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College of Education > News and Publications > News: July-September 2014 > A Few Thoughts About Fund Raising at Penn State

A Few Thoughts About Fund Raising at Penn State

Dean David H. Monk reflects on the fund raising process after a remarkable success of a recent campaign that raised more than $32.8 million in new commitments over a 7 year period.

Dean's Message (Fall 2014)

by David H. Monk, Dean, Penn State College of Education

Given the remarkable success we have enjoyed with the campaign that just closed (more than $32.8 million in new commitments over a 7 year period after starting with an $18 million goal), it seems timely to reflect on the fund raising process. I suspect it is a mystery to many of you, just as it was to me before I became so deeply involved. Given the growing importance of private philanthropy to the College and to the University, perhaps you have some interest in how we raise funds and put them to work advancing our programs. Here is my attempt to provide an overview.

For starters. It has been my recurring experience that our alumni and friends respond very favorably to what we are doing and that as they learn more, they become more inclined to provide support. Thanks to the hard work of our faculty, staff, and students, we have a very good story to tell, and we have over 56,000 alumni in this College alone who have at least some connection to the work of the College. This is a large but very worthy communication challenge, and this explains the considerable effort we devote to publications (both print and electronic) and other forms of communication that increasingly involve social media.

Professional staff. A big part of our Development and Alumni Relations Team’s job is to be on top of what is going on in the College and to convey accurate information. A second big part of the Development and Alumni Relations Team’s job is to be very knowledgeable about our alumni base and potential donors. The greatest successes come when we can match the interests and passions of a potential donor with ongoing and emerging initiatives in the College. We find again and again that faculty members are very effective at engaging our alumni in conversations about their research. They can share the genuine enthusiasm they have for their research and their love for teaching. If you are a faculty member, please be receptive to requests you might receive to interact with alumni and friends who have interest in your work.

Volunteers. Our professional development staff cannot possibly be personally in touch with every member of our prospect pool, so we have learned to extend our “eyes and ears” by enlisting the help of volunteers. These volunteers are typically (but not always) graduates of the College, and they help in many ways, including making personal calls of thanks to those who have made gifts. These volunteers meet at least twice a year and offer our team advice about our plans for fundraising and engagement opportunities. We have also had several volunteers host alumni engagement events at their homes, restaurants, or clubs.

Stewardship. It is very important to find ways to say “thank you” to those who have made gifts, and this includes saying “thank you” to the large number of faculty and staff in the College who provide support. We are grateful for this wonderful vote of confidence in the College. Michelle Houser, our Director of Development and Alumni Relations, tells me that over the course of the “For the Future” campaign, faculty and staff in the College of Education contributed more than $923,000. This is truly amazing. Thank you for making these gifts!

There are also some interesting dilemmas that can arise in our efforts to say “thank you.” For example, the College hosts numerous events, including periodic dinners where my wife, Pam, and I try to personalize the “thank you” by inviting donors into our home. We are happy to do this, but the house can accommodate only so many guests, and decisions have to be made about who to invite. We want to thank our most loyal donors, but we also want to identify new donors and help them to feel welcome. We face a similar dilemma when we extend invitations to the limited number of seats we are allocated in the President’s box for football games. Some (but not all) of our donors enjoy Penn State football, and providing seats in the President’s box can be a powerful way of saying “thank you.” These are worthy challenges that just increase as the College enjoys success and has larger numbers of donors to thank.

A second very important part of stewardship involves making sure we are making full use of the income that is generated by the endowments our donors create. We monitor the spending from our income accounts very carefully to make sure the expenditures are line with our donors’ intentions and to make sure the funds are actually being put to work. Everyone who has created an endowment at Penn State receives an annual report about the current value of the endowment and the spending that has occurred. It can be a very awkward conversation with a donor if we find ourselves in a situation where we have not spent the funds that became available to us thanks to the donor’s gift. We ask those of you who have responsibility for managing endowments to help us make sure we are making full use of the resulting dollars.

