In addition to the current record-holder (Stanford University, with a $4.3 billion goal) Cornell and Columbia Universities have $4 billion campaigns under way, and it’s a good bet that a campaign of $5 billion or more will be a reality before Making History concludes in five years. But simple size isn’t the point of Penn’s fundraising agenda, say University leaders. Rather, the focus has been on identifying key priorities, on the resources needed to move the University to the next levelfrom “excellence to eminence,” in Gutmann’s phrasing.
“The great thing about this process is that we, unlike many other places, really have a focused set of goals, and when I say we, I include not only the central administration, not only the deans and the center directors, but the trustees and boards of overseers of all of our schools and centers,” says Gutmann. She describes the $3.5 billion campaign goal as “the sum of the goal for financial aid for our undergraduates, graduate, and professional students; for faculty support, for endowed professorships and programmatic and institute support; and the facilities that are needed to make this campus not only beautiful but the most attractive campus for our faculty and students, who are the heart and soul of what makes us eminent.”
While those goals may seem somewhat obvious in general terms, getting there involved more than two years of planning, recalls James Riepe W’65 WG’67, chair of Penn’s board of trustees. The exercise included, on the one hand, a “very vigorous bottom-up process” in which Penn’s schools and centers identified their highest priorities and the capital needed to fund them, he says, and, on the other, a top-down “reality check” composed of a consensus on which of those goals fit best with the overarching needs of the University and the feasibility of raising the required support.
Planning was well under way by the time Penn Provost Ron Daniels joined the University. As Penn’s chief academic officer, his role has been to “work closely with the deans, and with the president, and with [Development and Alumni Relations Vice President] John Zeller, in trying to ensure that the capital-campaign priorities that have been identified reflect the community’s highest academic priorities,” Daniels says. “And at times, I think, it’s been very challenging for the schools to really stand back and ask what is most important for themwhere is the margin of excellence? I am confident that, at the end of this process, all the constituencies have done a good job in identifying initiatives of the highest priority.”
The campaign goals were also vetted in a series of meetings Riepe and Gutmann held with alumni donors in several cities in the U.S. as well as London. The purpose of the sessions, which enlisted the advice of alumni of a wide age-range, was two-fold, says Riepe: “To test our audiences with what we thought were the priorities for Penn, and to find out how they felt about Penn right now. We came out of that with good information but also with incredible enthusiasm for what was going on at Penn now and for our vision of Penn’s future.”
The extended gestation period for the campaign’s goals turned out to be a blessing. “Because it’s a bottom-up and iterative process, the priorities are already thought through,” says Riepe. “What we found out in these meetings was that when we articulated these priorities and the rationale for them, they were very well understood and very well supported.”
While the most welcome gift any University can receive is an unrestricted one, “because it gives the administration and the trustees the chance to spend it on whatever they think the University needs at that point,” that’s increasingly not the way philanthropy works, notes Riepe, citing a number of recent press accounts concerning changing donor expectations. “Our feeling was, the better we can articulate the priorities and make a case for them and get people enthusiastic about them, the better opportunity we had to attract funds for those priorities, and I think that is consistent with the way philanthropy is being executed today.”
An indication of how well-received the priorities have been is the fact that nearly 125,000 contributions to the campaign have already been received, totaling some $1.6 billion, during the so-called “quiet phase” of the campaigna euphemism except in contrast to the festivities surrounding the public launch on October 20 (see following stories).
Of course, it’s common practice for schools to solicit the aid of their most ardent supporters early on in order to get off to a fast start. Reaching the final goal will require attracting people for whom giving, or giving more, to Penn may be a harder selland attracting lots of them.
To those who may wonder at the magnitude of the goal, Riepe points first to the competition. “By almost any other standard, we’re a prosperous school, but we happen to live in a very rich neighborhood,” he says, and those peers not already engaged in a multi-billion-dollar campaign are contemplating one. Then there is the size of the University itself. While $3.5 billion is “an enormous number,” that is the scale required to “move the needle” for an institution with a total annual budget in excess of $4 billion and more than 20,000 students.
As for the importance of the widest possible participation, Riepe adds that, with the very notable exception of the Annenberg family, whose accumulated contributions total well into the hundreds of millions, historically Penn has been short of “gigantic” donors, so “our strength is our numbers,” he says. “We really count on all of the people who are making these contributions, because they are being put together with thousands of others just like themand all of a sudden it’s many, many millions of dollars.”
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©2007 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/09/07