College reboots its fundraising

By Campus Editor

To keep tuition rates stable, enhance curricula and continue providing cutting-edge technology, the college is making serious efforts to increase fundraising revenue this academic year.

In the last year, Columbia’s ability to fundraise was called into question when the Office of Institutional Advancement was dismantled and the Department of Development was created in its place. 

Jonathan Stern, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, joined the college in August to begin his fundraising duties by raising revenue from current and prospective donors in an effort to better manage increasing expenses. 

“The more money we can raise for scholarships, the programs that we have and new initiatives instead of always raising tuition is better,” Stern said. “[The college] had an emphasis on scholarships before, and we continue because students are the bread and butter of an institution.”

Stern said the entirety of fundraising revenue goes to areas that benefit students, not to administration, faculty or staff salaries.

The Chronicle examined Form 990s, annual tax statements that nonprofits are required to submit to the Internal Revenue Service, and fundraising reports from the Office of Development. For the fiscal years 2011 and 2012, which ran from Sept. 1–Aug. 31 of each year, the 990 and the Development report paint different pictures.

According to the Form 990s, the college saw a 7.92 percent increase in fundraising revenue from 2011–2012, while the Office of Development report shows that the college experienced a 40 percent decrease in fundraising revenue from 2011–2012. According to Stern, the difference in the data comes from the fact that the Form 990 does not report pledges, which are commitments from donors to give a certain amount of money over a number of years. The 990 only reports how many dollars the college actually collected that year.

Although the Development Report indicates a decrease in fundraising revenue from 2011–2012, increase in 2013 from 2012 to $19.6 million. Stern said the large increase could be because of pledges made in 2013 in which the college did not receive the entire pledge that year, but donors made a commitment to add to the pledges over time. 

“As people make one-time large gifts or they make multi-year pledges, their commitment is finished,” Stern said. “Oftentimes after campaigns, people fall off a little bit, but we’re going to try to build that pretty quickly.”

According to the 2012 Form 990, which reported that the college’s fundraising revenue was $12.74 million, the college received approximately $3 for every dollar it spent on fundraising initiatives. 

In previous years, the college worked with James F. Feldstein, president of Charles R. Feldstein and Company, Inc., a third-party firm that helps with fundraising endeavors. However, that relationship has been severed, and the college is currently not working with any outside firms and does not have plans to do so because the college is not currently in an official campaign, according to Stern.

In addition to dropping the firm, Stern said the college has also decided to discontinue its Open Doors Gala, an annual fundraising event that used its proceeds to provide financial support to Chicago Public School graduates who want to attend the college. As reported Nov. 18, 2013, by The Chronicle, last year’s Open Doors Gala raised approximately $550,000. 

Kwang-Wu Kim, president and CEO, said the college decided not to host the gala this year because of a decreased interest in the event, adding that fundraising events are not the best way to raise money because they can be time-consuming and costly to organize.

“Our sense was that the gala had gotten a little stale,” Kim said. “We needed to take a pause and ask ourselves, ‘What is it exactly that we’re trying to accomplish with this gala, and are we doing it the best possible way?’ Plus, with all the change in staff in Development, it didn’t seem like a good moment to just repeat something that we’ve been doing.” 

According to the 2012 Form 990, the college made $638,885 in donation receipts from the Open Doors Gala for college programs, $75,495 from the MoCP Gala and $57,490 from two other unidentified events. However, it cost the college $298,771 to host the events.

Nancy Rampson, director of Development, told The Chronicle she didn’t have time to comment on the matter.  

In addition to changing fundraising strategies, Kim said the college plans to hire more people in the Office of Development who have expertise in fundraising.

“Until we build up a critical mass of people who are constantly out and about meeting with people, talking about Columbia and our future and starting to connect that future to people’s interests, we’re just not going to be successful,” Kim said.

Stern said because the college has no plans for any fundraising events this year, he will instead focus his attention on connecting with donors. He said the college brings in revenue from a multitude of individuals, which include alumni, corporations, foundations and government sources. He also said the college approaches each type of donor differently. 

“We have different strategies and different ways of things with each of those groups, but each of those groups provides contributed revenue toward the institution,” Stern said.

In addition to attracting new donors, Stern said he also plans to meet with current donors to continue their relationship of giving to the college.

“You’re out there meeting and thanking people,” Stern said. “We’re hoping to have people repeat their contributions or maybe increase them.”

Although Stern said he was unable to predict fundraising revenue for this year, he said he is optimistic about future fundraising endeavors.

“There’s a lot of work to do in understanding the culture here and the people, but we’re organizing our organization,” Stern said. “We’re reaching out to individuals, and we’re systematically trying to build a top-notch fundraising operation.”

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