Planting seeds. We host our annual scholarship and leadership dinners to extend thanks to those who have created scholarship endowments. In recent years, we have invited students who are the beneficiaries of endowment support to these dinners. We have found that our donors very much enjoy meeting students who are pursuing their educational hopes and dreams thanks in part to the scholarships they are receiving. We typically invite several students to be speakers at these events and their stories are heartwarming and inspirational. We can be very proud of our students and they rise admirably to the challenge of expressing their hopes and dreams and thanks in these settings. Please let us know if you have recommendations for future student speakers at these events.

We are also very consciously planting seeds in the minds of the students as it is important for them to know that real people have made sacrifices to help support their education and that the time will come in the future when it is their turn to give back. We ask our scholarship recipients to write letters of thanks to those who have made the gifts that make their scholarships possible. We hear many positive comments from our donors about how articulate our students are and how much they enjoy receiving these letters. We also hear very welcome comments from our students about their intentions to follow the example of our donors and create their own scholarships in the future.

Big numbers. I sometimes worry that we spend too much time talking about big numbers in connection with fund raising. We hear lots about billion dollar campaigns and multi-million dollar gifts, and my fear is that this encourages people to think that philanthropy is only for the very wealthy. Yes, the large gifts are important and we are happy to give them visibility, but the great majority of our gifts are of more modest size and sometimes come in the form of estate gifts that may or may not follow a history of annual support. An important part of fund raising involves helping people gain a better understanding about what their true capacity is for making a gift that can be transformational. We have a responsibility to help donors leave an impactful legacies that fulfill their heartfelt passions and that meet the needs of the College.

I also worry that the “big numbers” people hear can give rise to a type of cynicism. For example, I can imagine faculty and staff thinking to themselves (or out loud): “Well, the College just told us that we raised more than $32.8 million dollars and that sounds like a lot of money, but I don’t see anything really changing.” Here are a couple of relevant points: 1. Some things do change. The Krause Innovation Studio is perhaps the most obvious and significant change in the College thanks to a major gift. I can also point to the Kahn Professorship, the Nicely Lecture Series, and the Eberly Faculty Fellowship as additional concrete instances of change. 2. Some (in fact the majority) of the gift dollars do not come directly into our hands. For example, if a donor creates an endowment for a scholarship, that is wonderful, but it does not create any “new” dollars for the College. Instead, the scholarship helps students and their families pay their Penn State tuition bills. The tuition revenues flow into the central University and we receive our annual budget allocation, but there is no direct link between the source of tuition dollars and the allocations into the colleges and campuses at Penn State. 3. Many of the gifts are estate gifts and we will not see the actual dollars until the estate “matures.” And 4. The dollars that are used to create an endowment go into the principal of the endowment. The amount we are able to spend is driven by the performance of the market and in recent years has been in the 4.5% range.

Prospect pool. As a comprehensive College of Education, we have several advantages in terms of our prospect pool. By and large, our graduates are educators and as educators they tend to be philanthropically inclined. At the risk of over-generalizing, our graduates live modestly and have experienced careers that offered steady employment. As a consequence, in many cases, they reach the ends of their careers with more financial capacity than they realize exists. But, they are also cautious, and one of our challenges is to help them realize that they may actually have the financial capacity to make a gift to the College of Education that would give them a great deal of satisfaction without putting their retirement plans at any kind of financial risk. These can be very satisfying conversations that turn out to be mutually beneficial

Wrap-up. I would like to share an observation Susan Welch, the Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, made to me back when I first came to Penn State. She very graciously took me to lunch to welcome me and the conversation at one point turned to fund raising. She pointed out that fund raising is actually much more satisfying work for deans than many people realize. She noted that by the time a dean gets involved, there typically has already been some indication of interest in making a gift and that the dean’s job is to help the donor realize a personal goal while also benefitting the college. She reported that in her experience these conversations tend to be very upbeat, positive, and satisfying. I am very pleased to report that my experiences have been very similar to what Susan described. 

We can be very proud of what Michelle and the members of our Development and Alumni Relations Team have accomplished with our fund raising efforts in the College. While we do not know when the next campaign will begin, we know that we are well positioned for this engaging and important work to continue. I trust you join me in looking forward to the future positive impact philanthropy will have in the College of Education.