Davidson turns to donors to reach $425,000,000 goal

Jack Dowell-

Davidson students have undoubtedly noticed the Game Changer posters hanging on lamp posts around campus, but what may have escaped their notice is that these are part of a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $425,000,000 by 2019.

The Game Changers campaign, per Eileen Keeley ‘89, Vice President for College Relations, “went public in the fall of 2014.” According to the campaign’s website, its three main priorities are ensuring that Davidson remains accessible to students from all backgrounds, strengthening Davidson’s faculty infrastructure both in academics and athletics, and preparing Davidson students to go out into the modern world by expanding the realm of extracurricular opportunities available.

According to Keeley, “$425 million was what was identified as the capacity of our donors [even though Davidson’s] need was hundreds of millions more than that.”

For colleges nationwide, charitable giving is an essential part of their financial stability, and this is no less true for schools such as Davidson which are committed to meeting the financial need of all their students. A sizable portion of this giving comes in the form of either annual gifts from alumni or endowments.

Davidson’s rate of alumni giving is extremely high. Keeley explained, “We’ve been very lucky; we have one of the highest participation rates in annual giving by alumni, last year we were second in the country… it’s hovered around 60%. Within 15 years we’ve been in the top five in the country.”

When alumni donate, they have a few different options. The most self-explanatory are one time or annual gifts. In addition to choosing whether this gift be repeated or not, they also can choose what it is used for, within reason. In addition to pre-set recipients like WDAV or the Davidson Trust, which is where the money for financial aid comes from, givers also have the option to donate unrestricted money, which goes into a policy of current use dollars.

According to Keeley, “Current use is when the dollars come in, and they’re spent either the year they come in, or the year after.”

Brad Martin, Associate Vice President for Development, noted that “unrestricted support is extremely important to us. We have a high percentage of our constituency that supports us with unrestricted giving.”

Another option for givers is to donate for an endowment. An endowment functions by “funds are put into our endowment… which doesn’t get touched. The earnings from that endowment are what funds [the beneficiary],” emphasized Keeley.

The average rate of Davidson’s endowments is roughly 4.5%, meaning that “a million dollar endowment provides a $45,000 scholarship” annually. The advantage of endowments is that barring unforeseen circumstances, they last forever so an interested donor could sponsor a scholarship or professorship, and it remains permanently associated with them.

Endowments also allow donors to choose a very specific target for their money to go to, but according to Martin, while “[Davidson] works with alumni around their interests … they also have to be of particular interest to the college.”

Keeley furthered this, explaining, “We’ve had people who have expressed interest in starting an athletic team [but they have to consider] how does it help Davidson besides just having that sports team, how does it help Davidson as a whole?”

As previously discussed, much giving to Davidson is centered around years spanning campaigns, such as the current effort, Game Changers, or a previous initiative led by Keeley, Let Learning Be Cherished, which concluded in 2005 after successfully raising ~$270,000,000 for the college.

According to Martin, the point of these campaigns is to “raise the level of giving from our constituency.” Since many of the donations to Davidson are on an annual basis, the effects “continue after the campaign ends.”

These campaigns provide a tangible target for annual and one off donations to go to, whether that be specific buildings, such as the recently completed E. Craig Wall Center, or the more ideological goals of the Game Changers campaign; these include funding additional scholarships, expansions to the arts programs at Davidson, and funding for entrepreneurship endeavours. These targets are determined by a process that, according to Keeley, consists of conversations between “trustees, senior leadership, and major donors.”

Of course, alumni are not Davidson’s only source of funding. Corporations and foundations also play a large role in Davidson’s finances. Keeley explained that “the Duke Endowment [is] our most significant donor in the life of the college. Since they were founded in the 1920s they’ve given us well over a hundred million dollars.”

Corporations are another reason Davidson’s high alumni donation rate is significant. As Martin noted, it provides assurance to them that “they’re not carrying the institution financially on their own, which is important to them.”

In turn, this provides an additional incentive to alumni to donate since, per Keeley, “even if they’re in grad school, they’re eating ramen noodles, if they can give $5, that helps us make the case to corporations.”

Current students also play a role in giving, as Robert F. Vagt ‘69, the school’s president from 1997-2007 began a tradition by “[making] a challenge to the senior class that was $10,000, and if they could get over 90% participation [in making donations] he’d match the gift, and Carol Quillen has made the same promise for $50,000.”

The administration of Davidson’s finances will soon be experiencing changes, as Jim Murphy, the well-known Director of Athletics, will be transitioning to being a Senior Adviser to the President for Finance and Operations, as Ed Kania, current Vice President for Finance and Administration, will soon be transitioning to CFO of Rollins College.

Murphy believes he is well-equipped for his new position, saying that his “background is actually financial; I’m a licensed CPA [Certified Public Accountant] still. I know my way around the numbers.”

While he will “wait to wage any judgement” until he takes the position officially on July 1st, Murphy puts a heavy emphasis on striving to push the college towards “financial equilibrium,” alongside “looking towards more efficient ways of operation” and “a sustainable business model.”

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