The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee unveiled the final total of its seven-year-long fundraising campaign Thursday. (Photo: Elora Lee Hennessey, UWM Photo Services)
A quarter billion dollars.
By the end of the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s history, alumni, corporations, foundations and individual donations totaled more than $251 million in support for the second-largest public university in the state.
The final number exceeded UWM’s goal by more than $50 million. It also dwarfs the $175 million figure UWM got when it conducted a feasibility study on what the university’s needs were and what it could realistically aim for, Patricia Borger, vice chancellor for development and alumni relations, said.
“It’s huge for the university,” Borger said. “The gifts really touch every corner of UWM.”
The reactions to that number from the 300-plus people who gathered Thursday night for the big reveal, and from people familiar with university fundraising efforts, reflect how central fundraising has become to public universities nationwide.
Though fundraising has long been the backbone to maintaining private universities that rely on endowments to support their institutions — Lawrence University, much smaller than UWM, launched a $220 million campaign late last year — public schools are now putting together equally ambitious campaigns.
During her career working in nearly every aspect of university advancement, Linda Durant said, she has increasingly seen public universities launch major fundraising campaigns as state, and in some cases federal, funding dries up nationwide.
“I see this a lot with the public (schools) and it’s gotten stronger and stronger,” said Durant, now the vice president for development at the D.C.-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
“In the late ’90s when I was working at a small community college, we were already at 30% of our funding coming from the state,” she said. “We had to make up the difference.”
Declining state support
UWM, like all schools in the University of Wisconsin System, has seen that decline firsthand.
By 2005, that percentage dropped to just over 25%.
Today, 19% of UWM’s 2018-’19 operating budget came from the state.
Donations are far from an antidote to budget woes, data from UWM’s 2017-’18 budget overview shows. Data going back to the mid-1990s shows that gifts and grants have never exceeded 5% of UWM’s annual budget.
But the size and success of UWM’s seven-year campaign reflects a trend Durant has seen nationally, as universities attempt to offer helpful scholarship packages and cutting-edge educational opportunities to attract students at a time when competition for them is fierce.
“In order for an institution to bring life to their mission, the fundraising is critical,” Durant said. “The tuition dollars don’t go far enough. They don’t even cover all of their operational costs.”
And once you start, you just keep going, she said.
“The more you do it, the more donors you have and the more success you have,” she said.
She said other universities can be encouraged by UWM’s success.
“There’s a joke in our profession that you’re either planning a campaign, you’re in a campaign, or you’re ending one and getting ready for the next one,” she said. “You want to build upon that success.”
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At UWM, donations help support its two-part mission: the “access mission” to be affordable to students across Milwaukee and Wisconsin regardless of circumstance or background, and the “research mission” to maintain the depth and breadth of academic inquiry that has brought it recognition as a top research university. More than $130 million will support what the school calls “student success” initiatives, and $37 million for scholarships specifically.
Doing ‘extra’ things
The money UWM raised from donors is already having an impact: 304 new scholarship funds, new research and innovation centers, endowed professorships, $29 million in support for UWM’s work in the Milwaukee community.
“The private support allows us to do the ‘extra’ things,” Borger said. “But they’re not frivolous. They’re the extra activities and programs to build the strength of the university and to help us advance our mission.”
For Alejandra Peralta-Werns, a senior studying kinesiology in UWM’s College of Health Sciences, multiple scholarships transformed her college experience.
The money took the burden off her parents, who at one point were supporting two other siblings in college. She estimates her scholarships essentially paid for her business minor. This year, she’ll graduate debt-free.
“I think I’ll just say how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to go to college and to pursue what I love,” she said. “If I didn’t have the financial resources, I would have to pursue something else.”
A key benefit of providing scholarships is that they allow students to not have to work as much, or in some cases at all, while in school, Borger said.
That was the case for Peralta-Werns, who said not having to work allowed her to spend time participating in other resume-building opportunities on campus. Most recently, she entered a business plan contest, which gave her skills that will help her reach her goal of opening her own business one day.
Even gifts that don’t go directly to students will have an impact on the quality of education at UWM, Borger said. Endowed professorships let the school retain and recruit top researchers as faculty. Community partnerships give students real-world experiences.
“I just think it’s so wonderful that (the donors) believe in this institution and they think that we are worthy of their philanthropic support,” Borger said.
By the numbers
Here are some other major takeaways from the results from “Made in Milwaukee, Shaping the World: The Campaign for UWM”:
- UWM received 70,000 gifts. Of that money, 27% came from alumni, 22% from corporations, 20% from individuals, 17% from not-for-profit organizations and 14% from foundations.
- Faculty and staff gave $7.5 million.
- 21,000 donors participated. Nearly half were first-time donors.
- One-third of the gifts were $1 million or more.
- The university foundation’s endowment will grow by $79 million.
- $89 million will support university research.
- $133 million will support student success initiatives and $37 million for scholarships specifically.
- Several new initiatives and campus spaces received support, including efforts around data science and technology innovation, entrepreneurship, health sciences, adult education, performing arts and more.
Contact Devi Shastri at 414-224-2193 or DAShastri@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DeviShastri.
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