Colleges Turn To Alumni For Support

July 29, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Higher education is asking West Michigan to put its history of generosity to use on local campuses.

Major fundraisers are underway at Aquinas College, Calvin College and Grand Valley State University. In all three cases, alumni are a major focus of the public campaign phases.

GVSU announced last month a $50 million drive to celebrate its 50th anniversary. About $18 million will be earmarked for endowments, faculty chairs and scholarships, and $30 million will be used for a 21st century-style library at the Allendale campus.

That follows a total of about $46 million that GVSU has collected for other new construction since 2000.

Since 2001, Calvin College, which has less than 20 percent of the enrollment of GVSU, has been working on a $150 million campaign. After a private segment that was delayed by the 2001 terrorist attacks, the public phase began last year. About $135 million has been raised so far.

At Aquinas College, fundraisers are underway to gather $4 million for a scholarship and research endowment fund, $2 million for science facilities and $12 million for field house renovations and an addition.

GVSU already has $25 million in hand for the “Shaping Our Future” campaign, Vice President for University Development Maribeth Wardrop said.

“In 1965-66, the Zumberge Library was built for a 3,000- to 5,000-student population,” Wardrop said.

“We now have close to 25,000. I really think that piece of information tells you why we need to move on with this campaign at this time.”

The new library’s total cost is pegged at $70 million, with $40 million requested from the state. However, the Legislature this month declined to fund the request for the upcoming fiscal year. Wardrop said the university is undeterred, noting that the fundraising campaign is slated to continue into 2011.

“I think once they know that the citizens of Michigan and West Michigan are supporting this fantastic project, we have faith that the state of Michigan will step up also,” she said.

The campaign represents GVSU’s first attempt to raise an endowment for faculty and scholarships, she added.

“First we are starting with mailings; then we’ll be doing a series of information activities around the alumni. We’ll be going out around the state and beyond to talk to alumni and explain what’s going on with the campus,” Wardrop said. “Alumni need to know the value of their degree has increased.”

Since arriving at GVSU a decade ago, Wardrop has overseen a maturation of the university’s development efforts. She said the staff has grown from a few to 22, and the number of annual donors has doubled, as has annual giving.

With a goal that’s triple that of GVSU and an alumni base that is smaller, Calvin College has taken a long-range approach to its goal, Director of Development Jan Druyvesteyn said. The Christian Reformed campus was just beginning its outreach to major donors when the terrorist attacks occurred in 2001. The attacks and subsequent economic ripples delayed that portion of the campaign, called “No Greater Task: Hearts and Minds Renewing God’s World.”

With $30 million left to go, the campaign’s public phase was announced last year.

“In the various regions we’ve identified that have clusters of Calvin alumni, we’re making campaign presentations with the use of a video created for this purpose, showing the impact of Calvin alumni around the world,” Druyvesteyn said. “People are invited based on their giving history to the institution. It’s really targeted fundraising. We seek people who have a proclivity and capacity to give.”

The campaign, the largest in Calvin’s history, will create endowments for scholarships and financial aid, faculty research and development, and campus maintenance and renovation. Also included are the new Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex and renovation of the Calvin Fieldhouse; construction of a 120,000-square-foot Campus Commons; and renovation of the Fine Arts Center.

Support for Christian education at all levels resounds with Calvin donors, she added. “People appreciate what we’re doing, and they know it takes money to fund this,” she said.

Yet, until about 25 years ago, Calvin was reluctant to conduct fund drives for endowments, she said. Most people assumed the Christian Reformed Church shouldered the lion’s share, and others clung to the idea that an endowment was a repudiation of the theological notion that God would provide what the college needed.

Over the years, the church’s contribution has remained steady, but Calvin’s budget has grown so that it covers only a fraction of the total, Druyvesteyn explained.

The college recorded 4,199 students for the 2007-08 academic year.

Like Calvin, the nearby Aquinas College is collecting funds for field house renovation and an addition of about $12 million.

Greg Meyer, a West Catholic High School graduate who made his mark as a long-distance runner, joined Aquinas in March as associate vice president for institutional advancement after eight years in the development department at the University of Michigan.

Meyer said the admissions department at the Catholic college, which has a 2007-08 enrollment of 2,250, is the biggest fan of the field house work, so it can tout the new facilities to prospective students.

“Students today expect to have those kinds of health and wellness facilities,” Meyer said. “The facility now is not on par with high schools.”

The college also is updating science laboratories, which may cost up to $2 million, “depending on the extent we go.” And earlier this year, Aquinas President C. Edward Balog said the college hopes to raise $4 million as an endowment for student scholarships and faculty research.

At U-M, which as a public university receives a share of dwindling state funds for higher education, fundraising and endowments are measured with many more zeros, he noted.

“At a small place like Aquinas, we don’t have those reserves,” he said.

“From the Catholic perspective, the bishop is doing Cathedral Square, there’s ongoing fundraising for Catholic high schools and elementary schools.

“But Grand Rapids, they come up No. 2 in the country in terms of philanthropy,” Meyer added. “Many people in the community have seen our value and have given to us because they know it plays a key role in the education fabric of West Michigan, much like Calvin, Hope and Cornerstone.”

Ferris State University is not in the midst of a large campaign, but is seeking a replacement for former Vice President Rick Dussett, who retired in June after overseeing the school’s finances and fundraising. Those jobs now are being split, and searches are under way to fill them, said FSU spokeswoman Leah Nixon.

Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Shelly Armstrong is leading advancement efforts on an interim basis, Nixon said, and routine fundraising is continuing.

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