US elite compete to raise billions

October 27, 2006

Jon Marcus reports on record-breaking Ivy League fundraising campaigns.

Alumni of top US universities are being asked for billions of dollars in collective donations for new research facilities and beefed-up endowments in the latest round of record-breaking fundraising campaigns.

Universities are also competing for foundation money and corporate donations. Two dozen universities aim to raise at least $1 billion (£530 million) apiece.

Some have set higher targets. Only days after Columbia University announced a $4 billion fundraising campaign, Stanford University smashed the record by declaring it would seek $4.3 billion in donations.

Harvard University is expected to try to raise $5 billion soon after it appoints a new president to succeed Lawrence Summers.

John Lippincott, president of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, said the overlapping campaigns were not surprising. "There's been a sense that the next set of large campaigns would soon be announced,"

he said.

"It's interesting that we're seeing this rapid-fire series of announcements. I don't think it signals that we have suddenly entered a period where it's really about one-upmanship, but I don't want to totally dismiss that notion, either. There is certainly some value in the attention you get from having the biggest campaign out there. It signals that you have enormous aspirations."

Columbia announced its $4 billion fundraising campaign at simultaneous events in New York, London and Hong Kong. Of the total, $1.6 billion would go to the endowment, among the lowest of elite universities. Another $1 billion would go towards building and renovation and $1.4 billion would go to supporting existing programmes.

Columbia raised $1.5 billion during the "quiet phase" before the campaign was officially launched. It is scheduled to run until 2011.

Just 12 days after Columbia launched its campaign, Stanford revealed a $4.3 billion fundraising effort, of which half had already been raised. The "Stanford Challenge" will raise $2.9 billion to improve undergraduate programmes and primary and secondary education and for teaching, research and facilities. The other $1.4 billion will go towards multidisciplinary initiatives in human health, environmental sustainability and international peace and security.

"A core strength of Stanford is its ability to function as one university and not just a collection of separate schools and institutes," said Isaac Stein, campaign co-chair, in a veiled criticism of rival Harvard, where various departments have notoriously resisted interdisciplinary collaboration.

Harvard's expected $5 billion fundraising campaign will be ploughed into a new science campus. It is expected that half of the money raised will come from alumni and the rest from foundation and corporate sources.

The previous fundraising record was held by the University of California, Angeles, which raised $3.05 billion.

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