Damn the downturn, full fundraising ahead

Damn the downturn, full fundraising ahead

When you’re trying to scratch out a billion and a half dollars, the last thing you want to see is an economic downturn. So how has our recent financial malaise affected UVA’s $3 billion capital campaign?

Let’s just say University fundraisers haven’t exactly been forced into selling pencils and apples on West Main Street.


UVA President John Casteen has to be on his game at regional campaign events. “In many ways, the President is also the chief institutional fundraiser,” says Bob Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs.

UVA took in over $472 million in 2007 alone, putting it slightly ahead of schedule in its quest to bank $3 billion. The campaign currently shows over $1.6 billion in donations at its halfway point, and according to Bob Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, big-money donations, like the deep-pocketed donors themselves, won’t be affected by the vicissitudes of the nation’s economy.

“Where it does have an effect are those critically important gifts of $100,000 and $50,000, where most of those individuals have their assets in public equities,” says Sweeney. “We’re still ahead of schedule, we’ve got our fingers crossed and we’re redoubling our efforts to make sure we’re in front of those prospects.”

What? You thought those were the aforementioned big money donors? Oh, no, no, no. We’re talking about those folks who can fork over gifts in eight figures. Those five- and six-figure donors, though, they might be taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

“Some of them will say, ‘Let’s step back and see what the economy does before we make this commitment,’” says Sweeney. “People are a little more cautious.”

Still, the campaign’s cash flow is “neck-and-neck” with last year’s, he says. Now that it has entered the “public” phase (after what Sweeney called “one of the loudest silent phases that anyone could have”), giving has increased 28 percent from two years ago and has doubled from last year.

And there will be no letting up. That means President John Casteen will keep wracking up the frequent flyer miles. Last year, Casteen made appearances at all six “Regional Campaign Celebrations,” trekking to Birmingham, Wilmington, Boston, Houston and two in Dallas. The Celebrations feature full pomp and bring in all of UVA’s heavy hitters to make targeted pitches (read: hard sells) to the major prospects from those areas.

For those prospects who make their millions in struggling economic sectors (think real estate, service industries and anything with “investment bank” in its name), they might get the not-so-hard sell.

“You try to be a little more thoughtful about those individuals,” Sweeney says.

If all else fails, though, there is always the Don of Donations, Mr. Casteen himself, to work the room at each Celebration.

“For us,” says Sweeney, “those are pretty much command performances. In many ways, the President is also the chief institutional fundraiser.”

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