then it had reached less than half its total goal and had to be extended to 1979. The fact that Yale was coming off some rocky financial years didn’t help matters. Nor did the fact that many alumni were still reeling from the admission of women undergraduates in 1969. But the heart of the problem was poor organization, Holcombe says. Too many volunteers did too little work, a network of regional offices was expensive and ineffective, and a complicated system of crediting gifts pitted the Alumni Fund and the Development Office against each other, confusing and irritating potential donors.
For the recent campaign, the Development Office and the Alumni Fund shared a single data base, and support staffs of both offices were integrated. And an international network of volunteers was established, each of them expected to establish a personal relationship with a contingent of Yale’s 120,000 alumni. They supplemented the efforts of 150 direct fundraising and support staff, led by Holcombe. The crediting rules couldn’t have been simpler: Everything anybody gave to Yale during the campaign counted toward the goal, even if it was dedicated to a class reunion gift.
One might expect after such a massive-and successful-effort that the University’s fundraising apparatus would be dismantled, or at least substantially shrunk. Not at all. “In the old days, you would have a campaign and then go back to sleep,” Holcombe says. But while many of Yale’s needs have been alleviated by the campaign, others are continuous. “The objective here was not just to build up support, but to sustain it afterward,” says Holcombe. That will fall to others, however. Having served on two campaigns during his 23 years at Yale, Holcombe is stepping down in January. “It’s time for a breather,” he says.
Among the immediate goals for the future are to sustain giving at about $200 million a year from its pre-campaign level of about $120 million. The University also wants to maintain participation levels at the campaign-boosted 50 percent, up 10 percent from five years ago. There are also inroads to be made outside the traditional donor pool, notably among alumni of the graduate and professional schools, as well as among individuals who, while not affiliated with the University, might be willing to support a particular field of research.
Those efforts will be affected by the ways in which Yale’s alumni body is changing. The greatest number of Yale College alumni graduated after 1973, and they represent a far more economically and racially diverse group than their predecessors. They are also about equally divided among men and women. The results of the campaign reflect these changes in dramatic fashion. To the surprise and delight of fundraisers, men and women gave in equal proportions. And younger alumni accounted for a surprisingly large portion of the total. Accordingly, a University Council Committee on Development has been established to research future giving trends among this population.
Yale administrators say there are ample reasons for boosting giving into the next decade and beyond. Certainly, the mammoth construction and maintenance effort is one, but there are other critical issues, including a fall-off in government support and the need to keep higher education affordable for more than the very wealthy. The cost of going to college has nearly doubled in the last decade, increasing at a rate more than twice that of inflation. And with the annual bill for attending the nation’s elite universities now averaging more than $1,000 a week, Yale for the last few years has been working to lower its tuition increases to the level of the consumer price index. According to President Levin, direct gifts and endowment income already cover about one-third of the cost of a Yale education, and that percentage will have to increase as government funding continues to erode. “The great private educational institutions in this country are now and have always been utterly dependent on support from their alumni,” Levin says. “And if we want to keep the cost of education under control, it’s essential that we cultivate private sources of philanthropy to support our mission.” Campaign, or no campaign.
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