Despite controversy that engulfed the University of Missouri last year and donor threats to yank gifts pledged to the school, the university raised a record amount of money over the last 12 months.
University officials on Wednesday announced that MU set a record with $171 million in donations in fiscal year 2016 — covering July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016.
That’s a 15 percent increase from the previous year’s total. The previous record, set in 2014, was $164.5 million.
“The University of Missouri has faced unprecedented challenges in the last year,” interim chancellor Hank Foley said in a statement. He said he was not surprised “the Mizzou family has responded with extraordinary generosity.”
Public financial support of the university seemed in danger after a series of incidents in the fall, including a disagreement between graduate students and university administration over health benefits and racially charged student protests that led to a student hunger strike, a boycott by Mizzou football players and the resignations of the chancellor and the University of Missouri System president.
A national spotlight turned on MU after the predominantly African-American student group Concerned Student 1950 publicly denounced the administration over its perceived indifference to systemic oppression of minorities and a lack of diversity and inclusion at MU.
Then in the midst of the turmoil, assistant professor Melissa Click threatened a student journalist to stop him from recording protests.
Missouri legislators, already at odds with MU over its relationship with Planned Parenthood and how student protests were handled, called for Click to be fired and threatened to cut the school’s funding over the entire mess.
“We certainly got hammered,” said Tom Hiles, MU vice chancellor for advancement.
The university received about 3,400 calls, mostly from people complaining about the university, Hiles said. Some called to say they would never donate again to the school. But when the university checked, Hiles said, “about 80 percent of those who said they would never donate again had never donated in the first place.”
In October, the university reported it was in jeopardy of losing about $5 million in gifts.
Hiles said there were some who wanted to suspend the fundraising campaign. Instead, MU turned to other institutions, including Penn State and Virginia Tech — schools that had campaigned through crisis — for advice in avoiding a fundraising bust.
MU launched an immediate image repair effort and turned to loyal donors for support. Calls were made to alumni and friends of the university and in some cases one-on-one meetings with donors were held.
Foley set out across the country for 18 regional campaign kickoff events telling alumni and potential donors about the university’s leading research, award-winning faculty members and economic impact.
“Our success this year attests to the strength of the university’s connection with our alumni and friends,” Hiles said. “That’s something that grows over years and it endures through tough times. … Our most loyal donors continued to give.”
In the end, Hiles said, donors stepped up.
MU continued a three-year trend, receiving 20 or more gifts of at least $1 million. Nearly 44,000 different donors made donations, pledges or estate gifts to MU over the past year.
Gifts ranged from $1 to $25 million from the Kinder Foundation in September 2015 to create the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy.
A $13 million gift came in February 2016, designated for the College of Agricultural Food and Natural Resources for scholarships. Until then, the largest gift after the November turmoil was a $4 million donation in December to the challenge fund for the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
MU’s record-setting year brings the Mizzou: Our Time to Lead campaign total to $762 million — more than halfway to the $1.3 billion goal announced at the campaign’s launch in October 2015.
The campaign, in an effort to attract students and the best faculty, has three priorities: building the university’s endowment to competitive levels, creating centers and research institutes within the institution, and improving campus facilities.
“The university cannot rely solely on a combination of state funding and tuition,” said Richard Miller, one of three chairs for the campaign. “Private support is the key to enhancing excellence at Mizzou.”