On Dec. 17, more than 1,100 UAA students will join the ranks of UAA alumni at this year’s fall commencement. What is still unclear, is whether they will also join the ranks of UAA alumni who donate to the university later in life.
The University of Alaska has a relatively short history with philanthropy. Philanthropy professionals like Harry Need, senior director of philanthropic services at the UA Foundation, and Megan Olson, vice chancellor for University Advancement, both recognize that Alaska has a stronger history of corporate giving.
“There’s no question that the history here at UA — this isn’t just UAA — is a tradition of corporate and foundation giving,” Olson said. “Nationally, there’s generally a split of about 80/20; 80 percent of gifts come from individuals, primarily alumni, and 20 percent from corporations and foundations. In Alaska, the tradition has been quite the reverse. In fact, 90 percent of our gifts have traditionally been from corporations and foundations.”
There are many buildings at UAA that exemplify this statement: the Alaska Airlines Center, the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building and theWeidner Center for Real Estate Management.
“There is still a developing sense or culture of philanthropy in the state,” Olson said. “The culture of philanthropy in this state is not as mature as in other places, but again, I think that’s changing and we have an opportunity as a large institution in the state to help move that needle.”
Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska, has spoken about increasing philanthropy to the university to offset declining contributions from the State of Alaska. In the fall of 2013, UA had a general fund allocation of over $376.7 million. This fall, the fund allocation was roughly $317 million.
“We don’t get a lot of money from high networked individuals, it’s usually corporations at this point in Alaska, people with means …[for] doctors and lawyers and people like that, getting a building named after them is really expensive and it’s beyond their reach,” Johnsen said at the UAA tuition increase forum in October. “But endowing a scholarship is not. If you think about it, if you put in a $100,000, [or] $120,000 — which for folks like that is not big, big money — you can actually fully endow a scholarship for a student forever.”
There is already an organization whose sole mission is to raise funds for the University of Alaska, it’s called the UA Foundation.
History of the UA Foundation
“We are hard at work now, building a philanthropic campaign,” Johnsen said. “You may have heard of the University of Alaska Foundation. It’s a private, not-for-profit corporation, whose sole reason to live is to raise money for the University of Alaska.”
The UA Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that manages and accumulates both corporate and private donations. The foundation was established in 1974 by former Regent Brian Brundin. By 1979, the foundation had accumulated over $250,000 in gifts and donations, and it wasn’t until 1983 that the foundation had $1 million in invested gifts to manage. Another landmark for the foundation was in 1997 when it took responsibility of the university’s land-grant trust.
Today, the foundation manages $320.7 million in the consolidated endowment fund, which includes the $141.1 million UA land-grant endowment.
For fiscal year 2017, which ended on June 30 of this calendar year, the foundation received $9.2 million from UAA donations, $14.4 million from UAF, $1.3 million from UAS, and $200,000 from statewide donors, according to the foundation’s annual financial report.
The report also shows that the foundation distributed a collective $18 million back to the University of Alaska, with $7.7 million going to UAA.
The foundation is growing; they earned $23.1 million in investments this year, Harry Need, senior director of philanthropic services at the UA Foundation, said the fund is not here to cover the budget deficit.
“The foundation is never going to cover the budget gap,” Need said. “If the state decides to cut us $50 million, the foundation doesn’t turn around and create $50 million through gifts the next day.”
What the foundation can do is reach out to growing numbers of alumni populations.
“We’re now getting to the point where we have alumni to the University of Alaska who are seniors, and who are starting to think about what their legacy is and what their purpose is,” Need said.
What is Ruffalo Noel Levitz?
Ruffalo Noel Levitz is an enrollment and fundraising consultant that the university has hired to help increase UA enrollments and donations. RNL is currently operating the UAA and UAF call center.
“We have historically raised $150,000 annually from our phonathon program that’s been run internally by our staff and Ruffalo Noel Levitz has set a goal of $190,000 for UAA this year,” Olson said. “This is the first year we’ve entered into this, so I’m excited about that ambitious goal.”
Since they started calling in September, the center has raised over $200,000 this semester for both UAA and UAF, and UAA alone received over $130,000 in donations from over 1,000 donors.
Kailyn Hill works for RNL and runs the call center out of the Administrative and Humanities Building at UAA.
“We have 12 people every night… that are here for four hours each, so we have 48 calling hours a night,” Hill said. “In any given night we can raise between a couple hundred dollars to several thousand.”
Julian McCarthy, natural sciences major, is a student caller. Part of his job is to convince alumni to donate to the university by starting a conversation with the alum. Last month, McCarthy was on a call with an alum that donated $25 last year and $1,000 this year.
“I asked for $500,” McCarthy said. “But the conversation was so great that he wanted to support the cause that I was doing.”
The phone center has a total staff around 31 people.