Some fund-raising experts are questioning whether the University of Southern California can really reach its audacious goal of raising $6-billion by 2018. No private organization has ever tried to collect that much from a single drive.
The observers, who all wish to remain anonymous, said they want to see the campaign succeed, because in the sputtering economy, “the last thing we need is for a big capital campaign not to be successful,” according to one seasoned fund raiser.
If the high-profile campaign does not achieve its goals, he said, it could undermine donors’ confidence in the viability of large nonprofit institutions and their ability to generate support.
The university—which had raised $1-billion when it publicly announced the campaign last month—went public with less than 20 percent of the $6-billion goal in hand. Typically, fund-raising consultants advise raising at least 40 percent of the goal in the “quiet phase” of a campaign before it is publicly announced.
Another surprising twist: Southern Cal announced the record campaign after just one year in the quiet phase. Most institutions take longer—three years or more—before they announce a big campaign. Doing so enables them to build momentum and shorten the period during which fund-raising staff members and volunteers are under public scrutiny to reach their goals.
Southern Cal officials say they have already secured three gifts of $100-million or more. But fund-raising consultants say it will take multiple gifts of far more, such as $350-million to half a billion dollars, and, preferably, a single gift of $1-billion to push the campaign over the top.
It’s not just that Southern Cal departed from standard fund-raising practices that raised eyebrows. Some fund raisers wonder why it chose to raise half its goal, or $3-billion, for endowment.
As the stock market has gone up and down so furiously in recent months, donors may not want to give, fund raisers say. That’s because they know that endowment gifts will be invested in the precarious market, and it’s possible the value of their donation will drop sharply in coming months.
But Al Checcio, Southern Cal’s senior vice president for university advancement, said he is confident the institution will reach the $6-billion finish line. Over the past 13 months, he said, the university has added 57 people to its fund-raising staff, almost all of them people who are charged with seeking big gifts.
“We have thought this campaign through every single way,” he said. “We would not have embarked on such an ambitious undertaking without having done our preparation.”