Stanford’s announcement today that it has raised $6.2-billion in a campaign with a goal of $4.3-billion seems all the more remarkable given that the drive took place amid a severe recession.
Martin Shell, Stanford’s vice president of development, says that the university has received more than 80 percent, or about $5-billion, of the money pledged by donors.
The campaign was announced publicly in 2006, after a “quiet phase” of two years in which $2.2-billion was raised. But during the public phase, which lasted five years and ended in December, the campaign ran into some slow periods, Mr. Shell acknowledges.
One of the worst periods was in early 2009, when Mr. Shell was forced to lay off 20 fundraisers. As a result of those layoffs and leaving vacant positions unfilled, he says, Stanford’s development staff was reduced by about 50 people.
In 2010, Mr. Shell says, Stanford raised the smallest sum in six years, $600-million. Yet during that same year, he notes, the university made a big effort to reach out to donors, and it had a record number of both donors and gift transactions, with many people making gifts of $100 apiece.
Mr. Shell says that another reason the campaign did so well was that wealthy donors identified new projects for which university officials had not sought money. Thomas Steyer and Kathryn Taylor gave $50-million for a center for sustainable energy, and Jay Precourt also gave $50-million for another institute devoted to developing alternative energy sources.
Other goals, however, such as raising $300-million for student financial aid, did not appeal to some donors. Stanford fell short of reaching its student-aid goal by $50-million.
The Stanford campaign had the largest goal of any capital drive until a few months ago, when the University of Southern California announced a $6-billion campaign, which some fundraisers have criticized as unrealistic.
Now USC’s goal “doesn’t seem that big,” says Bruce Flessner, a Minneapolis fundraising consultant who for decades has advised universities and other large nonprofits on capital campaigns. But, he adds, Stanford’s accomplishment puts “enormous” pressure on fundraisers to follow that example.
In recent years, Mr. Flessner says, other universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue, and Carnegie Mellon, have established operations in Silicon Valley to compete with Stanford for big donations. “If you don’t,” he says, “Stanford just adopts your donors.”
Stanford’s campaign also underscores the importance of geography, Mr. Flessner notes. “This tells you that there’s a lot of money in Silicon Valley,” he says, “and Stanford does not have as much competition” as universities on the East Coast.
Mr. Flessner says Stanford is fortunate to be located in the country’s technology belt, which he calls one of three “wealth-creation centers” in the nation. The other two are New York’s financial-services industry and the oil and energy industries in Texas.
He adds: “You don’t see too many $100-million gifts coming out of Atlanta.”
Dig deeper: Learn more about the geographic divide among wealthy donors.