Friday, October 14, 2011

$150 million step forward, 2 months to spare

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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Step Forward, the capital campaign to raise $150 million for Macalester, has reached its goal two months ahead of schedule. Despite the success, more challenges await the campaign before the looming Dec. 31 deadline.

President Brian Rosenberg announced the success at an impromptu reception hosted by the Macalester Board of Trustees last Friday. Among those invited were members of Macalester’s Advancement staff, who spearheaded the capital campaign.

“It certainly feels great,” said Tommy Bonner, the Vice President for Advancement and a key driving force behind the Step Forward campaign.

The final donation of $100,000 was contributed by Mardene and Dick Eichhorn, the co-chairs of the last capital campaign ending in 2001.

Despite this success, other targets remain to be met. These include increasing alumni participation from 63.5 percent to 65 percent (about 350 more donors); raising $2.3 million more for the Janet Wallace fine arts project; and securing as much funding as possible for need-based financial aid, according to Bonner.

The campaign has raised $22 million for Janet Wallace and $36 million for financial aid to date. The largest challenge now will be finishing the fundraising for Janet Wallace, Rosenberg said at the October faculty meeting.

“That last 10 percent [of Janet Wallace fundraising] is going to be the hardest money in the campaign,” he said.

The Step Forward campaign faced serious challenges in the past. Economic uncertainty caused potential donors to hesitate before giving in 2009 and 2010, and donations dropped from previous years as the recession took its toll.

“Our greatest challenge remains the sluggish economy combined with wild fluctuations in the financial markets,” Bonner said. “Donors willing to donate large amounts of their net worth do so because they are confident they and/or their children will not need the funds. Given the lack of stability in the markets that becomes less certain; I’ve heard from some donors who are having to provide resources to adult children who find themselves unemployed and in the job market.”

Tax law is another source of hesitation as federal deficit negotiations hang like a dark cloud over large-scale giving.

“I’ve also heard from donors their concern that the proposed elimination of the charitable income tax deduction as a component of the federal deficit reduction plan will impact their level of contribution,” Bonner said. “The ideal environment in which to raise funds is one of financial stability combined with certainty in tax law.”

Still, Step Forward has managed to thrive despite the challenges. After two years of private fundraising, the capital campaign went public in October 2008. The campaign began with a grand kickoff at Macalester College, followed by a tour soliciting donations from alumni in cities from across the nation. Millions of dollars raised early in the campaign financed Markim Hall, the Leonard Center and the Annual Fund.

At this point most sources of large donations have been exhausted. The majority of incoming donations range from $10,000 to $50,000, but there are exceptions. One recent fundraising coup was the Edens Chair in Global Health, a $2 million endowed professorship established by Wesley and Lynn Edens. Bonner describes the state of the campaign as a senior returning from spring break.

“Based on grades and coursework graduation is a certainty,” he said. “But there are still classes to attend, papers to write and work to get done before the celebration can get underway.”

Once Step Forward wraps up, there’s more fundraising on the horizon. Bonner said that the “number one priority” will be “strengthening the Annual Fund” in order to help ease the college through an upcoming budget crunch. Additionally, Bonner said that discussions are underway between Provost Kathleen Murray and a team of architects about the design of Phase 2 of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, which will renovate and expand the Art and Theatre departments. Bonner also said that donors will “always be encouraged to donate toward the endowment for financial aid.”

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