Great Expectations campaign raises $1 billion

Launched in 2006 under former university President Dan Mote, the six-year fundraiser’s goal was the largest ever for a public institution in the region and in the state.

By Jenny Hottle, Senior staff writer
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013
Originally posted on

The university recently celebrated raising more than $1 billion in its Great Expectations campaign, an accomplishment that proved difficult to achieve despite being lower than the goals set by many similar institutions.

The fundraiser kicked off at the onset of an economic downturn, causing officials to extend its deadline by a year to December 2012. However, university officials said becoming one of about 30 institutions across the country to raise more than $1 billion in a single drive was a “remarkable feat” for the university’s development, with nearly 130,000 donors contributing to the cause. Officials celebrated the conclusion of the university’s largest campaign to date on Feb. 9.

“It simply shows there are lots of alumni and donors who love the university and they want to make a difference,” university President Wallace Loh said. “It shows that they care about how giving, very generous giving, can transform the university and transform the lives of students.”

Launched in 2006 under former university President Dan Mote, the six-year fundraiser’s goal was the largest ever for a public institution in the region and in the state. However, similar institutions have raised greater amounts in about the same time. Penn State’s Grand Destiny campaign, launched in 1996, raised $1.4 billion in seven years. Just three years in, Ohio State University was more than halfway toward meeting its But for Ohio State campaign goal of $2.5 billion. That campaign is expected to wrap up in June 2016.

Those fundraisers were respectively managed and designed by Peter Weiler, who took the helm as the university relations vice president in 2012. Aside from Ohio State’s medical center, which greatly boosts fundraising power, this campus is similar to that of Weiler’s former employers. However, there are some other differences in alumni base that guide the university in setting its campaign goals, he said.

“Where you saw a lot of the impact, that is from very large gifts and very specific leadership gifts,” Weiler said of the Ohio State campaign, adding this university sees far more gifts coming from the middle $250,000 to $500,000 range rather than getting a bulk of its funds from gifts of $1 million or more.

“That means you need a lot more gifts in order to get [to the goal],” Weiler said, adding, “I think that’s very encouraging for what we might be able to do in the future.”

Another key difference between this university and other public institutions, such as the University of Michigan or the University of California Berkeley, is how long universities have been fundraising, said Brodie Remington, the former vice president for university relationships who helped develop Great Expectations. While this university only began fundraising at a major scale about 20 years ago, other universities have been doing it for several decades longer, Remington said.

“Some of it is a cumulative kind of thing,” Remington said. “You gain experience, and you pay attention to your alumni. We’re new at it, and there’s a long way to go.”

At its conclusion, Great Expectations includes more than $253 million in student scholarships and financial aid alone. Other parts of the campaign will help recruit new faculty, go toward research and innovation or creating new programs and upgrading buildings and other facility needs.

The impact is enormous, Loh said. Because of the strong donor support, the university attracted more funds at the state level. With $5 in state support for every $1 in private donations going toward new buildings, Loh said, the university will be able to finance the building of the $40 million Edward St. John Teaching and Learning Center — a building made up exclusively of classrooms.

“We are really blessed with a general assembly and a governor who are very supportive of the university, and then alumni and donors who are supportive as well,” Loh said.

The recent donations are doing more than just supporting programs and students, Weiler said.

“It gives the university great confidence that people believe in what we’re doing, that we’re willing to give that kind of support,” Weiler said. “It’s an enormous bode of confidence to what we’re doing.”

And though universities are almost constantly raising money, campaign directors stress the importance of taking breaks in between major fundraising drives to maintain those relationships.

This university does not have specific plans for its next public fundraising campaign, but Weiler said the campaign staff will continue working to tell the stories of alumni who gave back to the university in order to “cast the net wider” to new potential donors.

For Richard Novak, a 1962 alumnus and former Terrapins quarterback, contributing to the campaign meant giving back to the university that provided him with an athletic scholarship and the opportunity to pursue a career.

“I contributed for several reasons,” Novak wrote in an email, including “a desire to provide scholarship assistance to students in need, pride in the improved rankings of the school in external surveys [and] pleasure in aiding the financial efforts of the football and basketball programs.”

And though the university is just beginning to put its acquired funds into action, Remington said the success of the campaign has given the university the opportunity to mature and become stronger for its future fundraising drives.

“Like with every opportunity, if you get the right people in place to build on what has been done, we can achieve more,” he said.
Featured image courtesy of Mike Morgan Photography

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