Government & Politics

Private gifts to KC region’s universities set records as public financing shrinks

The University of Missouri-Kansas City started its fundraising arm in 2009. This past year, the UMKC Foundation’s endowment had grown grew to more than $275 million, up from $256 million a year earlier.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City started its fundraising arm in 2009. This past year, the UMKC Foundation’s endowment had grown grew to more than $275 million, up from $256 million a year earlier. The Kansas City Star

As state support to higher education continues to wither, private donors have stepped up. That has delivered area universities record fundraising for the budget year that ended this summer.

It also is evidence of economic recovery, local and national college officials said.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University all had their best year ever getting donors to open their wallets.

“It can be attributed to an improved economy, a time when donors have more confidence in the state of the economy,” said Dale Seuferling, the director of the KU Endowment.

Schools almost always are in some phase of a campaign — “preparing for one, entering one or just coming off of one,” Seuferling said. That puts them in position to clearly articulate their needs to donors, he said.

Shrinking state support makes the role of the private donors ever more critical, representing an increasingly critical way to pay for new and improved buildings, faculty and student scholarships.

“Higher education is more reliant on philanthropic dollars than ever before,” said Fred Cholick, the president and chief executive officer of the K-State Foundation. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, philanthropic dollars were the icing on the cake,” used to do those extra things on college campuses. “Now they have become part of the building blocks.”

For the most part, college giving in the Kansas City area has been trending up for several years. It dipped or fell flat only amid an economic crisis, Cholick said.

Nationally, giving to colleges and universities has grown about 6 percent a year for the last 20 years. It peaked at $31.6 billion in the 2007-08 academic year. It took a hit in the recent recession, dropping 11.9 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009.

“It was the largest drop in 50 years,” said John Lippincott, the president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

In 2011-12, giving to higher education rebounded to $31 billion, according to the annual Voluntary Support of Education Survey conducted by the Council for Aid to Education.

The latest report of double-digit percentage growth reflects what is happening at schools across the country, said Dan Hurley, a spokesman for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

While public schools “arrived late to the fundraising party,” they have become good at the game, Lippincott said. Of the top 20 fundraising institutions in the country, nine are public schools.

Another reason these schools have done so well is that when economic times got tough, the schools stayed engaged with donors, he said.

“When the economy came back, the donors came back because the institution never went away,” Lippincott said.

Fundraising officials announced earlier this summer that MU surpassed its $150 million annual goal with a single-year record of $164.5 million. The previous record was $160.5 million raised in 2008.

At K-State, the largest gift in the school’s history — $60 million — came this past fiscal year from the Jack Vanier family. Two-thirds of that money — $40 million — will be used to hire faculty, launch academic programs, upgrade buildings and give some students tuition assistance. The rest will go to athletics and the master plan for the Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The two largest donors last fiscal year to KU’s $1.2 billion Far Above fundraising campaign remain anonymous, but officials say the KU Endowment received 35 gifts of $1 million or more, accounting for more than half of the fiscal year’s total of $253.2 million.

Most of that big-donor money, $52.3 million, went to facilities. Student scholarships received $47.5 million, and research and program support pulled in $32.6 million. The rest went to faculty.

UMKC started its fundraising arm in 2009. This past year, the UMKC Foundation’s endowment grew to more than $275 million, up from $256 million a year earlier.

“We are extremely grateful for this support, which is helping us serve our students, our community and the state of Missouri today, and for many years to come,” Chancellor Leo Morton said in a statement.

A report on the foundation’s success said that it had collected a record 57,507 gifts during the fiscal year ending June 30, surpassing the previous year by almost 7,500 gifts.

That record fundraising brings UMKC to within $31 million of its $250 million campaign goal.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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