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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis seeks to tap into alumni base of donors

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: News

In contrast to the five consecutive years where the university’s fundraising dividends exceeded $70 million, Brandeis raised $62 million in fiscal year 2011, falling $8 million short of its annual goal and marking a shift in priorities from building to student aid.

“The change in Brandeis’ fiscal year 2011 fundraising numbers reflect the end of payments on multi-year pledges for building projects,” said Nancy Winship, senior vice president of institutional advancement. “To meet the growing financial aid needs of our students, we are focusing our fundraising efforts on securing support for scholarships rather than building construction,” Winship said.

As a young university, one of Brandeis’ core fundraising challenges is that the majority of its donors are friends and not alumni of the university.

Winship explained that, unlike larger universities, Brandeis receives about 20 percent of its fundraising profits from alumni. Older colleges and universities with larger alumni bases often receive more than 60 percent of their gifts from alumni. Because of this, the university strives to maintain a strong relationship with non-alumni donors, such as trustees, parents, grandparents, corporations, foundations and members of the Brandeis National Committee.

“I think we always want to draw on friends of the university to support the school to the extent that we can. The fact is the friends of this university are what have allowed us to do what we’ve done in the past 63 years,” university President Fred Lawrence said in an interview last month. “But I also think we need to be able to draw more on alumni than we have in the past.”

Winship explained that fundraising staff begin by sharing the story of Brandeis with potential donors. “We have a great story to tell about an incredibly impressive faculty, students who passionately engage with their professors, their campus and the world, and university leadership that is energized and looking to the future,” Winship said. “Our strategy is to share that story with our alumni and friends.”

According to Winship, Brandeis’ fundraising strategy has had to adapt to the Internet era by supplementing more traditional fundraising methods, such as direct mail and a student Phoneathon, with online solicitations, an increased use of social media (including a presence on Facebook and Twitter) and the creation of an online alumni community.

As part of its alumni outreach effort this year Brandeis is specifically targeting attorneys who support the university. According to Lawrence’s Chief of Staff David Bunis, “In general, more than 4,000 of Brandeis alumni are attorneys. Under a new initiative, we are putting together a special event for alum lawyers this spring, as we look to engage all of our alumni in the months and years ahead.”

Joining the Brandeis board of trustees this year is James Humphreys, a practicing attorney and president of the James F. Humphreys and Assocaites law firm in Charleston, W.Va., alumnus and Board of Advisors Emeritus member of George Washington University Law School. Lawrence knows Humphreys from his connection to GW.

Humpreys formerly served in the West Virginia legislature and is a member of several nonprofit boards, including those serving George Washington University, the Brain Injury Association of America and the Washington National Opera, Bunis said.

Lawrence and his team said they value Humphreys’ presence on the Brandeis board of trustees not only because of the fundraising expertise but because of the ties he represents between Brandeis and George Washington University.

Since President Lawrence’s inauguration, Brandeis has had an immediate bond with George Washington University, as President Lawrence served as dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School from 2005 to 2010.

“From the moment President Lawrence officially became president on Jan. 1, he became an integral part of the University’s fundraising efforts,” explained Winship. “President Lawrence is a natural fundraiser. In just nine months on the job, he has made strong connections with alumni and friends around the world.”

Lawrence has already met with large groups of alumni, friends, parents and prospective students at events in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Israel. He has also met with smaller groups of alumni and friends and has held hundreds of one-on-one meetings.

“Every year were try to equal or better our prior year’s fundraising total. It is hard to gauge the impact of factors such as the economy and our presidential transition. One of our primary goals is to rebuild the pipeline of seven- and eight-figure gifts,” Winship concluded.