College begins to court small donors in Capital Campaign

By Peter Wright

This evening’s Step Forward Campaign kick-off event in the Leonard Center is the largest event the Capital Campaign-the college’s initiative to increase the size of its endowment by $150 million-has held so far, but it is actually more of a mid-way point as the campaign shifts its focus. The campaign is leaving its “quiet phase” where it requested contributions privately from well-heeled donors and is focusing now on the public phase where it will solicit as many donations as possible.Vice President of Advancement Tommy Bonner said that by the end of last month, the campaign had raised $99 million-about $8 million more than projections made at the start of the campaign, and $51 million short of its $150 million goal.

Campaign Chairman Jerry Crawford ’71 said that, until now, campaign organizers have relied on direct requests for donations from people with deep pockets, calling it the “quiet phase” of fundraising.

“We have reached out to people who have the capacity to make big donations to the campaign,” Crawford said.

The Capital Campaign started in May 2006 with basic projections on how much response the college could reasonably expect from donors, Bonner said. Following those projections, the campaign launched into the phase driven by big donors, and this weekend will mark the shift into the public phase.

Essentially, in the campaign’s public phase, the school will ask for smaller individual donations from many more people. It starts off with a traveling presentation by Bonner and President Brian Rosenberg that will make stops in several major cities in an effort to convince them to join the campaign’s cause.

According to a chart of campaign targets for each month provided by Bonner, the public phase will initially focus on donors who can give $100,000 or more, lowering that target number to $10,000 later on.

“It’s more public,” Bonner said, “but at that stage most of the gifts are smaller.”

Money from Macalester’s Capital Campaign will be split in several different directions, Bonner said. About $25 million will fund the Leonard Center, which Bonner said is expected to be fully funded by Saturday night and $7 million will pay for the construction of the Institute for Global Citizenship, a benchmark that Bonner is hoping to reach by December.

The two biggest beneficiaries of the campaign are funding for the new Fine Arts Center and increased funding for financial aid. Bonner said that about $30 million will be designated for scholarships out of $75 million that will be added to the endowment from the campaign.

Convincing the donors

Of course all of that funding relies on the success of the college in persuading donors to open their wallets, which relies heavily on how the school promotes itself.

“People give more to the vision of where a place is going than they give to need,” Bonner said.

Bonner pointed to one of the newest brochures for the campaign as an example of the image the campaign wants to build. It features interviews and pictures with Macalester graduates, ranging from office-based jobs to an organic farmer, aimed at showing how “Macalester students make an impact in the world.”

Peter Fenn ’70 sits on the Board of Trustees and the Capital Campaign committee. He serves as the communications liaison for the campaign, advising on its promotional techniques.

“My corner of it,” Fenn said, “was to do quite a bit of work on . some of the materials that are distributed to the Macalester community.”

Fenn said that for some of the inspiration for the Step Forward Campaign, the committee looked back to the college’s previous campaign called “Touch the Future,” which officially closed in 2001.

Getting that message to Macalester donors around the world is the task of the public phase. Beginning on Oct. 23 and continuing through April of next year, the college will hold regional events in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle and London.

Each event will feature screenings of the new promotional video and some events will show entries to the student video contest held earlier this semester. Bonner and Rosenberg are planning to attend each event-two people that Crawford credited with the campaign’s success.

“They’re kind of like the Batman and Robin for this campaign,” Crawford said.

While the events in each city are open to anyone involved with the college who is invited-including parents and other possible donors-the focus is generally on alumni. Bonner said that roughly two thirds of all the money raised so far has come from Macalester graduates. Two of the three top donors are alumni; however, the top donor, Shelby Davis, is not.

Fenn said that he thinks many alumni who were helped by Macalester when they couldn’t necessarily afford to pay the bill are giving back now to help new students. Crawford added that he feels many alumni first became excited about their professions at Macalester.

Both Crawford and Fenn agreed that one of the best ways to convince alumni to donate is to let them visit campus and interact with the students.

“I think the great magnet for all the alums,” Fenn said, “is what they see coming out of the students at Mac.”

Crawford said that the best way for students to be involved in the campaign is to simply “be themselves.”

He added jokingly, “If any of them have an extra $50 million lying around, I hope they’ll look-up my phone number.”

Challenges

Although the campaign has exceeded expectations so far, it has faced a few challenges.

Bonner said that Macalester graduates have a tendency to become focused on funding causes outside of the college. He said that one of the goals of the campaign is to convince those alumni to focus their financial support on Macalester for the next couple of years before going back to focusing on other issues.

“Mac alums, wherever they are, are involved in their communities,” Bonner said.

Compared with similar colleges, Macalester has not always been at the forefront of financial support from alumni. But Fenn said that another part of the Capital Campaign is aimed at changing that image for the long term and increasing donations to the college’s annual fund.

“We have been playing a little catch-up,” Fenn said.

Perhaps the biggest unknown now in the campaign is the role that the world economy will play in getting donations. Crawford said that it would make sense that some people who have all their assets tied to the stock market would be a little hesitant to give right now, but he said that he thinks the campaign will pull through despite the uncertainty.

“This is a temporary circumstance that we’re going through,” Crawford said.

Editor’s Note: For more on the Capital Campaign weekend events, see “Step Forward weekend kicks-off campaign” in this issue.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Peter Fenn’s communications firm produced some of the promotional materials for the Capital Campaign. In fact, the materials were produced by Thebe Street, a Minneapolis based firm founded by two Macalester alumni Beth Desnick ’82 and Thea Nelson ’83.